I’m back!

It’s been awhile!  So much has gone on in the last little while, I’ve had a hard time keeping up.  Some of the biggies:  my two oldest children have graduated high school and are now starting their adult lives.  Exciting, scary, and so many other emotions over that.  So now I’ve just got my little man at home, and wow, is it ever weird only having one child to look after.  I haven’t lived that since I was 23, so it’s taking some serious getting used to.  But it is also giving me more opportunities to work on other things, like my business, my canning hobby, and then adding new things.  So here is what I’m up to.

20151115_141322

Gingerbread Pu’erh tea.

I have started my new career as a tea match maker.  I’m a Group Director with Steeped Tea, so I help match people with the perfect tea for them.  It’s been over a year and a half now, and it’s phenomenal.  I love my job, I love the people I get to connect with, and I can’t live without the tea.  It’s been such a great year with the company that I actually earned a trip to Hawaii (!!!!!)  So this has been an amazing decision for me and my family.  I am so very grateful for it.

 

I am also so very grateful for the opportunity to go to Orange County California to become a Master Food Preserver.  Since nothing like this exists in Canada that I can find, it was an unbelievable chance of a lifetime.  I can’t say enough about how incredible the team at the Master Food Preservers/Master Gardeners program at the University of California, Irvine campus, are.  Truly above and beyond.  Cinda, who not only spent a week teaching us but welcomed us into her home with her family, is likely one of the loveliest people I’ve ever been blessed to meet.  I’ll do a whole post just on this experience because it was AMAZING.   I have now gone down the rabbit hole of fermenting and dehydrating as well.

Yep.  My husband thinks our fridge now looks like a science experiment and that I’ve turned our house into a lab.  But it’s all pretty tasty.  I’ve got kombucha, ginger beer, and sauerkraut fermenting and I’ve got the dehydrater going pretty much every day.  Everything from chanterelles, fruit leather, and dog treats.  Love, love, love it.  I have so many jars in my pantry right now full of tiny dehydrated things.  Like, did you know you can fit 20 stalks of rhubarb into a pint jar when dehydrated?  It’s true!

1464608297055

I’ve also been going pretty hard core with a lot of projects for a long time, so I’m learning to step back and look after myself.  That’s a hard one!  You’d think it would be easy to care for yourself.  But for me, not so much.  So this is a real learning experience.  And one I struggle with every day.  I’m getting back into a daily yoga practice and walking every day, just to have a few moments alone with myself and my thoughts.  I’d love to hear what works for you to feel relaxed, centred and healthy.

Revolutionary things

Homemade yogurt

Sometimes, I come across something so simple, but so good, it changes the way I think or do things.  I become an infomercial type convert, telling everyone I know about this new amazing thing I’ve found.  One of the latest ones is making my own yogurt.  I’ve done it before.  It was fussy, I used a yogurt maker with the little jars.  It was more annoying than worth my while, I thought, plus it was yet another thing clogging up my kitchen.  Which, trust me, is full of almost every kitchen tool known to man.  So I gave up yogurt making, and bought it at the grocery store for years.  Until I stumbled on a blog post. The lovely Alana of Eating From the Ground Up, wrote a great post about yogurt making.  You use…. get this….your crockpot!!  Voila!!! Yogurt! (yes, this does make me excited.  This is where the infomercial type announcer comes in.)  Minimal fuss, less expense, more taste.  How could you go wrong?  Here’s a link to her post:  http://www.eatingfromthegroundup.com/2012/05/crock-pot-greek-yogurt/.  I love her blog. She feels like a kindred spirit in food and frugal.  So basically, it goes like this:  take out your crockpot, put 8 cups of milk in it, turn it on high, walk away (See, liking this already, right?)  Come back awhile later and check the temperature of your milk.  When it hits 185, which takes about two hours with mine, turn off the crockpot and walk away.  (I know!!!  Isn’t this great?)  Come back awhile later, and when the temperature of your milk drops to 110, turn it off and add 1/2 cup of plain yogurt.  If it’s your first batch, you’ll need to buy some at the grocery store.  I like the Astro Balkan style plain, so that’s what I used.  Now, I just save a half a cup from each batch for the next one.  Now, here is the part that makes your friends look at you funny when they pop over during yogurt making.  Unplug the crockpot and wrap it up in a warm blanket.  Leave it on the counter for 6 hours.  I use a fuzzy pink blanket that belongs to my daughter so I get a lot of questions like “what the hell is that?” when people come over.  My oldest son thought that I was employing an ingenious way to protect baked goods from his midnight snack runs and took pictures of it while he unwrapped it, thinking I would know how the blanket was originally wrapped and “catch” him.  He was mighty disappointed to discover yogurt, which he doesn’t like.

