Summery Sangria - Fabulous Nest Friday

Yesterday over at Housewife Bliss, folks were sharing their favorite summery beverages in response to a post for a fabulous giveaway that she is hosting.  I chimed in with my fave, Sangria.

Of course, once I started thinking about Sangria, I couldn't stop thinking about Sangria.  As in, what a great post that would make!  And so my Fabulous Nest Friday post will again be "Kitchen Witch-y."

My interest in putting fruit into spirits started many years ago.  My mother and I had discovered a recipe for a "rum pot" that you built over the course of several weeks, as the fresh fruit required came into season.  With the image of sipping our delicious creation during the cold winter months dancing in our heads, we decided to give it a try.  Mom provided the supplies (I was in university and that much rum, sugar, and fresh fruit would've paid for at least one text book) and I provided enthusiasm, stirring expertise, and on some occasions, fruit picking abilities.  A (very large) bottle of amber rum, sugar, and the first of the fruit was placed into a giant 4 liter jar and we stirred it up.  Every week, we added more sugar and another fruit.  In turn, strawberries, blueberries, peaches, cherries and I can't even remember what all were plunged into the pickle jar with more and more sugar.  It lived in our linen closet (dry and dark) until the day when, according to the recipe, we could try it out.

One of the suggested uses was to pour it over ice cream.  Ice cream and rum, nothing wrong with that.  We got out two bowls, filled them with ice cream, and drizzled (okay, poured) our creation over the top.  And...

It was interesting.  Strange things happen to fruit when they soak in liquor and sugar for that long.  I'm not sure if we did something wrong, or if the test kitchen in charge didn't actually see the recipe through to the end, because we did everything they said and, while it wasn't unpleasant, it wasn't the showstopper we were imagining.  The blueberries were hard and the strawberries kind of...bloaty.  We finished our dessert; over the next week or two we tried a few more of the "suggested uses" but before long it was back in the linen closet.

All was not lost.  Every so often, dashing out the door to a party I would grab a mason jar of the liquid to add to Sprite (that was yummy!).  Munching on a boozy peach would give you a nice warm glow.  I'm not sure what ever happened to the rest of it but every so often we will remember the rum pot and have a good laugh.

But back to sangria.  During university, we discovered a bottled, dirt cheap "sangria" in the wine section of our liquor store that was always a crowd pleaser.  We enjoyed this drink for several years, but as time went on and I got more and more into cooking, I knew I could do better.  Many years had passed since the rum pot, and I was feeling ready to get back into the fruit and liquor game (also, I could now afford to bankroll my culinary experiments)  And so, before one party in our early married life, I went online and found a REAL sangria recipe. This recipe, from Martha Stewart, is very similar to that one.  I remember being surprised that there is actually brandy in Sangria, and while it is optional in many recipes, I strongly suggest that you add it.  It really adds a certain something to the drink.

And don't leave out the sliced citrus fruit either!  This is a fabulous recipe for a summer party, and it's so easy to increase the recipe.  A big punch bowl of sangria in the middle of your buffet is decorative as well as delicious, so dust off your punch bowl and go for it!  I'm actually on the lookout for a cool, old school punch bowl with wee little cups, but in a pinch, or for a smaller batch of sangria, a large pitcher will do just fine.  Once upon a time, I had the most perfect sangria pitcher.  It was a tall, Mexican mouth blown glass pitcher with a rim of brown glass at the top.  It was funky and summery, and it could hold a lot of sangria.  It was a favorite guest at many parties until one day it literally fell out of the refrigerator.  It smashed into a million pieces on the floor, and I have never found another pitcher that could quite take it's place. 

Hopefully I will find a wonderful new pitcher soon, because summer is just around the corner and I have the most perfect patio for sipping sangria with a beautiful view of the mountains.  We've decided we'd like to get a Turkish brazier with a cooking grill, and I have visions of tapas nights on the patio with lots and lots of delicious chilled Sangria to accompany all those small plates!   And who knows, now that I'm in BC with all the bounty of the Okanagan Valley at my disposal, maybe it's time to try the Rum Pot again!

