Wednesday, November 30, 2011

elf stuff




The last day of November! Tomorrow the Christmas fun begins in earnest - and toward that end I present my version of the 'elf on a shelf'. It is truly not that I think I need to one-up the book and packaged elf (does that sound patronizing? hope not) but I just kind of like a handmade product over a mass-produced one. And I like to make things. Hopefully our littles will be enchanted with these elves - one for each family - and have just as much fun with the tradition as many others have.

Years ago David used to tell his little brother Reid stories about Greeny the Elf. Greeny kept an eagle-eye on Reid during December and truth be told (from the stories I have heard) I think poor little Reid was a bit afraid of Greeny. But it was a lot of fun for David, and Reid was a very good little boy for at least a month. Clearly the concept for an elf on a shelf has been around and waiting for ages.

Elf on a Shelf is a cute story and has garnered quite a following. If you google 'elf on a shelf ideas' you can find long lists of elf activities, from simple to elaborate. Many of them way more elaborate than I would be willing to undertake but if that's your thing, that's your thing. Me? I just like to make elves.

These little guys were very simple, fast and fun. I used some old wooden spools, some lovely wool felt, a sharpie to draw the eyes and nose, and a bit of wool I pirated off a fluffy/curly wool pillow that sits in my sewing room. One short seam to sew up the hat and a line of fabric glue to secure the "clothes" and ta-da! done! (Since the elves are not to be touched by childish hands - a rule of the tradition - they don't need to be terribly tough child-proof. Makes making one a lot simpler.)

I printed a set of "Rules" to go with each Elf Scout along with some suggested activities for parental eyes only. Can't wait to deliver these little guys and watch the fun!


(to give credit where credit is due I was inspired by a simple craft idea in Canadian Living magazine. Their elves were made with toilet paper roles and filled with candies or small toys. 24 of the little guys and you have an adorable advent calendar. I found them totally charming and since I had already determined to make my own elf on a shelf, I just tweaked the idea a tad and had a blast.)

Monday, November 28, 2011

hummus adventures - otherwise known as spinach, feta, and almond butter hummus


When my kids were little and my days were filled with the busyness that little ones bring, I decided one fine autumn day to make my fortune by creating hand-made dolls and selling them at a local craft market. Good thing that I was feeling pretty fulfilled with mothering because the fortune was never realized. I ended up being quite disgusted with the number of people that would stop by my table, carefully examine my wares, and then proclaim that they could make it themselves. Gah!!!! Or, they would try to bargain me down to 5 - 10.00 per doll - which was totally offensive to me given that the materials alone amounted to a fair bit more than that, never mind the 30 or so hours involved in the creation. And to be honest (and not immodest) they were beautifully made dolls. I really doubted that many, if any, of the self-proclaimed artists could go home and make one. ahem...sorry, I will step off my soap box and contain the rant. I still get a bit hot after all this time. Anyway, the purpose of this long story is I must admit that I am guilty (almost) of the same offence. 

At the farmer's market last weekend I sampled some very delicious hummus. Spinach and feta hummus. It was not unreasonably priced but I can make my own for far less, and knowing how very easy it is to make, I sampled, loved, and decided that I could make something similar at home - for less. And walked away. At least I didn't say "I can make this at home myself." ....but I still feel a tiny bit bad.

Not terrible though. Because this hummus is incredibly yummy. And easy. It is just a riff on the peanut butter hummus I posted about a while ago. Try it yourself. At home. You can indeed make yourself for less. I won't be the least bit offended at this - in fact I would be thrilled.

spinach, feta, and almond butter hummus

1 396gm can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 small garlic clove, peeled and crushed
5 Tbsp natural almond butter
4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp ground cumin 
scant 1/8 tsp ground cayenne pepper
3 cups lightly packed fresh baby spinach leaves, washed
2 oz (or about 60 gm) feta cheese, crumbled

Put all the ingredients in a food processor or blender and give it a whirl. When it is all nicely pureed, you are done. Simple.

Enjoy with pita bread, crisp flatbread, veggies - or all of the above.



