Farewell Fall

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Ahhh, ’tis the season of snowblowers, ice scrapers and wood stoves. We had our first snow storm of the season overnight, and with it, our first snow day for my littlest man.  He was thrilled!  My husband, less so when he had to pull out the snowblower before heading to work.  But the day has gotten quite warm and a lot of it is melting off.  We have another 25 cms forecast for tonight.  Such is the life in New Brunswick.  Fall has been lovely, but I guess it’s time for us to move on.

I’ve gotten some of my canning projects completed over the fall, but not nearly as many as usual.  I seem to have lost steam this year with a number of things, not quite sure why.  But the basics are in the pantry, which makes me feel better about the cold coming.  I’ve got pot roast in a jar, chicken broth, vegetable soup, meatballs, baked beans and more pressured canned and put away.  I’ve also been working on my dehydrated stock, and it’s coming along.  I’m actually out of tomato powder (it’s amazing!!) so I’ll need to make some more.  The pickled beans turned out extra good this year, oh my Lord, why didn’t I make double?  I have no idea (probably because I was already over run with them and many other thing).  Walking past my canning shelves does make me happy.  I’ve got to make some jelly and a few other things for Christmas, but it’s coming along and my shelves are getting fuller.

The tea business has been booming, which is awesome!!  I’ve had three fantastic months sales wise (say hello to the fourth highest sales in Canada 2 months in a row 🙂  and hoping to keep the momentum up over the holidays and into the new year.  My trip to Hawaii is in early January, so I want to make sure I’ve got a thriving business to come back to.  With December starting, I’m sure to be busy the first two weeks, and then quiet for the last two.  My daughter will be home for a few days over Christmas, so I’ll be glad to have some quiet time with my husband and kids.  There have been a few vendor events over the last few months, and they’ve been super fun.  I love getting out and meeting new people.

Now, time to make some supper, close a party and make a batch of tequila pepper jelly.  The fun never stops.  Thank goodness, what would I do otherwise?

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Late night molasses run

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Tequila pepper jelly on the left and margarita jelly on the right. Theme canning.

It’s been a busy few weeks here.  I think the dog is feeling neglected because every time I turn around she has a sock in her mouth.  It’s her way of acting out.  “Love me!!”  There is literally a trail of socks from my bedroom to the living room.  I have extracted at least a dozen from her mouth this morning.  Poor thing.  When we are gone a lot, she seems to want to make sure we pay attention to her, no matter what.  There will be puppy cuddles a little later today after I get some housework done.  You know, the work that never gets finished, it just gets done?  Yep.  Laundry, cooking, driving my now 15 year old daughter to work, making jelly, ect, ect.

My tired puppy

My tired puppy

My amazing baby girl turned 15 yesterday.  It is crazy how quickly she has grown up into a terrific, thoughtful, compassionate, intelligent almost woman.  Kind of freaks me out, to be honest.  Only two more years, and she’ll graduate from high school and move on to university.  Raising kids kind of feels like tobogganing.  It’s a long, cold, hard climb to the top of the hill, but once you hit the teens, you are racing to the bottom, holding on for dear life and hoping not to fall off.  The oldest is graduated and moved out, and my not so baby girl won’t be far behind.  Thank goodness I still have a six year old.  Still climbing the hill with that one.

My birthday girl, who doesn't want her picture taken

My birthday girl, who doesn’t want her picture taken

So, Christmas markets.  I had two to prepare for.  One was at a seniors complex.  I’ve done four there now and love them, they are so fun!  The residents, staff and families seem to really enjoy them and we are getting to know the residents a little more each time we go.  I started canning by 9am the day before, and pulled the last jar from the canner at 9:30pm.  Crazy!  Then it was time to start baking.  Ugghh.  I know.  I’m insane.  My big sellers are the giant ginger cookies, so I couldn’t not bake them.  It was at 10pm when I discovered I was out of molasses.  Not good.  Can’t make my gingerbreads or my cookies without it.  Here I am, texting my friend Cynthia, who does the cupcakes, asking for molasses.  The good thing with us is that we do almost all the same markets and have been able to supply each other during late night baking sessions.  She called me a few minutes later and said she was out, but had called her mother in law.  Joyce lives almost next door to Cynthia, so off I raced down the road after 10pm to nab some molasses.  It was a cool, clear night and after being in a hot steamy kitchen all day, it was a welcome respite to head outside in a t-shirt.  Joyce was on her way to bed, but met me at the door with the prized molasses, for which I traded her a freshly bottled jar of apple cider jelly.  Then it was off to the kitchen, where I baked until 3am.

