Monday, February 28, 2011

A Little Hat


If I could leave well-enough alone, this little hat would have been about as close to instant gratification as I am likely to get....a least as far as knitting goes when I am the knitter. But I got worried about size when I was almost finished the first time - pulled it almost all out, wound the wool up and got to work again. The second time, I didn't count carefully enough and the decreases were not working out the way they should have - undone again. But like they say, third time's the charm (that and I was getting a bit fed up with the project). So, if not for all that, it would have taken just a short afternoon to make this little hat for Ysa. As it was it only took one afternoon and an evening. Now there is a hat to match the sweater. Cute to be sure but could anything begin to match the perfection of this face? How I love her.


In the unlikely event that you haven't seen the perfectly beautiful pictures Eden took of Ysa in her sweater and bonnet do go take a look. Sigh.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sunshine


Today is one of those days that feel like winter will never end. It is not especially cold (unlike Friday -30 C!!!!!) at -4 degrees but it is grey. The streets are ugly from the salt and gravel. My vegetable garden is under three feet of snow and it looks like no zucchini would dream of growing there ... ever. My head aches and my heart is heavy, arghhhh! I want to wake up to new life, green, growing,sunshine. Since I am pretty sure that reality is many sleeps away, and I am not one to wallow (at least not for very long) I think what the doctor ordered is a trip to the grocery store where one can purchase a bit of summer for the price of a couple of zucchini and two lemons. Don't believe me? You might after trying this cake. I am pretty sure actually, that you will. 

This cake is soooooo good. The brown sugar adds warmth and is a nice foil for the brightness of the lemon. The chia seed was my substitution for poppyseed and I think it is a much better choice. If you haven't tried chia (or Salba a trademark name) it is worth the trip to get. You will most likely need to go to a whole foods type of market but may be lucky enough to find it in the health food section of your supermarket. It is super duper good for you and the tiny seeds add a perfect little crunch. mmmmmmmmmm.

Lemon Zucchini Cake

finely grated peel of 2 lemons
1/3 cup milk
1 cup unsalted butter
1 1/3 cup golden brown sugar
4 large eggs, separated
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup ground almonds
3 Tbsp chia seed
2 medium zucchini, coarsely grated
1/2 tsp cream of tartar

 for the icing:
1 cup powdered sugar
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp finely grated lemon peel
2-3 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Butter and baseline with parchment paper a 9" springform pan. Heat the milk until hot but not boiling. Add the lemon peel and let cool while you make the rest of the cake batter.

Cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks, followed by the vanilla, flour, baking powder, salt, ground almonds and chia seed. Add the milk and lemon peel mixture and the zucchini. In a separate grease-free bowl beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until stiff, then fold into the other combined ingredients. Scrape into the prepared pan and level the surface.

Bake in 375 F oven for 50-60 minutes, until just firm to the touch and a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes before turning onto wire rack to cool completely.

When cool, mix together powdered sugar, melted butter and lemon peel. Add sufficient lemon juice to make a spreadable icing. Spread over cake top.

And look! The sun is weakly trying shine for me - just since I sat down here.  A little reminder and a bit of hope. Spring will come. I feel better already.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Nursery at Merin's House - Before and After

Before (obviously during demolition - the previous glory of the room was, sadly, not recorded)



Before there was a pregnancy this room was "the baby's room".  Every choice, from paint to pictures, was made with joy and anticipation. It was a huge pleasure and privilege to help Merin prepare this space for  her very much desired baby. Before Ysa's birth, we were not aware of  her gender. That meant all the choices were made so that either "color" of baby - pink or blue - would be comfortable here; we would just tweak things by adding vintage metal trucks or tutus and bows after the big reveal.  Merin wanted a room that would be a reflection of not only her taste and style but also comfort and love. The budget was tiny but that just makes the challenge a lot more fun. 