Milk turned into yogurt after the six hour sit

Now at this point, I like to pour mine into a large sieve lined with cheesecloth and sit it on top of a large bowl.

Yogurt straining

Then I put it in the fridge overnight and wake up to thick, tangy Greek style yogurt.  How’s this for fabulous?

Delicious, thick, homemade Greek yogurt.

Super fabulous.  In fact, revolutionary.  It has revolutionized my yogurt eating.  I realize this may seem like a rather grandiose statement, but it’s true.  Then, guess what?  Great yogurt by product!!  Whey!

Whey after the yogurt has been strained overnight.

I use the whey when making bread.   I’ve got a couple of mason jars in the fridge full of whey, then on a cooler day I’ll bake 6 or 8 loaves of bread using the whey instead of water in my bread dough.  It truly is the little things in life…

Sometimes small revolutionary things pop up in the garden.  Like the first crop of radishes.  My Nana says everyone should grow radishes because they always come and give you a sense of accomplishment.  They come no matter what.  So when the whatever it is that keeps nibbling the tops off my carrots makes me crazy and I’m waging war on the slugs, these little spicy red gems make me feel like I’m doing something right.

Radishes, picked minutes before.

I love revolutionary things, no matter how big or small.  It’s important to try and take them where ever you find them.  And even more important to be grateful for them.

Another week…..

I just came in from an hour of weeding in the garden.  Strangely, I find weeding addictive.  Feel free to throw things at me, I know it sounds bizarre.  When I was a kid and was sent out to weed the garden, I couldn’t wait to be finished and hated every second of it.  Maybe I get carried away now because as an adult I don’t get to spend a lot of time by myself doing something that my brain doesn’t need to think about.  Does that make sense?  I always feel like I’ve got so many balls in the air, I’m constantly thinking about what needs to be done and what I am doing (which is usually several things at a time.)  When I’m weeding, I’m just pulling stuff up and pulling more stuff up.  My brain is quiet, I’m quiet.  At night, I need to read, even just for a few minutes, in order to shut off the constant ticker tape in my head.  It’s like a few pages of someone else’s story helps me forget my own long enough to pass out.  No more grocery lists, to do lists, family schedules, ect.  Just me and that stupid blade of grass in the middle of my beets.  Weird, but I stand by my assertion that weeding can be therapeutic.

One of the many things I got to do this week was spend a day in the city with my husband and youngest son.  We went to the movies, out for dinner, and I did errands.  On the way home, we stopped at my brother’s house for a quick visit.  He was in the barn working on a trailer, my little nephew enjoying his sandbox.  My brother has alpacas.  They are such lovely animals, I like checking in with them when we visit.  And this time, there was a new baby!  This little boy (name pending) was only three days old.

The new baby boy in the field

But he’s not the only new baby at the farm.  This little guy is three weeks old.

Another new baby boy

He’s a little camera shy, I guess.  But hanging out with these guys is also one of those things that brings me a few minutes of quiet and a feeling of peaceful contentedness.  Kind of like weeding, minus the sore back at the end.

Week number two at the farmers market was good.  I had a much bigger booth this week, which was terrific.  Thanks to the couple who normally occupy it but offered it to me this week since they wouldn’t be there.  They have permanent shelving in their stall for the gift baskets they do.  And it was terrific for my display.

The big seller this week was strawberry margarita jam.  It’s amazing how excited people get when you tell them there is tequila in a jam.  Really.  Everyone who sampled it bought a jar.  That was a pretty good track record, I thought.  I have two jars left of the two batches I made.  So I’ll be off to the strawberry u-pick this week in order to do up a few more batches.  It’s probably the last week for strawberries, so I’m going to make it count.  Another item gaining in popularity is the lemon poppy-seed mini loaves.

Lemon poppy-seed mini loaves, still hot from the oven.

I put the lemon zest in the loaves, and then juiced the lemons to make the lemon syrup.  I basted these little babies for about an hour while I was making the strawberry margarita jam.  First I used a skewer to poke holes in them, then basted, then flipped them over, then basted.  Then flipped them back and basted.  And basted again.  They were well soaked with lemon syrup by the time the jam cooled.  There is one loaf left.  I think it would be great with a cup of tea right about now.  While I recuperate from all that weeding.

First Farmers Market

For years, my friends have been saying “you bake so much, you can so much, you should sell it!”.  And I have a little.  I’ve done Christmas baking baskets for a few years and have used that money to fund our Christmas.  But this summer I thought I’d take the plunge and get a booth at the local farmers market.  This is the second year for the Upriver Country Farmers Market in Bass River.  A friend of mine had a table selling cupcakes (hers are so amazing!!  Really!  I’ll take some pictures and post them, Cynthia’s cupcakes are beautiful and delicious.).  She was really pleased with how well the market went last year, so I thought, okay, I’ll try it.

