Sunday, December 15, 2013

Adventures in Gingerbread-land

I love the places our imaginations can go when we have unlimited supplies of cookie dough, icing, and candy. 
For years, I've been making gingerbread houses at Christmas time; first on my own, and then with my children, who have become more and more involved as the years go by. 

When I was younger, I remember sitting and staring at the final product, imagining that I was a tiny person walking through the structure, taking the odd nibble of a door-frame or lick of a window pane.  Fairy-tales played out in my head while I sat and gazed, and I'm sure my mother was happy for the peace and quiet. 

Over time, gingerbread house creation became one of my favourite Christmas traditions!

Finding a gingerbread recipe that is firm enough to create a beautiful and sturdy house, but also pliable and tasty enough to actually enjoy eating, was a challenge! The recipe that Canadian Living printed over 20 years ago was a keeper, though, and I've been using it for 10 years now. Isn't it great to find something you love so much that it becomes a necessary tradition? 
When you use this recipe, you will be that person who doesn't just chuck the rock-hard and tasteless cookie at the end of the holiday season.  You will find a way to enjoy it even after it has sat out for a while! After the candy is gone, why not consider making a trifle involving gingerbread, or maybe a cheesecake with a crushed gingerbread crust....  The options are endless. When you have something as good as this, please don't throw it out!
These are all photos from a few year's worth of gingerbread creations. You can get so creative, and that's what I love! You could be simple with just a few lines of icing and a smattering of candies, or you can go all out. Above is the "Candy Shoppe" I created 3 Christmases ago, complete with a melted candy-glass window. (Just crush any hard candy and sprinkle in the window cutout before baking your gingerbread!)

Here is the one from last year, when the kids said, "Let's build OUR house!" The dimensions weren't perfect, but it was really fun to try to create a mini version of our home. 

Letting the icing set up...

Ir really became the kids' creation after the basic cookies were glued together. They wanted the front steps, the woodpile, a snowfort, the trampoline, BBQ, Christmas lights, the whole nine yards. 

The woodpile to the left of the deck, with Daddy's Big Green Egg grill on the deck. 

And another BBQ to the right of the deck, this one with some "steak" on it (pecans).

And the trampoline in the front yard.

The whole project took quite a while, and the results were far from 'perfect', but they were magical just the same. The involvement of the whole family is really what takes it from just-another-Christmas-project to something really special.

In our home, the tradition has emerged over time to have a "Gingerbread House Demolishing Party" on January 6, which is the Feast of the Epiphany (the visit of the Wise Men to the Child Jesus). That's the date that I clean up the last vestiges of Christmas, and we close the day with hot chocolate and the sugar rush of eating a whole bunch of candy.   

Some ideas for your decorating:

  • Don't be traditional - be creative!
  • If you've never done this before, start with a few smaller projects,
    and then tackle something larger.
  • Use icing to drip "icicles" off the roofline.
  • Use a foil covered chocolate coin to make a clock, with a little bit of added icing and some nonpareils.
  • If you're not planning to actually eat the candy, then why not use leftovers from Halloween? We've done it! You can use cheap and tasteless candy - as long as it's colourful.
  • Speaking of colourful - divide your plain royal icing into different bowls and stir in paste food colouring (it's the most intense colour and it won't water down your icing), then use this for your decorating.
  • It doesn't have to be candy! You can decorate your house with pretzels, cereal, etc - you could make a thatched roof out of shredded wheat, or make shingles from Cinnamon Toast Crunch. 
  • Decorate your gingerbread house on a piece of cardboard coated with tinfoil - then it's easily portable.
  • Further to that, cut a hole in the cardboard under your house, so that you can later set your gingerbread house up on a wrapped box and poke some Christmas lights up into the house - what a great way to show it off!


This is the original gingerbread house recipe from Canadian Living's December 1990 issue, and it is my failsafe for all of our gingerbread creations over the years. It makes a lot of dough - enough for one large gingerbread house or 5 small ones! My note on the recipe card says, "For goodness sake, don't triple it." 