When the house was purchased there was clean but worn broadloom covering the oak flooring. We stripped off two layers of wallpaper and found evidence of two previous paint colors under that! There was an unattractive home-made* looking desk mounted (most unfortunately) very securely to the wall. This room was ever so tired and dark. So off with the wallpaper, out with the carpeting, and on with the fun.


We chose a very soft, warm grey for the walls. The floors were refinished a dark nutmeg color (as throughout the house) and Jonathon contributed the sheepskin rug that I had pieced together for him (by hand! ) from individual sheepskins several years ago. On a trip to the flea market we found the super-fantastic vintage rocking horse and knew it was meant for this baby's room - the original blue paint was perfect. I had made the linen drapes for our apartment in Tokyo and when they were spiffed up by adding a wide band of striped yellow, grey and black fabric to the bottom they were perfect here as well. 


The pictures are actually vintage children's books from the 1950's. The format is the same as a comic book and the illustrations were so delightful that we wanted to use them as art. Off to Ikea for Ribba frames, down to my stash for some great textured paper from Korea (the paper looks like matelasse - with a lovely 3D texture - perfect again!), a little measuring and cutting and our masterpieces were done. 




Merin's teddy bear collection was retrieved from the wooden box of her childhood treasures - saved for this very time. (The flowered bear in the crate was made from a curtain that hung in Merin's great-grandmother's home and wears a collar made of a hand-crocheted doily that the same grandmother made, the little white bear on the shelf was made by her Aunt Shan.) Jonathon was recruited to do the design for the vinyl lettering on the roller blind and the wall above the dressers. A little more primping and....Ta da! Finito!

A lovely little room to welcome a sweet baby in this happy home. Not long used but Merin loved it and loved every moment of preparing it for Ysa. Happily, Ysa still sleeps in the same crib, with the same quilts her momma made, surrounded by the same nursery rhyme quotes, framed books and teddy bears. Just in a different house. But still a happy home - filled and overflowing with love. Sweet, lucky baby.


photos courtesy of eden lang pictures with the exception of the 4th (obviously iPhone pic) Thanks once again Eden!

* I am not opposed in any way to DIY - I just prefer things to look hand-crafted rather than home-made! Big difference.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

J'adore Theodore




Theo is as tough as a tank - his preferred route is direct rather than easy. He loves animals - his current favorite is a lion and he roars whenever he finds a picture or a toy lion. Busy, busy, busy, and mostly on the run, his mission is to explore every nook and cranny. He is tender and sweet with baby Ysa (with whom he shares a special bond). He loves Bapa and is even pretty fond of me. He prefers to eat very little other than dried cranberries and bananas. He can snuffle like a bunny, "gap" like a fish, and pant like a puppy.  He says only a few words and one of them is "Ys" (eeeees - for Ysa). He likes to sit on my lap and "read" books with me - especially one about Noah's Ark (lots of animals to point out and make sounds for). He loves to forage in my pantry. He is solid and strong and sweeter than sweet. His smile is like the sun and I even find his total despair when something offends him adorable. I am totally, totally, his slave.


16 months


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Gabby Draws



Gabrielle Letourneau is a young woman of incredible talent and intelligence. She is the rare combination of artistic and creative ability and a really sharp mathematical mind - the whole right brain/left brain thing in balance and really heavy on both sides at that! She is also my niece so I am lucky to have a piece of her work in my home (the chair - a story for another day). I have watched her skill develop as she has grown and I am truly in awe. In an extended family that is pretty loaded with creative ability she really stands out. 


This last Christmas I commissioned  her to do a sketch of the wedding dress that I designed and made for Eden, as my gift to Eden. In the end it was much more than a sketch, it is a beautiful pencil drawing with intricate detail, a special piece of art that both Eden and I love. 




The drawing is large (27x40 inches) and done on vellum. It is cool and fantastic, just like Eden - and Gabby!

This reproduction drawing of the Degas dancers was a birthday gift that Gabby did for Merin's 18th birthday. Merin loved it and hung it on the gallery wall in the living room of the lovely little home she shared with Mike.