This is a different recipe than the one I originally tried with my mom.  This recipe is actually called "Rum Pot, Bluenose Style."  For those of you not in the know, Bluenose is an affectionate term for a Nova Scotian, which I am.  I think it would be great to make a Bluenose Rum Pot using Okanagan fruit.  As you will see, this recipe explains what probably went wrong with the fruit in our first attempt.  So be advised if you are doing a version that has the fruit floating in a jar, you can expect discolouration. 

Godspeed, Little Herbs

Primulas in bloom!
These days, gardening is everywhere!  On blogs, in magazines, in yards and now, on my counter.

You may recall that one of the nesting adventures I invited you to join me on was planting a garden.  Said garden was planned for our old house, where we were allowed to dig in the backyard.  Once we decided to move, a traditional garden plot went out the window, at least for this year.  However, my heart is set on gardening, so I have decided to do what I can with what I have:  I will have a container garden. In a couple of decorative containers gathered on my patio, I will be able to grow tomatoes, salad greens, and herbs.  

And so to prepare for my container garden, today I planted some herbs.  I had purchased a Jiffy mini-greenhouse complete with peat pellets, and some friends had given me some herb seeds, so tonight after supper I headed downstairs to get started.

Science in my kitchen!!!
 I soaked my peat pellets and when they were ready, I gently placed 2 to 3 seeds on each peat pile and then lovingly covered them with peat.  I labelled the rows, and then, when I was finished, I placed the lid on the greenhouse and carried them upstairs to the kitchen, where they will sit on a part of the counter that is both warm and out of direct sun.  Eventually they will end up in the bright, sunny window in my living room, where hopefully, they will flourish into big, beautiful plants that will be placed in containers on my patio.  Dreaming of fresh pesto and rosemary lemon roast chicken, I gazed down on my little sleeping seeds and wished them well.

They're going to need all the help they can get.

My Houseplant Babies!
I love plants and growing things, but sometimes, just sometimes, things don't go exactly as planned.  It's been implied that I have, ahem,  killed several plants.  This seems harsh,  as I have always done my best.  Perhaps there's something to the whole "killing with kindness" thing.  However, a few years ago, during our last summer at home, my husband and I grew a garden with fairly positive results.  The herbs in particular did great!  And more recently, I had a gardening success that buoyed my confidence and made me sure I could achieve a healthy, happy container garden.  Back in February, our local grocery store was selling potted primulas.  You know the kind, cute little plants with bright flowers that gets trotted out mid-Winter to bring hope of Spring to those of us in cold, snowy climates.  The kind that you pick up and take home and then they generally die a few weeks later.  Well, I bought three of these little pick me ups and promised them I would keep them alive.  And so I did.  I recently re-potted them (as they outgrew their original pots) and they have had several blooms of flowers.  I was so excited when they grew new flowers!  Since then we have picked up more houseplants and we are enjoying the addition of greenery to our home.

A few of my friends have been starting tomatoes and herbs from seed, and they have been photographing their progress.  So I am going to join in and photograph my herby little charges and keep you up to date on the progress of my "garden."  I promise to be honest, and if my not-so-green thumbs strike again, you'll be sure to know.  In the meantime, please send good vibes to my newest little buddies, Mr. Chives, Miss Rosemary, and Ol' Sweet Basil, as well as the two slips of ivy I'm trying to get to root!

Herbs - Day 1

Wish us luck!

Here Comes the Sun...

It's that time of year when Spring is bursting out all around us.  Spring is fickle and flighty, sunny one day and gloomy the next.  But, as the nursery rhyme goes, when she is good, she is very, very, good, and nothing is better than a perfect spring day.