1 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup fancy molasses
1/2 cup cooking molasses
6 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp cinnamon

In large bowl, beat shortening with sugar until light; beat in eggs and fancy and blackstrap molasses.

Stir together flour, ginger, baking soda, salt, cloves and cinnamon; using wooden spoon, gradually stir into molasses mixture. Mix well, working with hands if necessary. 

Divide dough into four discs; wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or until firm, or for up to 1 week. 

While the dough is chilling, draw pattern pieces on waxed paper; label and cut out. (Click here to download a pdf of gingerbread house diagrams from Canadian Living - but you can be creative and do whatever you want with this! Their diagram is for making 5 small houses. Enlarge to make one big one.)

Roll out the dough between two sheets of waxed paper. When you have it at 1/4-inch thickness, remove the top sheet and cut out your pieces using the tip of a sharp knife. To avoid having the pieces puff out on the edges, you can freeze them on waxed paper-lined baking sheet for 20 minutes or until hard. Otherwise, you will need to trim the final cookies before assembly.

Transfer cutouts to parchment paper-lined or lightly greased baking sheets, reserving dough scraps for re-rolling into other gingerbread shapes. Bake at 325 F for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden and firm to the touch. Transfer gingerbread to racks and let cool completely.

To build your house(s) (or castles or Santa's sleigh, or whatever your heart desires), use royal icing:

Royal Icing(Makes a lot!)
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup meringue powder
4-2/3 cups icing sugar
In a large bowl, beat water with meringue powder until foamy, about 2 minutes. Beat in icing sugar, 1 cup at a time, until stiff peaks form when beaters are lifted, about 4 minutes. Cover with damp towel to prevent drying out. This stuff gets as hard as rock, and it will definitely keep any crazy gingerbread house together. 
Be sure to keep it moist - putting it right into a sealed ziploc bag works well. Then, just snip a tiny corner off the bottom of the bag, twist, and squeeze! Voila! Piping bag. =)

Whatever you decide to do, have fun!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Quinoa & how we love it.



Hot, steaming red and white quinoa ready to serve.... or host any number of delicious additions!

Oh, how we love you, dear ancient grain! 

Initially discovered because of gluten sensitivity in the family, we quickly grew to appreciate the versatility and flavour absorption of this great little seed. 

By now, I think everyone knows about everything there is to know about quinoa. Just in case you want the details fleshed out a bit before I share my favourite recipes, read on.

Harvested for thousands of years by people in Central and South America, it is the tiny, tasty seed of the quinoa plant, with a nutty flavour and crunchy-soft texture. It cooks up much like couscous (which is a pasta containing gluten), but is gluten free and packs a nutritional punch - it is the only grain that contains all of the essential amino acids, making it a complete protein.  It is 15%+ protein and also high in vitamins E and B, calcium, iron and phosphorous. Once rinsed of its bitter saponins and simmered in water or broth, it is easy to digest, and beautifully absorbs the flavours of the dish it is prepared in. 

You can prepare it and serve just like rice, or you can create any number of lovely salads, pilaffs, side dishes and mains, using quinoa as your base.

To prepare quinoa, use 2 parts water or broth to 1 part quinoa. It will double in size. Rinse the seeds well under running water (still a good idea even if you buy pre-washed quinoa), and then drain.

Bring quinoa and liquid to a boil, then cover. Cook on medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed and the seeds have a translucent quality. 

Toasting your quinoa adds a deeper flavour and crunchier texture. After rinsing and draining, toast the seeds in a skillet over medium-high heat, stirring, until quinoa dries out and becomes golden. Then cook as directed above.

Here are some of my family's go-to quinoa recipes. 

Let me know what you think!

Greek Salad with Quinoa

It's just your standard Greek salad.... but with enough protein to make it perfectly hearty. 

lettuce of choice
1 c quinoa, cooked as above

red onion
tomatoes, diced
cucumber, finely diced
kalamata olives to taste

1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon oregano

Layer the salad in order shown and drizzle with dressing. Voila!