Thanks Gabby. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sunday Suppers and an Orange Cake



Sunday supper - doesn't it just sound  lovely?  Because I love our family's tradition of Sunday get-together suppers, those two words conjure memories of wonderful, warm, happy times with the people I love most. Some Sundays it is just a few that can gather, other weeks more and still best (but rare) we are all together. The little ones running around, strewing books and toys, playing make believe and 'helping' with the baking. Adults talking - relaxed - in cozy couches, holding a baby or toddler...or not. The warm smells of delicious food. The secure feeling of unity and understanding - sharing. Belonging.


This past Sunday my sister Shannon and her daughter Gabby joined the gang here. Because Shan cannot indulge in any dairy or gluten tainted goodies I ventured out into the new (for me) territory of baking with alternatives. And guess what? It was not just mildly successful but crazy good. It has a nice light - but still very moist - texture, the most heavenly aroma, and is such a pretty orange color. I would make it again even if Shan was no where around .... but then again, hopefully she might come more often!




Glazed Orange and Coconut Pudding Cake
very slightly adapted from Cannelle et Vanille 


makes one 8" cake


4 medium Seville oranges
3 eggs
1 cup natural cane sugar
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
1 vanilla bean
1/2 cup coconut flour
1/2 cup almond meal
3 Tbsp tapioca flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda


Prepare an 8" springform pan by buttering the sides and bottom of the pan and covering the bottom with parchment paper. 


Cover whole oranges (yup, peels and all) with water in a medium pot and cook, covered, for 1 1/2 hours. They float so you will need to (try) to turn them over from time to time so as to make the whole orange tender. Drain the water and place the oranges in a large bowl. When they are cool enough to handle, split them open and remove the seeds. Put the juice, flesh and peel in a food processor and puree to a fine paste.


Put 1 cup of the puree in a bowl with the eggs, sugar, vanilla (seeds scraped from the vanilla bean) and melted coconut oil. Whisk to combine and then whisk in the dry ingredients. Put batter into prepared pan and bake at 350 F for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted  in center comes out clean.


Cool in pan for 15 minutes, then remove collar and let cool completely. Dust with icing sugar. Before serving pour glaze over individual portions.


Orange Glaze


1 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice


Whisk together until smooth.



Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Sweater for Ysa

Back in the olden days when I was a child visiting my grandparents on the farm, my grandma taught me how to knit. Since it was so very long ago, I cannot say for sure if I took to the concept because I thought it was really cool or if I was simply needing something to do, but whatever the case I turned out slippers, scarves and potholders galore for a while. The knitting project paled though as I entered my teens and got lost by the way. From time to time (very infrequently it must be said) I have pulled out the needles and made something. The idea appeals but getting started..... well, hmmmmmm. Yes then.


One of the projects I started when we went on our little time out in Fairmont was a sweater for Ysa. It was something I had picked out before she was born - before we even knew of she was she or he. Life has been quite demanding since her birth and it was a treat to be able to sit and knit and reflect. I must make clear that I am not an expert knitter - there is much I would like to learn - but I do love it. One of the things I like less about knitting is the lesson in delayed gratification. I cannot turn out a sweater or a pair of socks in an evening say. But this little sweater knit up very quickly. I can attest to that because it is finished and went home with Ysa today. 


Late yesterday afternoon it looked like this:



At 9:00 this morning it looked like this:


And at 10:30 this morning it looked like this:


Adorable I think. No. I know! Could be the baby that is really so beautiful but I think the sweater suits her. The yarn is an amazing blend of Italian merino wool, microfibre and cashmere. Heavenly soft. And it is machine washable too, so it is not entirely impractical for an infant. If you could feel it you would have chosen it too. And the color is so perfect with those wide blue eyes. The sweater is a little big (note the stylishly rolled sleeves) but that just extends the wear. Her mom was so excited about it that we made a little bonnet to match out of some fabric that Merin and I had chosen for a quilt that didn't get made. Nice to think that Ysa is using something Merin chose, I made and Eden thought of. 