Sunday, November 27, 2011

barley salad with squash and broccoli


Eden and I made this salad for a dinner party she hosted last weekend. She reported that it was well-received by all and that Daylan in particular loved it. She recommended I make some for the people living here (that would be just David and I now) and so I did. Now I recommend the same recipe to you. It is delicious and healthy and pretty. Can't want more than that, right?

The recipe is from Everyday Food. The only change I would make to the recipe as they printed it is to use regular pot barley instead of the quick-cooking barley called for. I did try the quick-cooking and although it is indeed a quicker route I prefer the taste and texture of the regular grain. It is easy enough to cook and just requires a very tiny bit more time. And it is a lot easier to find at your local grocers.

Barley is an ancient grain with a very impressive list of health promoting benefits. It has roughly 4 times the dietary fibre of oats and twice the protein. Many of the potential health benefits are associated with the fibre - regularity, lower cholesterol, & intestinal protection (how's that for sexy?). Barley is a rich source of magnesium - a mineral that has a vital role in bone health and is a co-factor for more than 300 enzymes. Barley may protect against Type 2 diabetes, post-menopausal breast cancer, gall-stones, childhood asthma, and hormone dependant cancers. The copper in barley can benefit those suffering from arthritis. And the phosphorus in barley aids in the development and repair of body tissue. Sold yet? In addition to these and many more (but potentially yawn-inducing) attributes barley is just plain yummy.

This recipe makes what Martha's writers allow for four people. We had large servings and it easily served at least 3 more. It saves very well for a day or two. We had it with salmon, Eden served it with roast turkey breast and sweet potatoes. It would be wonderful on its own for lunch.

barley salad with squash and broccoli
(tweaked from Martha Stewart Everyday Food mag - November 2011)

1 medium acorn squash, halved, seeded, and cut into 1/2" slices
4 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
6 cups broccoli florets
1 1/2 cups pot barley 
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp minced shallot
2/3 cup chopped almonds
1/2 cup raisins
shaved Parmesan

Preheat oven to 450 F. Toss squash with 2 tsp olive oil and arrange on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper. Place in the oven and roast for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile toss the broccoli with another 2 tsp oil and arrange on another parchment-lined sheet. Add that to the oven and continue roasting both vegetables for another 15-20 minutes, or until tender. Watch the broccoli as the flower bits can crisp past the point of yummy pretty quickly. Let cool slightly and cut the squash slices in half.

Meanwhile cook the barley in 4 cups water. (Bring the water to a boil , add the barley and reduce the heat to simmer until the barley is tender - about 40 minutes.) Drain any remaining water from the barley and rinse under cold water. Drain well.

In a large bowl whisk together 3 Tbsp evoo, lemon juice, and shallot. Season with salt and pepper. Add squash, broccoli, barley, almonds, and raisins. Toss. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve topped with shaved parmesan. (We passed the wedge of Parmesan - wrapped in a cloth napkin - and a vegetable peeler so each person could add the cheese to their personal preference. I like more rather than less, myself.

(Full disclosure - David loved this but he did comment that if people are not used to healthy eating this may not appeal to them ... until they taste it. What on earth does that mean?!!!)


Thursday, November 24, 2011

berry clafouti



My grandmother used to have an old cast iron skillet. Certainly not very noteworthy  - I expect almost everyone's grandmother had a cast iron skillet but my mother did not and so I found it very intriguing that my grandma never washed hers in soapy water and (stranger still) kept it in the oven! It was one of the more minor marvels of my childhood, one that I probably never remarked and definitely forgot over the years. Kind of like I forgot about my own cast iron skillet, pushed to the back of the cupboard in favour of slick and shiny non-stick skillets. I have grown tired of the short lives of most non-stick skillets and more than a bit alarmed at the possible health risks they may pose, to say nothing of how tiresome it is to always be warning ones children to please use the proper utensils so as not to harm the delicate non-stick coatings. Cue the return of my classic cast iron pan to more regular use - and I am reminded of just why it is a classic. Granted it may not provide the kind of skate-across-the-pan non-stick that a shiny new ceramic or teflon-coated pan does but it is nevertheless virtually non-stick, will last forever with a tiny bit of tender care, and doesn't pose any health risk that I am aware of. Add easy to clean, great for cooking  anything from fried eggs over an open fire to dessert, and totally cool looking (in a classic, I'm not trying kind of way - which is more or less my definition of totally cool). I'd say it is a tool to love. 