Quinoa Black Bean Salad

This is the first quinoa salad I was introduced to, and it still makes its way to the table on a fairly regular basis. The Southwest inspired flavours of cumin and coriander are ignited by the lime. The black beans round this out to be a great vegetarian meal option.

1 c quinoa, washed, rinsed, and cooked in 2 c water
1/4 c olive oil
2 limes, juiced
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 can black beans
1 1/2 c cherry tomatoes
5 green onions, chopped
1/4 c fresh cilantro

Optional additions: avocado, cucumber, or whatever you feel like throwing in.

In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, lime juice, cumin, red pepper flakes, and salt to taste. Once your quinoa is cooked and cooled, toss it together with the rest of the ingredients and the dressing. Best when flavours have a chance to mingle. Enjoy!

Ancient Grain & snap pea salad

Quinoa Snap Pea Salad

This recipe originally called for couscous, but quinoa makes it so much better! This is the recipe in my blog's header - and an oft-requested share.


2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. each salt and freshly ground pepper
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1/2 cup quinoa

1/2 tsp. grated lemon zest
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 half pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 cup snap peas, thinly sliced crosswise
1/2 cup fresh basil, torn
Quinoa Snap Pea Salad
Gorgeous, sweet, savoury, zesty final product!
In a medium-sized bowl, combine oil, paprika, chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper. Add chicken and turn to coat evenly. Marinade in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, or all day if you like.

Preheat grill to medium-high heat and cook chicken, 6 to 7 minutes per side. Once cooked, transfer to a cutting board and slice.

Meanwhile, cook quinoa as stated above. Add lemon zest and juice to quinoa, top with tomatoes, snap peas, basil, a pinch of salt and pepper, and sliced chicken.

Quinoa Salad with Artichokes, Kalamata Olives, Lemon, Garlic and Peppers

This colourful and intensely flavourful salad can be served as a side dish or a vegetarian main. To make it even heartier, add grilled or poached chicken chunks to the works.

2 c chicken broth
1 c quinoa
1/2 c diced yellow pepper
1/2 c diced red pepper (you can change this up and use as much of whatever colour pepper you like)
1/2 c diced artichoke hearts
2 – 4 oz feta cheese crumbles (depending on taste and health goals)
1/2 c chopped and pitted kalamata olives

Amazing Dressing:
3 T extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp grated lemon rind
2 T lemon juice
1 T minced fresh basil
1/2 tsp thyme
1 tsp red wine vinegar
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp sea salt
4 – 5 cloves garlic (don't be stingy!)


Combine all ingredients for dressing and set aside.

Rinse Quinoa. Add chicken broth and quinoa to a saucepan. Bring

to a simmer. Reduce heat to the lowest setting and cover. Cook  until the liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and cool. Combine quinoa, peppers, artichoke hearts, feta and olives. Add dressing. Chill and serve. 

I prefer to let this salad's  flavours mingle for a few hours (or a day) before serving. It makes fantastic leftovers! This is a favourite potluck dish of ours. It is the absolute best quinoa salad I've ever had.

I hope you've enjoyed this post! I have had so many requests for these recipes, so I figured that the best way to share them is somewhere like this, with pictures, that can be referred to again and again. I welcome your questions or comments.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Pickles & Preserves & Pie Filling, Oh My!

I love gardening, I love living off the land and I also love canning and preserving! 

I grew up in a home with a huge garden and the good example of a frugal, German-raised mother and Polish-farmer raised father. We kept things that could be reused, we didn't buy things that were unnecessary and, where possible, we lived off our farm as much as we could. 

We ate our own beef, chicken, eggs, vegetables and some fruit - cultivated and wild. My mother ground our wheat to make flour to bake all of our bread. We milked cows. We went to Oma's (my stalwart German grandma's) house every few months to make noodle together. I read every survival guide I could get my hands on. I learned to snare wild rabbits and prepare them for cooking. I loved foraging for wild mushrooms and berries, and I learned as much as I could about living off the land. 