Giant ginger cookies at the market

Giant ginger cookies at the market

Up at 7:30am to get groceries, then come home, pack up, pick up my friend Monic the Dutch pie baker and head onto the highway for the hour drive to Riverview.  And it was all worth it.  This was a great market.  Lots of Christmas shopping.  I brought along some knitted items, as well as insoles and yarn from my brother’s alpaca farm.  In exchange, I got to pick out whatever I wanted from his products.  There is a selection of woven scarves that are to die for.  So I now have one for me.  And I love it!  So soft and warm.  I managed to do quite well for him, which made us both feel pretty good.  A good day with lots of laughs, fun and a few dollars in my pocket for Christmas shopping.

Some of the lovely items my brother has to offer from his farm

Some of the lovely items my brother has to offer from his farm

However, not the case at our next market a few days later.  I’ve never done a deader market.  Six hours, maybe thirty people through.  I made enough to pay for my table and gas, that’s it.  C’est la vie. It’s the way it goes.  But I was so tired, and it was really disappointing.  The good news is I’m getting people dropping by the house for jam, and looking for gift baskets.  So I’ve made a few this last week.  And I’ve been busy making fruitcakes.

Nana's dark fruitcakes

Nana’s dark fruitcakes

These are made from my Nana’s dark fruitcake recipe.  Truly nothing like the stuff you get at the store.  I actually like this fruitcake.  A lot.  I soak the fruit and nuts in brandy for at least a week, then bake it.  I’ve had orders, so I’ve been working away at getting them done.  They take three hours to bake, so I can only do so many at a time.  I’ve got three more batches of fruit soaking, then that’s it for this year.  But I’ll be keeping one for me to nibble on throughout the holidays.  The best thing about fruitcake is that its like wine, it gets better with age.  Hey, it’s quality control, right?  That way I’ll know how the flavour profile changes from week to week for next year’s orders.  Uh huh, I’ll keep on telling myself that.

Procrastinating, reporting and knitting

Procrastinating with tea

Procrastinating with tea

It’s Tuesday morning.  I’m on my second cup of tea with a list longer than my arm of things I need to do today.  And I’m going to get there, I really am.  After this cup of tea.  I swear.  If you listen carefully, you’ll  hear the sound of me trying to convince myself.  1.  wrap baskets for delivery   2.  clean up kitchen   3.  bake gingerbread men   4.  deliver baskets   5.  bake more fruitcake   6.  make wine jellies.  7.  make supper   8.  take youngest to curling.  It will be a busy day, but I’d rather be doing this than what some of my friends and former co-workers are up to today.  I used to be a reporter.  About six months ago I gave it up for a variety of reasons.  But sometimes I miss it, and I really enjoyed covering court.  It’s fascinating, both the legal end of it and how it works, and how everyone’s stories are on display.  It’s a place where everyone is vulnerable.  Those vulnerabilities are there for everyone to see, like being naked in front of strangers.   A big trial has just wrapped up in the city and the jury is deliberating, so that means my reporter friends are hanging around the court house, waiting for the verdict.  I’ve always said that broadcasting and reporting was a game of hurry up, wait.  You are usually going full tilt or you’re sitting by the phone like a teenage girl on a Friday night, waiting for it to ring.  The jury began deliberating yesterday, and called it a night around 8.  They’ll be back at it this morning.

Court is hard for those who find themselves in it.  Not just those who are accused of crimes, but those who are on the other side of whatever crime is alleged to have happened.  For families who’s loved one was injured or killed, it’s like they’ve fallen down the rabbit hole.  It’s not like what you see on tv.  What you don’t see is the frustration of families who show up to court only to have their matter adjourned.  They are looking for one thing, and it takes so much longer than they ever anticipate.  Even if the result is what they are hoping for, it never solves everything.  It hardly solves anything.  These people still have to figure out how to pick up the pieces.  Their grief is delayed.  They are grieving all the while, but think that once the matter is resolved through the courts, there will be closure.  There is no such thing.  I’ve always thought that court is full of damaged people.  Not just the accused.  But everyone in it.  We are all damaged by what we hear there, by the process, by what happened to bring us there in the first place.  There is this expectation that court will make it better, that justice will be done, and that life will be fair again.  But it never is.  And justice is often a shade of grey, not black or white.  It’s like victims expect the process to make them whole again, and instead, it takes a piece away from everyone involved.   Like leaves falling off the trees in fall.  So, while my reporter friends are waiting this morning at the court house, I’ll once again go over my list of things to do here and give thanks that I get to keep a little piece of myself this morning.