This week I have used my trusty skillet to make a berry clafouti. It is not the commonly recommended* baking dish for clafouti but it works very well. Traditionally, the dessert is made with cherries but with cherries long out of season I used some frozen mixed berries - cherries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries. I also made a gluten-free version as well as one using flour. Equally good either way. All things being equal I think I will probably go with the gluten-free recipe from here out. If clafouti is new to you, it is more custard than cake - very moist and full of fruit. It is super fast and very easy. A healthier dessert option than many. I promise not to start offering two versions of every recipe I share but thought it was worth sharing both the gluten-free clafouti as well as the more traditional. The gluten-free version is healthier on a few levels but both are delicious, easy, and a good dessert choice. Jonathon called one night this week asking for a quick, light dessert recipe to share with friends and I suggested this. The next morning he called back and said I needed to blog the recipe....soon! So here it is.

berry clafouti 

(scant) 1/2 cup sugar
heaping 1/4 cup flour
pinch sea salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup milk
2 tsp grated orange zest
2 cups fresh (or thawed frozen) mixed berries

Whisk together the sugar, flour, salt, eggs, cream, milk, and zest.

Scatter the berries into skillet (or buttered baking dish). Pour the batter over top. Bake at 400 F. for 35 - 40 minutes - until puffed, slightly set, and brown around the edges. Cool for 15 minutes before serving (it will deflate). Sprinkle each serving with powdered sugar and top with a spoonful of freshly whipped heavy cream. 

gluten-free berry clafouti
(from alive magazine)

4 large eggs
3 Tbsp melted coconut oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/3 cup honey
1 cup coconut milk
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
3/4 cup almond flour
3 cups frozen mixed berries, thawed

Whisk together the eggs, coconut oil, extracts, honey, coconut milk, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and almond flour.

Scatter the berries in a 10" skillet and pour batter over top. Bake at 400 F. for 35 minutes or until puffed, slightly set, and lightly browned. Cool for 15 minutes before serving. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkle of powdered sugar - or not.


*If you don't have a cast iron skillet (or just don't want to use one for this) you can make your clafouti in any 1 liter baking dish you like.


Saturday, November 19, 2011

double chocolate flapjacks


"Rickety Uncle" might very well have a long-lost British cousin. Here in North America 'flapjack' is simply another name for 'pancake' but in the UK and Australia  - so I am told - flapjacks are a type of oatmeal square or bar cookie, one that has a distinct familial resemblance to an uncle we love. And because we have loved Rickety Uncle (and the hacked uncle too) I thought it would be worth the whatever to play around with a recipe that I found online for flapjacks.

I wasn't there to witness it but apparently when Daylan took a first bite of the batch I sent home with Eden his reaction was "Kazowie!!!" (Not often that a comic book superlative is applied to something I make, so naturally I was pretty flattered.) Following the kazowie!! there were a few issues of sharing and hoarding that had to be addressed. That seemed like a good enough endorsement to share the recipe.

I made it two ways and simply can't decide which version I prefer.  The first is fudgier but a little messier. The second is a little more packed nutritionally. Both are pretty addictive.


double chocolate flapjacks v 1.0

1/4 cup butter
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
4 Tbsp honey*
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 cups quick rolled oats
1/3 cup Dutch process cocoa powder
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 tsp sea salt
3/4 cup dark chocolate chips
2 Tbsp water

Melt the butter and honey together, stirring well. Add the vanilla.

Combine the brown sugar, oats, cocoa, almonds, coconut, cranberries, salt, and chocolate chips. Stir until thoroughly mixed. Add the butter, honey, and vanilla mixture. Stir. Add the 2 Tbsp water and stir until all the ingredients are very well distributed.

Turn the mixture into a 9" square baking pan lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 F for about 40 minutes - until the flapjack is bubbling and the edges are well browned. Cool in the pan on a wire rack. Don't try to cut these until they are absolutely cool - you will just end up with a terrible mess.