We lived with what we had, and were proud to not have to shop for a lot of what we needed. I learned how to be a good farmer. I learned to respect nature and what it could give us, and what we needed to give back. My roots went deep into that prairie loam, and what it has given back to me is precious to me.

As a direct result of this frugal, positive, hardworking focus during my upbringing, I still feel jubilant when I can provide for my family through my own sweat.  For me, in many ways, that's what being a good wife and mother means. I get great fulfillment from growing and harvesting my garden; from continually educating myself on edible wild plants and gathering what I can; from creating something out of little, or out of something many people would pass by. For example, despite the pits and the processing time, when I hear that wild chokecherry jam is worth the work, I go for it!

Of course it makes me glad to know that my family is eating organic, high quality food. But it's more than that for me. So I work to overcome obstacles and I persevere when I don't really feel like it. The finished product - the full freezer and cellar - makes me indescribably happy. 

Now that you've read my loony confession, would you like to read a few recipes? I've been a busy girl lately. This time of year is bursting at the seams with offerings from the earth, and I'm working hard to squirrel them away for the long, cold months ahead. 


Grandma's Dill Pickles

This recipe is a two-day deal, so plan ahead! Makes 7 pint (500 ml) jars. 

8lbs pickling cucumbers, trimmed
16 c ice cubes
1 1/4 c pickling salt (divided)
12 c water (divided)
2 T pickling spice 
6 c white vinegar
1/4 c sugar
7 tsp mustard seeds 
7 fresh dill heads 
14 or more cloves garlic

Day 1
In a large crock or bowl, layer cucumbers and ice. In large bowl, dissolve 1/2 c pickling salt in 4 c water. Pour over iced cucumbers, cover with a plate,
and weigh down with a couple of jars full of water. Refrigerate or put in a cool place for at least 12 hrs. (No longer than 18 hrs.) 

Day 2
In large pot, combine 8 c water, vinegar, 3/4 c salt, sugar and pickling spice. Bring to boil and stir to dissolve sugar and salt. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. 

Pack one dill head, 2 (or more) garlic cloves, and 1 tsp mustard seeds to each of 7 hot (sterilized) pint jars.  Rinse cucumbers in cold water (important!), and pack into jars. Ladle hot pickling liquid into each jar to within 1/2 inch of the top. 

Screw on lids to fingertip tight, and hot water process for 10 minutes. 

Mama's Cayenne Dilly Beans

My mother (and Oma's) variation on a classic. A hint of heat, and a different vinegar flavour, makes these a huge favourite.  Makes 4 pint jars (I usually double it and use quart jars).

2lb whole beans (any variety, young and tender is best)
1tsp cayenne
4 cloves garlic (or more to taste)
4 heads dill
2 c water
2 c cider vinegar
1/4 c coarse salt 

Place a dill head, garlic clove, a 1/4 tsp of cayenne into each hot jar. Pack beans into jars, stem ends down. 

Combine water, vinegar and salt and bring to boil, stirring until salt is dissolved.  Ladle into jars to within 1/2". 

Screw on lids to fingertip tight and heat process for 10 minutes

Plum Preserves

Simple and gorgeous. Use as a spread or as a dessert filling or topping. Makes 5 8 oz (250 ml) jars. 

5 c pitted halved tart plums
4 c sugar
1 c water

Combine, boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Increase heat and boil rapidly until gel stage is reached. 

Ladle into jars to within 1/4". Heat process for 15 minutes. 

Apple Pie Filling

I love this one. I use it as a dessert all on its own or a la mode, or put it into a pie crust or tart shells with a crumble topping. Home grown tart apples are best, but any sour apple will do.  Makes
7 pint jars - I double it, as one quart jar fills a large pie very nicely. 

12 c sliced, peeled, cored apples
2 3/4 c sugar
2/3 c cornstarch 
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 1/4 c cold water 
2 1/2 c unsweetened apple juice (I use crabapple juice)
1/2 c lemon juice

Blanch apple slices in boiling water for 1 minute, working in 6 c batches. Drain and cover to keep hot. 

