Candied Squash

I love squash. My favourites are the winter types like Acorn, Butternut, and Buttercup but my overall, hands-down best is Butternut. During the summer, I like to BBQ sliced Zucchini squash brushed with my homemade Italian salad dressing.
I’ve roasted Butternut squash halves in my oven while I cook dinner. I’ve also made a yummy Curried Squash Soup (recipe here) that my DIL Jeanette introduced me to. Lately though, I’ve been craving for squash nearly every day – it’s probably due to my body’s need for more squash-specific nutrition. Afterall, squash is the new Superfood. It contains a huge amount of vitamins A, C, E, B6, B2, B3, K, niacin, thiamin, manganese, copper, potassium, pantothenic acid, folate, omega 3 fats, magnesium, and fiber.

homegrown squash

Organic Homegrown Squash

I grow squash in my garden or purchase locally grown produce in the fall – one of the best things about squash is that it’s locally grown and available all winter long. It’s not suprising why North American Natives grew “the three sisters”, corn, squash, and beans as a dietary staple. I store it every fall in my mudroom in a basket on the floor. It’s pretty cool in there all winter and I know squash probably doesn’t like it THAT cool (45F degrees/7C) but they seem to be just fine. It’s easy to cut off a hunk from the neck or half a squash and cook it randomly inside the oven of my wood cookstove.
I decided to add a little zest to my squash and now this has become my favourite! I call it Candied Squash.  It’s not really candy but it might as well be to me!   Here’s the recipe:

1WM

 
Candied Squash Recipe

1/2 butternut squash or the neck of a butternut squash
Butter – please, please do NOT use margarine (a bucket of chemicals)
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
cinnamon
Scoop out any seeds inside the squash half you are using. I cover the open end of the other piece with a leftover plastic bag and put it back in storage with the rest.
Slice into one inch pieces. Peel off the outer skin. Cut into one inch cubes.

2WM

Butter lightly a baking dish or piece of tin foil. Put in the squash. Add 4-5 small pieces of butter on top. Sprinkle with brown sugar and cinnamon. Cover or wrap the tinfoil to completely cover it.

3WM

Bake for at least an hour at 325F degrees. I left mine in the cookstove yesterday for 4 hours because I forgot about it and it was deliciously ‘well-done’!
I usually simply pour it into a bowl and eat. Sometimes, if I’ve planned ahead, I add it as a side to my dinner meal.
I hope you enjoy this recipe and discover that squash tastes as good as it looks.

4WM

I Love a Real Christmas Tree!

There’s a lot of debate about Christmas trees.  Some people like an artificial tree for many reasons.  They feel that it’s less messy because there are no pine tree needles from a real Christmas tree falling all over the floor when they put up a fake Christmas tree.  Some say it’s more environmentally sound because no real tree is cut down and they reuse the same Christmas tree year after year.  Others feel that an artificial tree is easier to assemble and take down every year.  I appreciate all those reasons that fit other people’s lives.  BUT I LOVE A REAL LIVE CHRISTMAS TREE!

Searching

Searching for the Perfect Tree

Tradition.  I’ve always had a real Christmas tree for as long as I can remember.  When I was growing up, we used to buy a Pine tree for Christmas – they are the ones with the short needles.  I went with my Dad to the Woolco plaza parking lot and we picked out the perfect tree to bring home.  Later, after I got married, I always bought a Scotch Pine with the longer needles which didn’t seem to fall off as much.   We usually went out to a Christmas Tree Farm to cut our own tree but occasionally we bought one from a lot.  When Marty worked at a garden center once, we picked a gorgeous Balsam Fir from their selection – we hadn’t intended to buy one already cut but we couldn’t resist the urge.   One year when I was 9 months pregnant, we went out to a tree farm and picked the closest tree because I couldn’t walk too far – my poor husband was worried I’d give birth right there in the field!  Hahaha – I waited until 6 days before Christmas.  Some years, we went to a nearby Christmas tree farm where they had horse-drawn wagon rides and hot chocolate, but the commercialism of the entire operation began to nauseate me.  The whole spirit of Christmas was becoming depressing from the beginning of cutting a tree!