When the flapjack is completely cool, lift out of the pan and cut with a sharp knife into squares. Wrap and hoard store in an airtight container.



double chocolate flapjacks v 1.2

1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup honey*
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups quick rolled oats
3/4 cup rolled oats processed into oat flour in a blender or food processor
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup finely chopped almonds
1/2 cup shredded coconut
2 Tbsp sprouted chia seed powder
1/4 cup hemp seed hearts
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 tsp sea salt
3/4 cup dark chocolate chips
1 egg white

Melt the butter, coconut oil, and honey. Combine with brown sugar and vanilla.

Mix the oats, cocoa, almonds, coconut, chia seed powder, hemp seed hearts, cranberries, salt, and chocolate chips. Add the butter/honey mixture. Stir well. Add the egg white and stir very well.

Turn the mixture into a 9" square baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 F for 45 minutes. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Same warning as for v 1.0 - terrible mess (more like granola than a bar) if you try to cut this prematurely. Admittedly it still tastes pretty good but if you want a bar .... be patient! Cut and wrap and be as generous or as Scrooge-ish as you like. I have no idea how long these will keep - ours lasted about 2 days :)


*On the Lyle's website they insist that Lyle's Golden Syrup is the essential ingredient (no big surprise there!). Wanting to use as little refined sugar as possible I chose to use honey as an alternative. I must admit that I haven't tried the Golden Syrup so highly suggested - and it may be far superior in taste - but the honey worked very well. And tasted really good too!

Monday, November 14, 2011

quiet

Thomas, Hannah, Jane, and Theo are gone - safely and happily settled in their new home. It is so very quiet here now. I have more or less made the tour of the house and taken care of cleaning all the little elf tracks from the windows and walls. The bits and pieces are once again back where they live. And it is quiet. I miss the joyful greetings first thing in the morning. Or indeed whenever I was greeted. Kids are wonderful that way - they aren't shy about letting you know they love you. I even miss the inevitable sibling squabbles. The noise and the mess - that is what we make a home to contain and that is what makes a house more than a showpiece. Really living together. It isn't like the movies - neither the good nor the bad. It is just real and really wonderful. Sometimes everything is in its place and things look beautiful. Other times stuff is all over the place and life is simply beautiful - because we are together. As I clean and sort - in the quiet - I am grateful that there are sweet little people that come to my home and are happy and comfortable here. Comfortable enough to make a mess, to ask for snacks, to make a clubhouse out of my pantry, to invite the kids next door over to play, to climb on my lap and read a book with me, to stay and be loved. What a sad house it would be if it was always clean and quiet.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

chopped kale salad - a la bread&butter



Seems to me like kale is having a moment. Magazine and newspaper food features and cooking blogs alike all seem to be offering kale recipes this fall. Uncertain as to whether I wanted to be seen as a crowd-follower (cringe!) or simply not be totally left behind I have waffled on sharing this idea for kale. I finally decided to put my narcissism firmly aside (who cares after all?) because this salad is what finally and firmly put me in the kale-eating camp. I mean, I knew it was super good for me - it consistently tops the lists of healthy foods, often being rated as 100 as opposed to the meager 5's of more commonly eaten but considered healthy foods like spinach, oranges, or apples - but there were a few issues* I needed to resolve before becoming a convert. Issues  like a (false) belief that kale is incredibly bitter in taste, and the firm (or tough), curly texture of the leafy green that I find a bit off-putting. Having resolved my issues with the unsuspecting green I am eager to suggest this yummy and easy salad to one and all. It is my version of the chopped kale salad we had at bread&butter in Henderson, NV when we were there last month. Chris made it with the most incredible fresh Utah peaches. Sadly, (good) fresh peaches are only a memory or a dream right now. I was hoping that a good mango might stand in well for the peach but a good mango was also not to be found. Happily (and also not amazingly surprisingly) my very favorite fall fruit is at its very best right now - plentiful, colorful, and reasonably local - so I used a terrific Honey Crisp Apple. Different from the melting sweetness of the perfect peaches but delicious all the same.