Now, I have a tendency to go a little overboard.  But better over prepared than under, right?  So, I made jam. I made rhubarb ginger jam, rhubarb vanilla jam, apple cider jelly, I’ve got blueberry lime jam, cranberry orange marmalade.  And after a week of rain, Friday was sunny, so I went strawberry picking.  My five year old and my husband came along, and we had three bowls full in 40 minutes.  Then we went home and I turned those into 52 jars of strawberry jam and 11 jars of strawberry rhubarb jam.  By the time I started getting jam into bottles it was 2:30 in the afternoon.  But I was in the groove, it was flowing, it was going so well.  Then I asked my husband if he would go to town and get me one more box of jars and three more boxes of Certo.  He came back with two boxes of jars and one box of Certo.  ????  I teased him that he suffers from selective hearing and he gives me the “gggrrrr” look before he headed back to town for me.

It was also hot on Friday.  Like, really hot and humid.  I was dying for a shower by noon, but thought, I need to get this done.  When the jam was finally finished just before 10, I got baking.  I needed to get the chocolate cinnamon bread and the giant oatmeal cranberry chocolate chip cookies done!  Since I had to work the day before (and my work is an hour commute each way) and then get groceries, not much baking happened Thursday.  So I said goodnight to my husband and started baking.  And baking.  I managed to pop into the shower while some of the bread was baking, with much relief.  You know, you can really tell you’ve been at it in the kitchen for awhile when you take off your bra and sugar falls to the floor.  I mean, I live by the ocean, I’ve had that experience with sand, but never with white granulated sugar.  Good times!

At 3am, my husband came walking out in the kitchen, eyes small and bleary and said “what the hell are you doing?”  I said, baking cookies.  He shook his head and went back to bed.  I was pretty tired at this point.  I just accidentally dumped about four tablespoons of my good Epicure cinnamon into the dishwasher.  Why, you ask?  Not quite sure.  Then I realized, I used to pull all nighters to study or party.  Now I was pulling baking all nighters.   Finally, I managed to lie on the couch at 4:30am until my alarm went off at 6:30am.  Oh yeah, gotta pack the van now and head over to the market, which is about 25 minutes from my house.  And stop at my mom’s to pick up the folding table she was lending me.  And drop off my five year old son.  Thank goodness for the world’s most amazing teenage daughter.  She painted my signs for me, loaded and unloaded the van, and was a terrific help.  I am blessed with great kids.  Truly a lucky woman.

So, how did it go?  Well, I over prepared.  My mom, who is a veteran of some of the bigger farmers markets in the area, took one look at the back of my van and said “oh wow, you’ve brought too much”.  But that’s okay.  Since it’s my first time, it’s hard for me to say how it went.  But my friend Cynthia said it was a bit quiet, she’s seen it much busier.  And she’s doing another farmers market in Shediac on Sundays.  I think I’m going to give it a try.  This farmers market stuff is a bit addictive.  I came home with a dutch apple pie, two dozen farm fresh eggs, got a breakfast sandwich and coffee while I was there and got to chat with some lovely people.  It was great to see some friends I don’t get to connect with all that often.

Lessons learned:  the cookies are big sellers.  Make more signs.  Bring more quarters for my float.  And try to get a few hours sleep before you go.  My afternoon consisted of me lying on the couch dozing.  The point where you are so tired you can’t sleep kind of sucks.  And my couch isn’t all that comfy for long periods of laying.

Giant Oatmeal Cranberry Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

3 cups oatmeal ( I like the large flake)

1/2 tsp cinnamon

2 large eggs

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla

3/4 cup melted butter

2 tbsp vegetable oil

1 cup white sugar

1 cup packed brown sugar

1 cup chocolate chips

1 cup dried cranberries

Start by combining the first five ingredients in a bowl.  I like to just whisk them together.  Then in the bowl of your mixer, combine the sugars, butter and oil until it’s nice and smooth.  In another bowl (this is when I love my dishwasher), mix together the eggs, salt and vanilla.  Now, add that to the mixer bowl of sugars and butter, once that’s nice and smooth, start adding in the dry ingredients.  I do it a little at a time until it’s all combined.  Then, drop the cranberries and chocolate chips in and mix.

Your oven should be preheated to 350, and you’ll need a couple of cookie sheets.  I usually end up with four cookies per sheet, because they are so big.  They need some room to spread out while you are baking them.  I use a tablespoon, and scoop out two generous tablespoons of dough per cookies.  Roll into a ball, place on the sheet.  You can bake them two sheets at a time, just switch their positions in the oven after ten minutes.  Then bake another ten minutes.  So twenty minutes of baking.  Let them cool on the cookie sheet for at least five minutes before you try to move them.  Put them on a baking rack to cool and voila!  Delicious!