Timber2

Timber!

So I scouted out another Tree farm that just sold Christmas trees (and homemade wreaths) – cut and cut-yourself – at a reasonable price.  THIS is what I was searching for – driving into the tree farm fields, walking around (sometimes for a LONG time) to find that perfect tree, and sawing it down ourselves.  Some years, there is no snow while other times, there’s lots of snow to trudge through.  One year it was unusually mild around 0C degrees and another time it was -20C!  You just have to dress for the weather to stay comfortable.  There is plenty of room for everyone and the farm is never crowded like some other ‘wagon rides and hot chocolate’ Christmas tree farms.

I feel that Christmas Tree farms are very ecologically responsible.  The farmers who grow these trees use hands-on, labour-intensive practices to grown and prune their trees –  I remember my oldest son Robin working for a Christmas Tree farmer one summer, when he was a teenager, to prune them by hand.  The farmer’s livelihood depends on the seasonal sales of Christmas trees.  I support Farmers and I try to practice local consumption – Christmas trees are no exception.  After Christmas is over, I take my tree outside for the birds to land on or find shelter in for the rest of the winter.  Then in the spring, I cut off the branches and spread them around my blueberry plants.  I’d say that’s environmentally sustainable.

All my grown children and their families who live around here will drive out to the tree farm this year:  Nellie, Melvin, Sarah, Kristi, Mike, J, Josh, Taylor, Darin, Amanda, Kalia, Livi, Janet, and Frank.  After a fun afternoon searching for our perfect trees, we’ll come back home for a nice warm supper beside the toasty, wood-burning cookstove.  Our tree will have to wait till after supper to be brought into the house.  I just love the pine smell from a freshly cut Christmas tree!  Then we’ll let it warm up overnight before we decorate it.  And again, it will be the best Christmas tree ever!

Tree

Visiting Vancouver Island

I spent last week on the west coast visiting my sister Betty, my son Robin/D-I-L Nici, and other family.  I love it when I have the opportunity to share time with my family in one of the most beautiful places in Canada.  Betty and I had a week full of adventures – and a pot of barley soup to eat – after I arrived late Sunday night!

We started off by visiting my cousin Jacklyn, her daughter Melody, and her mom Kathy.  It had been a long time since I’d seen Kathy so it was a real treat.   My niece Brodie, a talented singer, also dropped in for a quick hello too.

Robin and I Beachcombing @ Powell River, B.C.

Robin and I Beachcombing @ Powell River, B.C.

The next day Betty and I were off on the ferry to go across the Strait of Georgia between Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Columbia.  Waiting for us was my son Robin and later my daughter-in-law Nici and their german sheppard puppy Gerda, who was actually the size of a miniature pony!   We had an awesome time!  Robin drove us up to the little town of Lund which is SO picturesque – it’s actually Mile One of a highway that will take you all the way down the west coast to South America’s Chile, 15,202 kms.  We had lunch on the patio at Nancy’s Bakery overlooking the small harbour and the ocean dotted with gulf islands.  Afterwards we went back to the farm to check on the goats and chickens.  I even learned to milk a goat!

I milked a goat!

I milked a goat!

Robin spoiled us with delicious homemade dinners and desserts using veggies from their own garden and milk from their goats.  I’m proud to say he’s an awesome cook!  In the evenings, we enjoyed watching videos on the computer of our Family Frolics – 20 years of videotaping of family life now stored on my external hard drive.  We also spent hours beachcombing, looking for beach glass and unique shells which I’ll make into Christmas tree decorations for our tree this year.  Finally, all too soon, it was time to catch the ferry back to the Island and leave Powell River behind.   A small pod of Orca whales graced us with their presence as if they were bidding us goodbye.