chopped kale salad a la bread&butter

4 cups washed and finely chopped kale leaves
1 english cucumber, diced 
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1 large Honey Crisp (or other crisp, sweet apple), diced

dressing:
1/4 cup olive oil
3 Tbsp rice vinegar
1/4 cup sunflower seed kernels
1 tsp honey
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

After prepping the salad ingredients as per the list, combine them in a large-ish bowl. Puree the dressing ingredients in a blender. This will produce more of a paste than your standard idea of a dressing but it works well with the ingredients. If it is too thick, add a little water but I would caution against making anything that even resembles a runny dressing - it won't play well with the kale. You want something that will stick to the leaves. Aside from that, this paste/dressing loosens up nicely when tossed with the produce. Give it a try.

One of the pluses of the sturdy nature of kale is that this salad will keep nicely for a day in the fridge if you happen to have any leftover :)

note: The second time I made this salad I decided to make the dressing in the food processor (to avoid the frustration of trying to get it all out from around the blade of the blender). Poor choice. It just didn't work. Even in the small bowl attachment there simply wasn't enough volume for the appliance to do the job. So I used the blender in the end and had to wash the food processor as well. bah!

*Issue no. 1 -easily resolved. I was mis-informed. 
 Issue no. 2 -when I decided to employ the same approach to kale as to curly parsley (that is to chop it finely) the 'curliness' didn't bother me.

Monday, November 7, 2011

just.....wow. and amen

Please watch this. It really, truly, honestly resonated so strongly with me. 


http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=1378237514624


"Food is one part. Love is another part." What can I do today to see and ease the suffering of those around me? for it is there. Here. Not just in India or Afghanistan. Perhaps a different suffering but real and there must be a part for me. I feel so humbled and inspired. Do watch.

Friday, November 4, 2011

hot.chocolate



I think this is the perfect cup of hot chocolate. Perfect for times when you need some warm luxury. The best addition to a good book, cuddly throw, and comfy chair. Decadently indulgent and so good that you will want to lick the cup. I absolutely promise. It is like drinking melted chocolate - thick and addictive - but really not a bad choice for a treat since it is made with 1% milk (or coconut milk), very little sugar aaand dark chocolate.

We had snow again last night. I had to go out this morning (without snow tires) and my valiant little Mini S could not conquer the hill up to our house. So it waits on the hill until I can try again. This cup of deliciousness went down very well after that mild frustration and cold walk. (Okay. It seemed like a reasonable excuse for hot.chocolate mid-day. lol)

When you make this remember: your hot.chocolate will only be as good as the chocolate that you use. This is not the time to cheat and use sub-par chocolate. That said I have used Baker's Chocolate and it was fantastic, as was the Callebaut, the Ghiridelli, even the Hersheys. I prefer a dark chocolate and not a lot of sugar. This is NOT your cup of hot chocolate made from a powder mix packet...and you probably won't ever go back.

hot.chocolate
(for 0ne)

1 cup milk of your choice - I usually use 1% milk
4 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
1/2 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp corn starch mixed into 1 Tbsp cold milk

Heat the milk in a small saucepan over low heat. Add the chocolate and whisk until melted. Add the sugar. Add the cornstarch/milk mixture, cook over low heat - whisking constantly - until thickened. If it starts to boil take it off the heat, lower the heat (if possible) return to heat and continue cooking gently. The longer you cook it the smoother it gets ... within reason, don't cook it forever - 20 minutes is plenty and 5 is just fine. 

Optional method: If you want to do this in the microwave you can but be warned that you are very likely going to be scraping a good portion of your chocolate off the microwave tray (or washing it down the drain, arghhh!) because it is likely to boil over and make a terrible mess. But it does work. Just so you know.

This is a rich(-seeming), thick cup of hot chocolate. It will nicely coat a spoon. And you will want a spoon with this to get every last drop of goodness. (or you could lick the cup when no one is looking....)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011



Sorry. Wasn't going to. Had another look and just had to. Because I think they are so incredibly precious. Theo clearly has no idea what is going on (it only took one house and he was all over this activity!) and Ysa just as clearly wants nothing at all to do with whatever it is (and she was DONE after that one house. lol) Man! I love my sweet littles.