I love the rituals, traditions, and rites of passage that come with the changing of the seasons.  Like the first day you go for a drive with the sunroof open, or go for ice cream, or wash the car.  Gardeners have many Spring time rituals.  In blog posts and magazines, lately I've seen many posts on planting and gardening (I'll be adding my own soon enough).  The first trip of the year to a garden center greenhouse is another annual ritual that many people look forward to, and even cling to, during the long winter months (imaging how wonderful a whiff of tomato plant would be in February...ahhhh!).

Even places have their own rituals to mark the coming of Spring.  Over the past few days, on Pattycake Manners, I've been following my cousin Ainsley's updates on the break up of the Liard River in their hamlet in the Northwest Territories.  This is an event that they look forward to but with a healthy dose of respect for the awesome power of nature.  As I mentioned last week, here in Northwestern BC we are awaiting the appearance of the first bears.  Another thing we're doing is watching the snow come off the squirrel.   Squirrel Mountain is so named because of a bare patch on the side of the mountain facing Kitmat that is in the shape of a squirrel.  In the fall, when the snow starts on the mountain, we watch to see when the snow will hit the squirrel.  Eventually the squirrel is all white and he stays that way for the rest of the winter.  Then, come spring, he starts to lose his snowy coat.  Right now the squirrel is almost snow-free again.

Sometimes I find myself remembering Spring times past.  Remember how wonderfully light and free you felt the first day you could play outside without your winter boots on?  It was like you could run forever, your feet felt so light!  And lying in bed at night listening to spring peepers sending their froggy music out into the crisp, cold early spring air.  And to this day, a whiff of a grass fire can send me right back to the South Bar of my childhood.

It's funny, but as we grow up and move along and away from the seasons of our childhood, when we look back and remember, it's often the small things, like frog song and the smell of tomato plants that we want to capture and hold onto.  There would've been lots of material things I wanted and yearned for at the time, but for the most part, even those I acquired have fallen into the dusty parts of my memory and are not often recalled.  But I will remember forever the feeling of running free across my front lawn in sneaker clad feet one damp April afternoon and feeling as if I could fly... 

Fabulous Nest Friday + Springy Spinach Salad

Recently, I began following the blog "Housewife Bliss."  I'm really enjoying it, and so I have decided to join in the "Fabulous Nest Friday" blog hop that Mrs. Bliss hosts.  You should check it out, too!

There are several categories to choose from for Fabulous Nest Friday posts, and I have chosen "Kitchen Witch" (no big surprise there!)  All joking aside, it worked out well as I have recently put together a wonderfully tasty salad with a yummy new ingredient that I was planning to share!

There's just something about the Spring, when the sun shines brightly and the grass turns green, that makes you want to eat lighter, fresher foods.  Foods that leave you feeling ready to go for a hike or do some gardening instead of curling up under a blanket with a good book or the remote control.  Spring is also when many fruits and vegetables begin coming into season and make their annual debut at the grocery stores.  It's little wonder that we start to crave light, fresh foods with all the wonderful ingredients to choose from!

Salads are a favorite of mine.  Because it is so good for us, I always buy a large container of baby spinach and try to add it to as many dishes as I can.  A side salad is a great way to get the spinach in.  I like to jazz salads up with fruit, nuts, beans, anything to add taste and texture, but if you're short on ingredients or prep time, try just grating some carrot on top of the spinach and adding a flavorful dressing.  It will add a flash of colour to your plate as well as oodles of vitamins!  I like dinner salads as well, but I'm a girl who needs her protein, so I often add meat, fish, or a hard boiled egg to a salad to make it a meal.   

I also enjoy making my own salad dressings.  Some can be mixed up easily by putting the ingredients in a mason jar or cruet, and shaking them up.  Others require blending (I love my Magic Bullet for these!).  If you've never made your own salad dressing, I highly recommend you try!  The difference in flavor is unbelievable, and you can adjust the seasoning to your preference.