Rob's pumpkin pie made with fresh goat's milk, fresh eggs, and garden pumpkins

Rob’s pumpkin pie made with fresh goat’s milk, fresh eggs, and garden pumpkins

Next, we drove down to Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia, picking up Betty’s granddaughter along the way to bring her down to her daddy Curt for halloween.  Betty and I stayed at our favourite hotel, The Mayfair, where the rooms are clean and affordable.   We spent a relaxing evening on our computers, each one of us propped up in our individual beds, watching more Family Frolics videos and laughing hysterically until the wee hours of the morning.  We leisurely drove back up Island, stopping along the way at a few new thrift stores and lunch in Ladysmith.  Once back at Betty’s ‘cave’ a few hours later, we got in our comfy clothes and ‘chillaxed’ for the evening since I was leaving very early the next morning.  A week sure flies by way too fast and now I was on my way back to Vancouver to catch another flight to the Yukon/Northern B.C., the land of the midnight sun.

Linda and Betty

Linda and Betty

Grandkids and Pizza

The best combination!

Last weekend my 2 oldest granddaughters Kalia and Livi came over for the day.  I always love when they visit.  I also know that a 12 and 10 year old would probably rather be playing with their friends than spending the day with their ol’ gramma so I really cherish these times.

Kids today are so busy.  There are sports and studying after school and a whole slew of activities on the weekends.  It makes my head spin!  Vegging out is a luxury.  I was going to take them into town the day they came here but it was so windy and cold outside that we just stayed home.  Livi made a valiant attempt to go outside to play on her rope swing but the wind was just too much for her.

Kneadingwm

Kneading the dough

Soon after the girls arrived, I started the pizza dough using my daughter-in-law Jeanette’s recipe (below).  I figured that maybe it would be fun for the girls to do some cooking and make their own pizzas for lunch.  I mixed together all the ingredients and let it rise while we watched a Disney movie (they still love Disney movies – heck, we all still love to watch Disney movies).  After an hour, I called the girls to the kitchen.  It was time to knead the dough!  I divided it into 3 pieces and dumped a bit of flour on the center island for each one.  I showed them how to knead the dough, sprinkling a little flour if it got sticky.  Livi had a great time adding lots of flour until I mentioned that the dough needs to ‘rise’ and double in size so if she added too much flour, it might get too heavy to rise.  She eased off adding more flour.  After 10 minutes of kneading and chatting, we put our balls of dough back into the bowl and covered it with a linen tea towel.  I explained why I use a linen towel – so the dough doesn’t stick to it.  We left it rise again until double in size while we watched another Disney movie.

Making our individual pizzas

Making our individual pizzas

After an hour or so, we took one of the balls and divided it into three separate pieces that would become our individual pizzas.   Each one of us rolled out our dough to fit the pans – a LITTLE bit more flour was used on the center island.  Then we cut up some tomatoes fresh from the garden, onions, and shredded some mozzarella cheese.  I almost forgot about the lone green pepper from my garden until Livi reminded me!  I also had some olives in the fridge.  Each one of us spread some pizza sauce on our dough then loaded them with our individual favourite toppings while the oven heated up.  I baked them all at the same time for 12 minutes and they were ready to eat.

They were pretty big pieces!  Livi was only able to eat half of hers while Kalia devoured all of her’s – she’s growing fast and is now taller than me.  We went back to watching more movies, tummies full.

I love spending these precious times with my grandchildren.  All too soon they’ll be all grown up.

Mmmm, 3 individual pizzas ready to eat!

Mmmm, 3 individual pizzas ready to eat!

Jeanette’s Pizza Dough

Mix together:

2 teaspoons dry yeast

3/4 cup lukewarm water

2/3 cup flour

Let sit for 30 minutes, then add:

1 cup flour

Let sit for 30 minutes, then add:

2+ cups flour (add 1/2 cup at a time)

1 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup olive oil

Add flour until dough pulls away from the side of the bowl.

Knead for 10 minutes and let it sit until doubled in size.