In large saucepan combine sugar, starch, cinnamon, nutmeg, water and juice. Bring to boil and cook until mixture begins to thicken. Add lemon juice and boil for 1 more minute, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat and fold in drained apples. Heat and stir until apples are heated through. 

Ladle into hot jars to 1 inch from top, wipe rims and screw on seals to fingertip tight. Heat process for 25 minutes. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Easing back into blogging... With a brand new recipe!

I have had such a great summer. It has had some major lows and some major highs- and some of them will be shared as we go into Fall. 

Here's a high!

I just spent the loveliest weekend in the breathtaking Rocky Mountains - in Canmore, more specifically - to take in a watercolour landscape painting course by Donna Jo Massie. Better still, I got to spend it with one of my best friends. 

It was so wonderful. We painted mountains, we breathed mountain air, we hunkered down in a quaint B&B and got to know some fellow travellers, we ate great food...

We really loved every minute, and I can't wait to go back and do it again. 

I might not be able to take you off to the Rockies, but I can send a little bit of the love home to your kitchen. 

On Sunday, we ate lunch at a place called Rocky Mountain Flatbread Company. I highly recommend it: the ingredients are fresh and organic, they custom make your food to order, they have crazyamazing flatbread options, the gluten free crust (brown rice and quinoa) is fantastic, they have amazing fresh lemonade sweetened with maple syrup, and the view is spectacular...

...anyway! The soup of the day was a zucchini-fennel puréed concoction, and it was delicious!

Tonight I created my own take on it, and my husband agreed it would be a great Fall staple. It's fast, tasty, filling and healthy. And who doesn't have access to zucchini this time of year?

Enjoy! (Tell me how you like it!)

Fall Zucchini & Fennel Soup

1 bulb fennel, cored and sliced (reserve the fronds for garnish, if desired)
4 T lemon juice
2 T olive oil
1-2 medium zucchini, sliced
1 onion, sliced 
4 cloves garlic, sliced
4 c chicken or vegetable stock 
2 T (or a good glug) white wine vinegar
Salt and Pepper to taste

Place the fennel and lemon juice in a pot and just cover with salted water. Simmer for 20 minutes or until tender. 

In another pot, heat the olive oil and sauté the zucchini, onion and garlic until soft (10 mins or so). Stir in the broth and the vinegar, and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, and use a slotted spoon to scoop the fennel from its pot to the soup pot. 

Now, you can transfer this to a blender in batches to purée, or you can use an immersion blender like I did. 

Once puréed, add salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately or chill and let the flavours mingle. It would be good served cold, as well. 

Optional garnishes to fancy it up:
fennel fronds (lent a hint of liquorice and nice texture to my supper!), or roasted red pepper purée for some bright colour and flavour, or maybe some creme fraiche, or sour cream, or even plain yogurt swirled into the top. Half the fun with soup is presentation. ;)

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Eat Yer Porridge!

Good morning! 

I have a lot to say but not the energy or time to say it. I will save the more verbose post in me for another day, but let me just break the fast with you! 

Oats are an incredible power food. 

Not only are oats a great fibre source, they work on many fronts to make us healthier. Their phytonutrients help prevent cancer, they lower blood pressure and improve bowel function, they are fantastic for heart health and cholesterol, they spread out your insulin response and regulate blood sugar, and they can favourably alter metabolism and aid in weight loss as well as athletic performance! With a reputation like that, why wouldn't you bring oats on side as a regular part of your diet?

Don't just take my word for it. There's a ton of research out there, just waiting for you to read. Here's a good place to start. And this article in the Epoch Times talks about even more pros for oat consumption... even the benefits of oat straw tea! (Who knew?!) They say  "Research carried out in Australia showed that athletes who were fed on an oat-based diet over a three-week period showed a 4 percent increase in stamina, according to The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. This is in part due to the fact that oat-seed is endowed with good amounts of vitamins B and E and a rich supply of minerals including iron, potassium, and calcium. This combination both tones and stimulates muscles as well as the nerve supply to those muscles....If it takes you days to recover after a physically exhausting training session, then a cup of oat-straw tea may be just what you need. I would also add growing children to this group as they are especially in need of protein for building body tissue and vitamin E for optimum cell division, all found abundantly in oats."