Springy Spinach Salad
This week, I have been enjoying the most delicious, and pretty, Spring Spinach Salad.  It is so, so simple to make but it looks gorgeous and tastes even better.  All I did was fill a dinner plate with baby spinach and added sliced strawberries and halved cherry tomatoes.  Then I drizzled the whole thing with homemade maple dressing.  You could use any dressing you like but the sweet maple dressing really complemented the berries.  Then I added my new favorite thing - soft honey goat cheese!

I discovered honey goat cheese completely by accident.  I have been dairy intolerant for years, however I can eat goat's milk and products with no problems.  It was a huge relief when I discovered this as it re-opened the world of cheese to me again. In my opinion, while most dairy alternative products (such as those made with soy or rice) are excellent, the cheeses are where they fall short.  They are well made, and they do well in dishes where they will be melted, but they never taste better than cheese food products.  Goat cheeses, however, are very similar to those made with cow's milk.  There are more and more available all the time; I've had cheddar, mozzarella, brie, camembert, and of course, the well known chevre, or soft goat's cheese.

We recently had friend's of ours over for a "Build Your Own Pizza" night, where we put out lots of pizza toppings and shells and let their children design their own pizzas.  I made up three large pies for the adults, with a variety of toppings.  I had wanted to get a brick of goat mozzarella for my section of the pizza (I usually do a quarter or a half with "my" cheese) but none was available where I was shopping.  Rather than run around to several grocery stores, I decided to purchase a log of soft goat cheese and use that instead.  It was only when I started to assemble the pizzas that I realized that I had actually purchased a honey flavored soft goat cheese!   I still used it, and even though it tasted a little strange with tomato sauce and anchovies, I could tell that this was a tasty cheese that would complement the right dish very well.

And so the other night, as I was looking for a little something else to add to my salad, I remembered my honey goat cheese and crumbled some on top of my salad.  Unbelievable perfect, and perfectly delicious!  This is a salad for someone with a sweet tooth, especially when paired with the maple dressing!  So good!

Have a wonderful weekend!  I hope you discover a new and fabulous ingredient, and that you share it with me in the comments!!

If You Go Into the Woods Today...

Spring has sprung, the grass has riz...and so has the skunk cabbage!

Skunk Cabbage, a favorite bear treat
 Molly the Wonder Dog and I have been enjoying exploring the prime walking areas in our new neighborhood.  We've found a great route that goes strait down the hill into town, with a slight incline that provides a nice light workout for me on the way up.  It passes a few wooded areas, and while passing one of these areas the other day, we smelled a familiar "perfume" on the air.  Peering into the woods and down into the ravine below, we spotted the first bright green clumps of skunk cabbage.

Skunk cabbage is a favorite bear treat, and if you see it you can be assured that bear sightings are not far behind!  One of our favorite memories of our early days in Kitimat was of driving around and seeing bears frolicking about...on roadsides, in the rivers, and in the dumpster behind the local burger joint!  We haven't seen any yet this year, but I'm sure they'll be making an appearance soon! 

A bear we encountered on a drive last Spring

Great Green Spring Cleaning Challenge Update

Happy Monday!

As promised, today I will be giving an update on my Great Green Spring Cleaning Challenge!  So much has happened in the month since I started this challenge, and so the challenge has taken a few twists and turns.  In some cases it got thrown into high gear!

As you may recall, we recently moved to a new house.  Since we made the decision to move rather quickly (read about our adventure, as well as some moving tips, here), we had to do a lot in a very short period of time, including cleaning our old house! So, the plan of attack that I detailed and had planned to achieve by the May long weekend all got completed by the end of March!  And I am happy to report that I used almost all natural, homemade cleaners.  I did allow myself the use of a spot remover, as well as a few paper towels.  You may recall that paper towels were allowed for pet related clean ups.  I had planned to use newspapers to clean mirrors and glass; after I finished packing I realized that all my newspapers were busy keeping my breakables safe.  And so, I decided to allow paper towels for windows and glass until I could restock my papers.  However, I quickly discovered how easy it is to fall back into old, green-less habits, as I found myself reaching for paper towels to shine faucets and counter tops.  Bad! I have given myself a mental talking to and will be making more of an effort to avoid paper towels.