Wild Raspberries

Sorry, but I won’t be making wild raspberry jam this summer.  Or pie.  The rain has been favourable for my wild raspberries – there’s a good area just before the lawn swing along the side of the backyard where they’ve totally taken off this year.  Every time I walk down to the garden, I pause and pick a berry or two……actually a handful or two.  They are perfect with no bugs, mold, or rot.  Better than the cultivated raspberry patch.  In fact, they are so perfect that I can’t seem to get them into the house.  I just keep eating them!  When my hand gets full of raspberries, I just pop them in my mouth and eat while picking another hand full.

WildRaspberriesWM

When I was a young girl in the 1950’s, I used to pick wild raspberries at my Grandparent’s farm on the Gaspe coast when we visited.  My Grandma, Mom, would tell us that if we picked a potful, she would make a pie.  So my cousins, Maureen and Verna, and I along with my sisters Betty and Faye would walk along the back road and pick wild raspberries along the fence lines.  We’d talk and play while we walked and picked a pot full.  Sure enough, Mom had a pie or two ready later that afternoon.

I wish that now I could resist eating all the berries that I pick.

So, again, I apologize in advance for NOT making jam.  Or pie.

handfulWM

No More Bottled Water

Anyone who’s been to my place knows that our well water contains sulphur.  At times of the year, it smells strongly of rotten eggs to visitors.   When you live here, you come to assimilate the smell into our senses so it’s hardly noticeable.  My niece Brodie spent several weeks a year visiting as a child and used to bring flowery-smelling bubble bath so she could bathe without gagging on the smell of our water.

When the older children were growing up, we always used to drink our own well water.  If you allow the water to stand in an open container on the counter for a day or two, the sulphur taste and smell dissipates enough to make it palatable.  About 25 years ago, we started to fill 5 gallon jugs with town water whenever we went to visit someone.  We also filled up our jug at a neighbour’s farm where they had great drinking water with no sulphur.  It’s amazing to me that the quality of well water differs so much even within a few hundred feet.  I’m told that it depends on the depth of the drilled well and whether you hit a sulphur underground spring or not.

Then about 15 years ago, water coolers made an appearance on the market.  These electric contraptions were upright ‘stands’ which held special 5 gallon water jugs sold in stores for around 4 or 5 dollars each, with a $10 deposit on the returnable jug.  Most cooled the water but some also heated it up to nearly boiling.  It seemed like a good idea at the time to get a water cooler.  The kids could just help themselves to water with no more waiting or opening the fridge to get a drink all the time.  We thought that it would be a good idea to simply pick up a 5 gallon bottle of water (trucked from a spring across the province) while buying groceries and reduce our dependence on family and neighbours for water.  The novelty wore off within a couple of years.  First of all, I don’t like my drinking water cold and I am the one who drinks the most water.  So I ended up unplugging the darn thing.  Then when my husband got sick, it was hard for me to lift up one of those heavy 5 gallon bottles to put on the water cooler without spilling it all over the floor in the process.  Finally, I moved it out to the garage to store it.  I started to purchase one gallon jugs of spring water instead.  I also purchased 500 ml bottles of spring water in cases of 24 to take on-the-go.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.  I never bought Nestle bottled water because I’ve boycotted Nestle products for decades because of their violation of the WHO Code (read more here).

I told myself that it was alright to buy bottled spring water because

  • Our well water tasted disgusting to some people
  • It was from Ontario so it doesn’t have a long way to travel
  • I was a faithful recycler of my plastic bottles
  • Water was cheaper than other beverages like juice

I’ve been nagged by guilt for a few years now.  I felt guilty about all the unnecessary plastic I was responsible for.  Ever since I started recycling and composting, my ‘garbage’ has been reduced significantly to mostly wrappings around products that I buy.  I thought I was being a hypocrite too because I talked the eco-talk but didn’t ‘walk the walk’.  So come hell or high water, I was going to make a change in my life and stop buying bottled water.  Well, it wasn’t that hard.