I haven't tried oat-staw tea, but they say to use 2 teaspoons oat straw to 8 oz water. I'll give it a go!

I've been making an effort to eat oats more regularly. I grew up with the traditional brown sugar and milk as a topping, but in recent years have eschewed that in favour of healthier options. Fruit, nuts, or a savoury soft basted egg with salt and pepper all make great additions to oats. 

This morning's oats were a treat! As soon as I took them from the heat I stirred in chopped strawberries an a big handful of blueberries. I topped it all off with a splash of almond milk an a drizzle of real maple syrup. Decadent! A great way to start a Saturday. 

Here's an inspired (if a little insane!) blog dedicated entirely to... you guessed it... oats! Check out for inspiration and recipes to take your daily dose of oats from meh to MMMMMmmm.

What's your favourite way to dress up your oats?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Warm Weather Wonder

Leaves! Green leaves!
How's the weather in your neck of the woods? It has been gorgeous here, and I am so thankful! 

I thought I would share a couple of photos and recipes before heading back out to my garden.

We have definitely taken advantage of the lovely weather here. We've been getting the garden ready for planting, I raked up the lawn to let the new grass spring up, and we are all excited about greeting the new baby animals that always show up at this time of year. 

There are calves and chicks on the family farm, and last Saturday we went to a friend's place and enjoyed their sweet little week-old goats.
Baby goats are cuddly. =)

More baby goat snuggles.

A friendly fellow hangs about.
Nature Walk view. The world waits for new life!
We're also getting close to wrapping up much of our formal book-work for the school year. Over the past couple of weeks we have been taking Nature Walks (really just taking lovely long walks and observing the glory of creation), sketching what we find. We're also taking bookwork out to the picnic table, which makes everyone more cheerful about sticking with the required math etc... remember those days of gazing longingly out the classroom window? When I see that happening, we just go outside with the books. You still have to finish what's asked, but at least you can do it in the sunshine.

One of the myriad things I love about warm weather is the opportunity to indulge in some cool treats, and cook meals that excite my senses with their fresh flavour and spring-inspired ingredients. Of course, we do grill year round, but grilling in weather you can enjoy standing out in just sweetens the experience. I've been making salads and sandwiches for most of our lunches, so that we can take them right outside to eat. 

Here are a couple of recently-enjoyed recipes to inspire you!

Coconut Milk Ice "Cream"

This is non-dairy, creamy and tasty, and not too sweet. 

2 large whole eggs or 4 yolks
1/2 c (or less) maple syrup or honey
2 cans full fat coconut milk

Whisk the eggs for a couple of minutes, until light and fluffy. Whisk in the maple syrup or honey until well blended. Pour in coconut milk and whisk some more to blend well. 

Freeze according to ice cream machine instructions or place in a shallow dish in the freezer for several hours, stirring once an hour until frozen. (The hand-stirring method doesn't require an ice cream maker but may create an icier texture.)

Store in an airtight container in the freezer - shallow, wide containers are easiest to scoop from. Serve any way you wish! We love fresh or frozen/thawed berries stirred in.

Summery Shrimp Salad

When the tempertures rise, two things happen! We don't want to cook indoors and heat up the house, and we want to eat cool and crunchy foods. This salad is awesome served on a bed of greens, by itself, or on rolls as a perfect picnic sandwich filling. Try adding celery, avocado, and cucumbers, too! Serves 4 as a main course - I double it. 

1lb large shrimp, peeled, deveined, chopped and cooked
3/4 c fresh corn kernels (from about 2 ears), raw or lightly blanched
1/4 c mayonnaise or veganaise
1/4 c basil pesto
2 T fresh lemon juice or more to taste
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
3 green onions, thinly sliced
salt and pepper and any other seasoning you desire

Stir together the mayo, pesto and lemon juice with salt and pepper. Toss into all the other ingredients and chill until ready to serve.