Two products that we frequently debate are fabric refresher and air freshener.  I did find recipes for both of these items, and tried them out with mixed results.  While they both smelled wonderful and worked fairly well, they left a residue of baking soda where ever they were sprayed.  And so, I made the following compromise; I purchased a bottle of commercial fabric refresher but I am limiting my use to once a week or if absolutely necessary.  As well, I will put the dogs in the backyard until the spray has dried.  As for air freshener, so far I have held off buying a new can; instead I am using candles, incense, and essential oils simmered in water.

I am very proud to report, though, that I haven't purchased any electrostatic dusting cloths.  My micro-fibre cloths continue to do a great job on dust, and I have found that by sweeping thoroughly and then vacuuming up the dust piles I can pick up virtually everything.  I also a have micro-fibre mop that works really well.  It is a cloth that looks a lot like terry cloth, and it fits on a mop that looks like my electrostatic broom.  I wet it with hot water and vinegar, wring it out well, wipe down the floors, and the floors look great.  I can also use it dry for dusting the floor (great if you have pets!).

Altogether, so far the Great Green Spring Cleaning Challenge is going well!  It has definitely made me more aware of the waste that can be produced through cleaning and of the chemicals I am using in our home.  I will continue using these home made products well after the May long weekend.

Have a great week!

In Praise of Jammies

Clearly, a week of posts about all things sleep related would not be complete without a tribute to pajamas.  I think jammies are wonderful and wear them a lot.  Anyone who knows me well knows that I prefer to cook in pajamas.  This may raise some eyebrows, but if you've ever tried on a chef's outfit (and I have) they are basically pajamas with a nicer top (and a funny hat, but whatever).  The point is they are loose and comfortable.  Another reason I like to wear jammies when I cook is that I hate when my clothes smell like cooking.  So I change into pajamas while I cook

I also like to wear jammies when I clean.  I'm not sure why, but I suspect it's just because they are so comfortable!  I can zip around the house and get so much done when I am in my comfy jammas!

Of course, there are drawbacks to wearing jammies during non-pajama times.  It can be embarrassing if you get caught.  I try to have myself fixed up with hair and makeup so that I have a more "studied" pajama look if folks should drop by, but it doesn't always work.

I got caught in jammies the other day.  I had a lot of running around to do in town, and so I got up early to get everything done, but I was tired when the alarm clock went off and still tired when I got home.  So I decided I would take a nap.  It worked out well because my husband was coming off a back shift so he was sleeping too.  I popped into my jammies and snuggled into bed, ready for a nice refreshing nap, when I heard it.  The doorbell.  The cable guy had stopped by to confirm an appointment and do some preliminary work.  Even though I still had freshly coiffed hair and was wearing makeup, there was no explaining why I was wearing my blue puppy dog pajamas at 1:30 in the afternoon.  Sigh.

Oh well, such is the price we pay for comfort!  I hope you have a wonderful weekend, and that you get to enjoy sleep-ins and lots and lots of time in your jammies!  Next week I will have an update on the Great Green Spring Cleaning Challenge, and lots of other fun stuff!

I Love Sleep!!

I do.  I really really do.  I love to sleep!

I consider myself a night owl, and I certainly do stay up late!  But once I'm in bed, it's hard to get me out.  As I mentioned in Monday's post, I'm a big fan of the snooze button.

I'm good about it, though.  I'm responsible when I am employed. I make myself get to bed by eleven at the latest so I can be up and ready for work.  But when I don't have a reason to get up, I love staying up late.  I find I am at my most creative late at night.  Many of my blog posts are written in the wee hours of the morning.  The urge to scrapbook or make cards also seems to emerge late at night. And if I'm working on a project like knitting or sewing, I just hate to stop!  And so I stay up late.