glass of well water

I was just fooling myself.  In fact, our well water doesn’t taste THAT bad if I do a few things – I fill a recycled one gallon jug with tap water from my well; let it sit on the counter for 2-3 days for the sulphur smell to dissipate; then boil a kettle full at night; and finally when it’s cooled in the morning, I put it in a glass jar or two and keep them in the fridge.  Voila, the sulphur taste and smell are gone!  And all the healthy minerals are still in my beautiful water.  There’s no added fluoride or disinfecting chemicals like in treated town water.  Using my own well water is more sustainable and eco-friendly.  I don’t have to go anywhere to get it and it doesn’t have to travel for hundreds of kilometers/miles to get to me – no non-renewable resources like gasoline used by the trucks which haul it.  It’s more economical because it’s free except the few cents in electricity costs to run the well pump.  It’s morally right and my snub to the biggest and most abusive water-bottler in the world, Nestle (read more about it here and here).  Most of all, it’s healthier for me to drink my own well water rather than town water that has been chemically treated or spring water that has an expiry date stamped on the bottle.

When I go out, I can take a container of my water with me – we already have several metal and glass travel water containers and oodles of thermoses.

I admit that I DO keep some jugs of water stored for emergency use – our well pump does not work if the electricity is out.  Some are clean, recycled 2 liter pop bottles filled with tap water and a few drops of bleach while others are store bought spring water.

I feel blessed that I have access to fresh, clean drinking water in a world where this right is not guaranteed.

Take 8 minutes of your life and watch the Story of Bottled Water here.  I’ve taken my moral forty lashes.

Backyard

Backyard

Making Maple Syrup

Another year of maple syruping is behind me. The season was much shorter this year due to below normal temperatures in March – for tree sap to run, it requires daytime temperatures above 5 degrees celsius and nighttime temps below zero celsius (32F). It takes lots of liquid sap from maple trees to make maple syrup and the sap is frozen in the trees when temperatures are below freezing. Finally near the end of March, the outdoor temps started to rise above zero celsius in the daytime allowing the sap in the trees to unthaw. I tapped my maple trees in early April – you can read about it from a few years ago here – and started collecting maple sap in one gallon jugs.

Livi helping 2014

Livi helping 2013

Luckily I was still making fires inside in my wood cookstove because it was barely above freezing, so I could boil down the sap right there. Usually I get about 6 litres of sap every few days from my 3 tapped trees in the backyard – it looks just like water but it tastes a bit sweeter. I always drink a glass of the first sap that I collect as a ‘spring tonic’ as some native Canadians used to do . Six litres of sap fits in my largest stainless steel pot. I strain the maple sap through two coffee filters to get out the small bark chips and other organics .

straining sap

straining sap

It usually takes almost 2 days of simmering on top of the cookstove all day to boil down to syrup. From this whole 6 litre pot of sap, I get about a cup or so of pure maple syrup – that’s it! I don’t do anything fancy like check the temperature of the sap – I simply eyeball it to tell if it’s the consistency of thicker syrup.

2boilingdown
Once the sap has boiled down to maple syrup, I sterilize some small jam jars and their lids in boiling water for 10 minutes. As soon as I remove the jar from the boiling water, I pour the maple syrup into it. I dip a clean cloth into the boiling water and wipe off the rim of the jar before placing the hot lid fresh out of the water.

3jars

I end up with so few jars of finished maple syrup that I don’t get out my large canning pot to process it. I simply place the clean cloth in the bottom of a pot and put the 2 or 3 small sealed jars in the water and make sure that they stay covered with boiling water. I process them for 15 minutes after the water begins to boil again.

processing in boiling water

processing in boiling water

After removing the jars from the boiling water with my handy-dandy jar tongs, I let them sit on a cutting board to cool down. It’s a wonderful sound to hear that clear ‘pop’ when the lid seals itself.

Now the maple syrup is ready to be stored or eaten. In the past, I neglected the necessary part of the water bath process and ended up with moldy maple syrup even though I kept it in the fridge.

5finished

Homemade maple syrup from my own trees is incredibly delicious! I think it’s better than anyone else’s syrup. I had some right away on my French Toast for lunch.

homemade maple syrup on French Toast

homemade maple syrup on French Toast

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