My current knitting project, a hat for me

My current knitting project, a hat for me

Last night, I stayed up way too late and worked on my knitting.  It’s something I’ve just taken up recently, and so far I’ve made scarves and hats.  I’m practicing ribbing, so I’m making myself a hat.  It’s going to be long and slouchy, at least in theory.  So far, I’ve made a hat for each of my kids and now this one is for myself.  I need it to keep me warm while I wait for my youngest’s bus to arrive each afternoon.  I like knitting in the round, it’s fun.  I’m not good at reading patterns, so all I’m doing with this is knitting five and purling five.  We’ll see how it turns out.  Maybe if I get this list done today I can finish it and work on another one.  Toques for all!  Hey, I’m Canadian.  Toques are mandatory.  😉

The first hat I ever made

The first hat I ever made

Snow!!

The dog, wondering why the chickens won't come out.

The dog, wondering why the chickens won’t come out.

Woo hoo!  Flurries!  I woke up to flurries and a cold wood stove this morning.  The dog is excited, my youngest son is excited, the chickens seem less so.  I opened the hatch on their house this morning, they walked out and stood on the ladder, and then turned around and have been inside ever since.  They seem to have the same feeling toward snow as many other people I know.  When the snow banks are taller than I am, I will join that bandwagon and bitch about shoveling.  I will.  I’m good at it.  But hey, it’s the first snow of the season.  All that dusty, muddy brown is turning to white.  As I type this, my youngest is getting dressed to take the dog out and play.  In fact, the dog just ran past my window at Mach 2.  She’s going so fast I don’t know if she’ll leave prints.

All set up for the Christmas market

All set up for the Christmas market

Yesterday I set up my little jam and cookie wares at a local Christmas craft market.  It was a bit of a reunion for some of us vendors who spend our summer Saturdays at the Upriver Country Market.  The market, which is held in a barn, closed for the season on Thanksgiving weekend, and will re-open next year at the end of June.  Some of us regularly run into each other at other markets and craft sales, but this was the first time the majority of the group was together in about 5-6 weeks.  It was fun, and a lot of wine jellies flew off my table, destined to become Christmas gifts.  Meanwhile, I picked up a few things for those on my Christmas list, like a great little purse from Val, who makes beautiful leather goods, and for me a little Dutch pie from Monic.  I came home with two bottles of wine from the Richibucto River Wine Estate.   But the best part of the day was winning a lovely hand painted bowl from the Williams.  I grabbed a couple of raffle tickets when I wandered over to the coffee booth and so glad I did!   All in all, it was a fun little market.  I’ve got two more to prep for this week, so I’ll be busy getting jam into jars and cookies into the oven.

The bowl I won at the market, handpainted by Maureen Williams.

The bowl I won at the market, hand painted by Maureen Williams.

Today though, my oven is reserved for fruitcake.  I’ve got a couple of people who’ve asked me to make them this year.  And by a couple I mean 25.  I’ve got my Nana’s dark fruitcake recipe, which is amazing!  Nothing like the bricks you buy in the store, that’s for sure.  About ten days ago, I made my fruit and nut mix and put it in a nice, relaxing brandy bath.  It’s been stirred daily and should be sufficiently steeped in booze to bake today.  Then I’ll baste them in brandy while still warm and send them to their new homes.  I will save one for us, though…I wonder if it goes well with the wine I bought?  Guess there is only one way to find out.

Fruit and nuts, relaxing in a brandy bath.

Fruit and nuts, relaxing in a brandy bath.

Birthdays and how babies change your life

Me and my first born when he was 11 months old

Me and my first born when he was 11 months old

 

 

 

 

 

My oldest child turned 18 today. At 5:35am Eastern Standard time. I had just turned 20 and my life was no longer my own. Which was huge. I was going from college party girl to mom in no time flat. My youngest brother had just turned four, so it wasn’t like I had no experience with babies. But to be fully responsible for someone else, that’s the biggest thing in the world. I remember bringing him home and him crying and me almost hysterical because I didn’t know why he was crying. The nurses at the hospital seemed to speak baby and could tell you from the cry what he wanted or needed. I had no clue. Then I gave myself the mental slap across the face and told myself that I was just going to have to figure it out. And I did. As billions of women before me have and billions more will. He grew and grew into a super smart and handsome boy and then into a young man. He’s had to live with some really hard things. He learned much earlier than some that life isn’t fair and that it can change in a heartbeat. He struggles, and he’s trying to find his way. And that’s part of growing up. I watch, and hope and pray that good things are coming for him and that he’ll make them happen for himself. Happy birthday my boy. Thank you for making me a better person and for making me a mom. Best gift I’ve ever gotten.