But, once I do drag myself off to my room and crawl in bed, it's the best!  Snuggling into a cozy, well made bed with fresh sheets and a comfy duvet...zzzzzzzzzzzz....

Whoops, sorry about that!!  What's really sad, though, is that for many people, a good night's sleep is as elusive as a pot of gold.  As with many exciting adult issues (like eating right and exercising) there are many reasons why people don't get enough restful sleep, but the stresses of modern life definitely play a major factor. Anyone who's juggled any combination of a job, family, social life and volunteer commitments knows only too well how few hours there are in a day.

I know, I've been there.  A few years ago I found myself involved in way too many activities.  I was frazzled, and spent many an hour at 3:00 AM staring at the ceiling, exhausting but unable to turn off my brain (isn't that the worst!).   And so, I made a decision to give up all volunteer commitments.  For at least one year, I would take the time to see what my life would be like if I just let it happen. 

One thing that happened was that I slept better.  I look back now and I don't know how I did it, and the scary thing is, as young professionals went, I was actually less involved than most. And I didn't have kids. Granted, there are many people who no doubt thrive under pressure and sleep like babies the minute their heads hit the pillow.  That's good for them, but so many people are not like that, and those people are tired, darn it!  And so, while I realize that most people won't or can't give up their extra commitments, there are some things that anyone can do to work towards a good night's rest.  I found two excellent resources which are listed below:

  • The Mayo Clinic has a great list of suggestions for combating what they refer to as "sleep maintenance insomnia," that is, when you wake up and can't get back to sleep.  Among their suggestions are establishing a quiet, relaxing bedtime routine, keeping clocks out of sight, and avoiding daytime napping.
  • I really enjoyed Canadian Living's article on 5 Steps to a Sleep-Friendly Bedroom.  This article covers things that should be common sense but for some reason don't usually get put into practice, such as lighting, and a proper mattress.  They also stress the importance of "unplugging" your room, that is, not allowing computers, televisions, and cell phones to distract sleep.  They refer to Dr. Michael Breus as saying "the bedroom should be a place associated with sleep and intimacy."  Should be obvious, but as anyone who's ever finished a report in bed knows, it's a lesson worth repeating.
I could go on and on, but the moral of this post is that sleep, restful sleep, is important to your health, so if you aren't getting enough sleep, make a plan to change that.  Start by making your bedroom a place where you want to be.  Take a moment each morning to make your bed and plump your pillows. Buy yourself some new sheets or pajamas (or hey, buy both!) and start turning your room into a sanctuary of peace and calm where you go to rest and prepare yourself to face the day, not hide from it!

Sweet Dreams!

Nights in White Flannel

Do you have trouble sleeping alone?

In the house, I mean.  For many people, an evening alone in the house means many hours of sleeplessness, full of tossing and turning and things that go bump in the night.  Lying awake at 3:15 AM, trying to remember where the closest "weapon" is while desperately attempting to determine whether the shadow on the wall is a blood thirsty maniac or a pile of dirty laundry is no fun at all.  The real question is, how does this happen?

At some point in our lives most of us will live "alone" in some way or another.  Whether it's in a dorm room or in our own first apartment, or even the first time your folks go away on vacation and leave you without adult supervision, at some point we all spend a night alone.  And many of us delighted in that first bit of independence.  So how is it that, once we are partnered off, so many of us get the jitters when our significant others will be away over night?

I remember when my husband was getting ready to leave for Depot; so many people asked me if I was nervous to be by myself at night.  I honestly wasn't; if anything I was more nervous about the expanse of non-sleeping hours I would have to fill without my best friend.  Loneliness was a bigger concern of mine than bogeymen (I did, after all, have great faith in Molly the Wonder Dog to protect me).  However, until we are put to the test, even the bravest of us don't know how well we will fare alone in the dark.