The bonnet was made from a doll pattern that I enlarged - I need to rework it but it is still adorable. Or maybe it is the baby again! Pretty much sure that's it. Don't you love the love there between mom and babe?

Eden said something about feeling the need for a photo shoot with this outfit. I cannot wait to see her pictures. I love her work!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Danish Puff Tea Party



A tea party!  Gabby needs to try Danish Puff. And the rest of us simply needed to have some. Poor Gabby, the sweetest niece -ever- had never had one of our family's favorite treats (her mom can't eat wheat or dairy so....). The two of them were going through some old recipes and Gabby wondered about that one. Shannon loved it well (enough so that she knows she has no control when it is around - nor do I or anyone else I know for that matter!) and wanted Gab to try it. So we had a tea party - for sisters (and little girls cousins).


The perfect excuse to get together, use pretty things, drink teas and eat yummy treats in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week - just because. Doesn't get much better than that.




The recipe has been around forever and I don't know where it came from. What I do know is that it is a great combination of flavours and textures. The crust is nice and short. The middle settles to a nice, slightly chewy -almost custardy- texture with a crisp light top and the almond butter icing is the perfect irresistible finish. I am seriously craving some now!




Danish Puff


 1/2 cup  unsalted butter cut into 1 cup flour
blend in 2 Tbsp water
- pat mixture evenly onto 10x15" baking sheet.
(It will be a thin layer and takes a bit of patience to get there.)


Bring to boil:
1 cup water
1/2 cup unsalted butter
Remove from heat and add 2 tsp almond extract. Add 1 cup flour and 1/4 tsp of sea salt, beating well. Add 3 eggs, one at a time, beating well. Spread over dough on cookie sheet.


Bake at 425 F. for 12 minutes then lower the temperature to 350 F. and continue baking for another 15 minutes. Do NOT open the oven door during baking.


While the pastry is still warm finish with the almond butter icing. It will melt, yes, but that's what you want. While the icing is warm, sprinkle with flaked almonds. Cut into thin rectangles to serve - or just sit down with the pan and have at it!! lol


Almond Butter Icing


2 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup butter
2 Tbsp cream
1 tsp almond extract


Beat together until smooth. It may be necessary to add a little cream if the icing is too stiff.



Gabby made these adorable tea bags with an assortment of her favorite loose-leaf caffeine free teas. I love the way they look and, oh my, they were delicious. My personal favorite teas come from The Secret Garden in Vancouver. It is an absolutely perfect little tea house and they sell some of their teas. I love any of their Rooibos 'teas' and always bring some home or beg them from Jonathon.

Monday, February 14, 2011

How Do I Love Thee?



I love you. Such a simple phrase, so much employed. I know I say it often - and often when I say it I think about what I mean when I say it. And I wonder, and hope, that when I say 'I love you' my shorthand will be understood. Because for me it is shorthand for oh-so-many things. 


When I say 'I love you' I mean: 
I think  you are wonderful, capable, talented. 
I feel secure and happy when I am with you. 
I know that you can do amazing things, that I am in awe of your skills and abilities. 
To me, you are incredibly beautiful. 
You delight me. 
You inspire me.
I like to be, and want to be, with you.
I miss your presence when we are apart.
I would do anything for your happiness and comfort.
I have confidence in you.
I trust you.
You mean the world to me.
You are absolutely precious, unique and irreplaceable.


All that and more. Truly. I mean it and hope it is felt. I really do. 




Happy Valentine's Day.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Marshmallows with Jane


Thursday's are special since Christmas because now that Jane is 3 she is old enough to go to the preschool ballet class on Thursday afternoons.  Theo stays with me because at (just) 1 he still needs a nap. Most weeks, Hannah and kids come over late in the morning to play for a bit before it is time for the serious business of lunch, doing "ballet" hair, getting Theo to bed and Jane off to class. Sometimes just to make the day even more special Eden and her girls come too. But not today.