Here comes the snow

My driveway last December

The weather forecast has been threatening flurries for several days now, and each day I’ve been disappointed.  Now, I won’t be disappointed come March, but the first few flurries to hit the ground always make me smile.  They remind me of warm mittens, hot chocolate, cold flakes hitting my tongue and melting.  Snowmen, snowball fights, and laughter.  Walking down the road to the ice all frozen hard in the gravel pit, where we’d skate, carefully avoiding the rocks sticking up through the ice.  The smell of the air, crisp and clear and fresh.  So all in all, it makes me feel like a kid again.  It makes me smile and remember the joy and discoveries winter would bring each year.  How much snow would we get?  How many hours or days would the power go out for after a big storm?  How far could I snowshoe into the woods without getting scared I was too far in to find my way back?  And as always, lying back in the snow after making a snow angel, looking up into the sky and watching the clouds roll along.  I think as adults, we have forgotten how to enjoy these moments.  How to even allow ourselves to have them.  We are so busy shoveling the driveway, and getting places on icy roads and making sure the house is warm that those small, precious moments are lost to us.  I am always grateful that the first snow brings all of that back to me.  Even if just for a few minutes.  I’ll grumble about bringing in the wood and shoveling out the driveway in January.  And lament all the fall outdoor chores I didn’t get done next week.  But today, I’ll just give myself a few minutes to catch a few flakes on my hand and watch them melt so quickly it’s hard to believe they were even there.  And I’ll remember building forts with my brother and us trudging up the sides of the gravel pit with our crazy carpets, plotting our course down without hitting anything large and sharp.  Then walking ten minutes home to put soggy mittens next to the wood stove and wrapping cold hands around warm mugs, with the skin tingling from the quick transition from cold to hot.

Snow storm picture from the back yard of my last house. This is the Richibucto River, which flows out to the ocean.

Meanwhile, it’s another day of baking and jam making for this weekend’s Christmas farmers market.  A winter staple in our house are chocolate gingerbread men.  The recipe is from the book “The Good Cookie” by Tish Boyle.  I can’t recommend this book highly enough.  It’s fabulous.  Lots of info, lots of different types of cookies, really well written and every recipe I’ve ever made from it has turned out amazingly well.  If you like to bake, this should be on your cookbook shelf.

Chocolate Gingerbread Men

2 3/4 cups all purpose flour

1/2 cup nonalkalized cocoa powder, sifted

1 tsp ground ginger

1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground cloves

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup softened butter

3/4 cup dark brown sugar (Tish recommends Muscovado)

3/4 cup white sugar

1 large egg

2 tbsp hot water

1 tbsp unsulphured molasses

1 tsp baking soda

1.  In a large bowl, whisk flour, cocoa, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and salt.  Set aside.

2.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugars at medium speed until light in texture and colour, about 3 minutes.  Beat in egg.

3.  In a small bowl, stir together the hot water, molasses and baking soda, until the baking soda is dissolved.  At low speed, gradually add the baking soda mixture to the butter mixture.  Increase mixer speed to medium and mix until blended.  Then on low speed, add in the flour blend in several additions, until just combined.  Scrape dough onto a work surface, shape in a disk, wrap and put in the fridge for at least 2 hours, max three days.

4.  Preheat oven to 350 F.  Grease two sheets, use parchment paper or I use baking stones (already seasoned!  No more greasing and nothing ever burns! )

5.  Divide the dough into quarters.  Put the rest in the fridge while you work one quarter at a time.  Roll out  on a lightly floured surface until dough is about 1/8 of an inch thick.  Grab your gingerbread man (or woman) cutter and cut out as many little chocolately ginger people as you can and carefully transfer them to your baking sheet.  Bake the cookies for about 8-10 minutes per sheet and let them cool on the sheet for a few minutes before you transfer them to a rack to finish cooling.  Decorate as you will.  Or not.  They are pretty tasty warm from the oven.

Can you tell these were decorated by teenagers? The giant eyes are Hershey’s Kisses.