The first night alone was a little sad, but I was tired after the stress of the day and, after a few sniffles, I fell asleep with Molly tucked warmly behind my knees.  I still maintain, even to the non-pet people out there, that you will never be that lonely if you have pet.  Dogs in particular are wonderful buddies.  It doesn't matter if you leave the house for 5 days or 5 minutes, your dog will be thrilled to bits to see you come in the door and a hero's homecoming will be your reward.  Dogs also make you feel secure.  Molly may not look very fierce, but she is blessed / cursed with a hideous howl, and no intruder would want to risk facing the beast that should accompany it.  In truth, Molly sounds the same saying hello as she does sounding the alarm, but Bob the Burglar doesn't need to know that.

As the days and weeks wore on, we grew accustomed to our new family structure and we developed a routine to get through our days and nights.  I've always relied on my husband to "count down" how much time I had left to get ready, and I am (apparently) difficult to get out of bed.  I will admit to being inordinately fond of the snooze button.  Molly prefers to do her daily deeds for me, while on a walk.  And so we worked out a schedule that, most nights, has us in bed by 11:00, and up by six in case she needed a quick walk up the street.  After work, I would come home, get Molly into her coat and leash and we would go for a walk around our neighborhood in Sydney's Northend. Then it was home for supper and snuggles on the sofa while we watched TV or read, and waited for our evening call from Regina.  We were both very lucky to have friends living in the apartment below who took care of Molly during the day.

During the first few nights of our new life, I kept pretty much to "my" side of the bed.  One night, however, I couldn't get comfortable, and in the course of my tossing and turning flopped onto my back in the middle of the mattress.  Ahhhhh...perfect.  Molly seemed to agree; one night I woke up to find her spreadeagled on her back at the end of the bed, legs in the air, head thrown back, snoring softly.  I began to wonder where we would put my husband when he got back?

And so, no, I didn't have any trouble sleeping alone while he was away.  And we were able to accommodate him upon his return and on our travels across Canada.  There was one hurdle left to cross, however; his first night shift.  It was one thing to doze off in an apartment building with friends below and neighbors I knew all around me, while he was safe in a dorm in Regina.  It was another thing entirely to face the night in a strange house in a strange town, in a different time zone even, while my husband fought the forces of evil!!!

I stayed up late, to tire myself out.  Eventually, with heavy eyelids, I made my way to our room, where Molly was already sleeping soundly, dreaming puppy dreams.  I got myself settled and for one brief moment allowed my mind to go to that scary place.  Were those sirens I heard?  I gave myself a mental shake.  I summoned up all the advice I'd been given by other Mountie wives and Mountie mothers for this very moment, told myself he was having a coffee in the break room and NOTHING ELSE, and turned over and went to sleep.

More on the quest for rest on Wednesday!  If you have a tip or story to share on facing the night alone, please share in the comments! In the meantime...

Sweet Dreams!

Photographic Memories

Like many, many people, I Facebook.

I actually held out for a long time.  But finally, when my email flow had all but dried up, when I grew tired of being the last to know, and fascination got the better of me, I folded and signed up for the social networking site.  And instantly, I was hooked.  I was amazed (and still am) at the people from high school, university, drama groups and beyond that sent me friend requests.  Eventually I got up the nerve to start sending requests of my own to long lost friends, and some of my most frequent (and relevant) commenters are people who's friendships I valued very much but had drifted apart from due to time, geography, and life.  And so, while I acknowledge that there is a lot about Facebook that gets on my nerves, I freely admit that I love Facebook and enjoy my daily (erhm, make that twice, thrice, oh leave me alone, I live 6000 miles from home) fix!