Today Jane and I had just enough time to make pink marshmallows. She was the sweetest little helper and after helping was even sweeter - if a little sticky.




Marshmallows

3 envelopes of Knox unflavoured gelatin
1/2 cup cold water
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup
1/4 cup water
1/4 tsp sea salt
powdered sugar and cornstarch for dredging

Line a 9x13" pan with foil and spray foil generously with cooking spray.

Sprinkle gelatin over 1/2 cup water in a large bowl. Soak for at least 15 minutes.

Combine sugar, corn syrup, and 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute. Pour boiling syrup into gelatin* and mix at high speed. Add the salt, vanilla, and almond extract and continue beating for about 10-12 minutes or until white, glossy and stiff peaks form. Scrape into prepared pan and shake to spread evenly. If you want to smooth it more than this you can use a wet spatula or even wet hands.

Let the mixture sit at room temperature for 30 minutes (or more). Mix together equal measures of cornstarch and powdered sugar - I use about 3 Tbsp of each. Turn marshmallow out onto a cutting board that has been dusted quite liberally with the cornstarch and sugar. Peel the foil off and sprinkle the exposed candy with more powder. Cut with a sharp knife that has been dusted with the powder as well. (You will need to keep dusting the knife after pretty much every cut - or things get very sticky and get ugly fast.) Roll the cut marshmallows in the sugar mixture.... or coconut, or cocoa and powdered sugar, or cinnamon and sugar, or toasted coconut, or...you get the idea.

Store in an airtight container - if there are any left!

*Most recipes I have read say to pour the syrup in a thin stream over the gelatin but once (because I was in a hurry and didn't read carefully enough) I just dumped the whole thing over the gelatin and started to mix. Happily, it worked just fine and so that is what I do now. You can choose your method but for me, easy always wins (as long as it also works).

Notes: 
Jane and I wanted pink marshmallows today so we added a tiny dab of pink food colouring paste just we started the beating process.

The sky - or your imagination - is the limit when it comes to flavouring marshmallows. Chocolate (cocoa), cinnamon, licorice, mint. Whatever I have tried so far has been yummy.



And that is a pretty cute pile of pink!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Time Out


Last week David and I went to Fairmont. My brother Mike and his wife Michele have a time-share condo there and they ever so kindly invited us to join them. The holiday that they outlined when they extended the invitation sounded lovely but the reality exceeded the expectation, at least for me. It was - simply - quite blissful. We did only what we wanted to do. Period. 

Mike and Michele have both experienced loss that has been profound - his wife and her son - so they truly do know. It is both comfortable and comforting to be with them because there are no demands, no expectations - just  understanding and companionship. They have been an incredible source of help and love not only to David and I but to all of our family. They have had Eden's little ones overnight. Mike has worked at Mike and Merin's for hours and hours. Michele (a nurse in the NICU at Rockyview Hospital) spent several nights with us at the Children's Hospital helping with Ysa - and that after a 12 hour day in the nursery. Food, help, love. So freely offered, so generously given. 

Mike is two years younger than I. When we were children and would bicker as all children do, I remember my father teaching me that it was important to treat my brother with love because he would be one of the best friends I would ever have. We were great friends as children and then, indeed, best friends as teenagers but it is only now that I truly understand what a tremendous blessing that friendship is. In Fairmont as Mike worked on the puzzles that he loves to do, I remembered his absorption in dismantling a clock or building with Meccano - his round cheeks flushed, little boy eyes sparkling - and I felt such a surge of love for him and gratitude for the years of friendship.

The relaxed pace of a holiday where we slept late, ate well, went skiing - or stayed in and read, or watched old movies (in the afternoon!!!!), or worked on sewing projects - that was lovely. But the bliss was being with one another and with others we love who also love us. Thanks Mike and Michele for all of that. It was the perfect time out.


Monday, February 7, 2011

Felted Wool Heart Scarves


Valentines's Day is coming. Perfect motivation to be creative - and with two sweet, sweet little girls in mind - the wheels started turning. I decided to make scarves for them out of felted sweaters. So off to Value Village to buy a few previously loved sweaters for the project. I was amazed at the apparently large number of people who wash - and dry - wool sweaters. By machine. In hot water. Seriously interesting. (There was even a lovely pink cashmere sweater from BCBG that I don't think had started life sized to fit a 2 year old.) Anyway, a stranger's loss was my gain since this was exactly what I was looking for. I chose six sweaters in shades and patterns that seemed roughly "valentine's-ish", carted them home and got to work.


Felting sweaters is easy and ... fun! (You get to do what you really shouldn't and it works out well. How often does that happen?!) Just toss the 100% wool sweaters in the machine with a healthy amount of detergent and run the cycle with hot water. Put them in the dryer on hot. Repeat. And voila! perfectly miniaturized sweaters that are nicely felted. I cut the sweaters apart at the seams, pressed them lightly, and cut out a bunch of 3" hearts from one sleeve of each sweater.


Next I lined the hearts up in a way that appealed to me and sewed them together using Pearl Cotton. I use 'sew' loosely because really I just made a couple of stitches and then tied a knot leaving the ends showing. Just for fun I embroidered an initial on each scarf.  Done! 


I would like to be all "Oh this old thing?" - kind-of-cool about this project but really I am pretty tickled with how it turned out. More "Look, look, look!" than cooly uncaring but, what's the big deal with cool?I love how the hearts look a bit like flower petals. I love how the little girls played all afternoon wearing their new scarves. More magic.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Caramels with Mediterranean Sea Salt



I had meant to post this recipe before Christmas - but everyone knows what happens to things one means to do before Christmas. At least I always have a pile of ideas that I never get to in time. When the post didn't happen, I thought 'no worries, just do it next December' but then Jonathon relayed the info that his friend Allie wanted the recipe (I am guessing he shared some of what I sent home with him at Christmas time) and I decided that it made all kinds of very good sense to share the recipe as a Valentine's Day treat. For some people it isn't a real treat unless it involves chocolate - others (myself) prefer something caramel-y and salted. So if you know someone like that try a batch of these to say "I love you more than the whole world!"


Caramels with Mediterranean Sea Salt


1 cup unsalted cultured butter*
2 1/4 cups brown sugar
2 tsp sea salt
1 cup corn syrup
1 15 oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp vanilla


Melt butter in a large heavy saucepan. Add sugar and salt; stir thoroughly. Add corn syrup and milk, stirring constantly. Cook and stir over medium heat until just past firm ball stage (245 degrees) or about 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in vanilla. Pour into buttered 9x13" pan. Sprinkle with flaked sea salt (like Maldon's) to taste. I was pretty liberal with the sprinkling - but I love salt! Cool completely, cut into squares and wrap in waxed paper.


*good butter makes a huge difference here. Don't cheat yourself and buy any old butter - or worse, use margarine. Just don't.


Note: for an accurate reading on your candy thermometer, boil a pan of water noting at what temperature the water boils. All recipes assume that water boils at 212  degrees F but of course, that assumes we all live at sea level. If you want a happy outcome when making candy, do the check and then adjust your recipe. For example if water boils at 202 degrees and the recipe says to cook to 245 degrees, subtract 10 and cook to 235 degrees. (Clear as mud right?) You can also check the candy hardness by dropping a bit of hot candy into a glass of very cold water. This caramel should be very firm not hard. Good luck and have fun. It isn't hard and is always going to be delicious. It is, after all, salted and caramel!




Sorry the recipe is a week late Allie - this really was my first opportunity. I was too busy taking a holiday.