One of my favorite things about Facebook is pictures.  I'm talking about the well put together albums with obvious thought behind them that share something relevant, not the ridiculous dumping of hundreds of mobile phone party pics.  As mentioned above, I live far, far from home, and pictures help me feel "part of the loop."  Also interesting are the occasional "old" pictures that people post.  Yearbook photos, baby pictures, even snaps from high school, stumbling across a blast from the past always makes me smile.  Especially since it means that someone went through the trouble of sitting down with their scanner and a shoebox (or two or three) of pictures and scanning them in.

A few years ago, before one of our bi-annual family reunions, my aunt Merle tackled a huge pile of family photos and digitally captured them.  I shudder to think how long it took her, but I'm really grateful she did this.  Photos, after all, are simply paper with photographic emulsion, and are famously vulnerable to moisture and time.  Anyone who's ever opened a photo album or scrapbook only to find it's pages sealed and it's precious memories destroyed knows the value of digital images.

I was delighted when, a few weeks ago, my aunt started uploading many of these images to her Facebook albums.  Reading my family's comments, and adding my own, was almost like an online family reunion.  Some photos made me laugh out loud, others made me cry.  But there was one photo that made me stop, froze my fingers on my keypad, and transported me back 28 years to a time before scanners, external hard drives, and social networking...
From left, me, my mother Arlene, and my sister Jamie
I'm six in this photo.  Jamie and I are wearing our new Lopi sweaters that our Nana Maxner had knit for us.  Our hats are souvenirs from a trip to a Mennonite village in Saskatchewan the year before.  I remember this afternoon well; there are actually quite a few pictures floating around of Jamie and I running around our grandparent's back yard in our new sweaters on a picture perfect Cape Breton autumn afternoon.  I suspect this picture was taken at the end of the photo session, as Jamie looks decidedly tired and I am gazing dreamily at the stick I am holding.  (I liked sticks a lot as a kid.  Always had one lying around.)  We are content to sit still on a sun warmed rock while the photographer captures one image of us with our Mom, looking casually stylish in a hand knit sweater of her own.

Finding this photo made me happy.  As I am busy setting up my new home, I am of course perusing our artwork and trying to decide what to put where, and what new should I add?  I have been toying around with the idea of putting out some new pictures of both of our families, especially ones like these, which, while not perfectly composed in a photographer's studio, capture more light, love, and emotion than any well-lit Photo Shopped creation in an artful brushed steel frame.  I'll be adding this jpeg to my zip drive and printing it off soon, so as to proudly display a vintage memory in my modern home.

Relocation is Everything

I'm going to admit to something a Mountie spouse shouldn't.


The truth is, I hate moving.  No, that's not completely true.  I love looking at apartments and houses.  I adore decorating and rearranging furniture and finding furnishings and art that suits a new space.  And this year I learned that I really like going to new places and starting out fresh.

What I really hate, is packing.

For years, when we got a new place to live, we had to pack all our stuff, arrange for friends and vehicles, and do the thing ourselves.  In our life together we've done that kind of move 5 times.  So of course I was happy to learn that from now on, our moves would include a professional moving company who would pack everything for me.  And for someone like me, who will be looking at moves every 4 years for the foreseeable future, that was good, good news!

When we arrived in Kitimat, we found a great little house very quickly, and we were quite happy there.  However, there were a few things our house lacked.  One was space; everything was on one level and so there wasn't much privacy (remember my excitement over having "A Room of My Own?), or storage.  Second, it didn't have a fenced yard so my pups didn't have a place to go out and play, and taking them out at night was less than fun (and a cause of concern for my spouse).  And third, the kitchen was small and hard to move around in.  And so, we decided that we would start looking for a new house, knowing that if we couldn't find a place we were happy in what we had.

A few weeks (very few!) ago the perfect house became available.  And so, once again, I found myself faced with the prospect of doing a cross town move.  We had very little time to prepare and so I couldn't purge and pack in as organized a manner as I would've liked.  But, with a combination of hard work, late nights, and good, good friends with trucks, it got done and it wasn't as painful as anticipated.  And so, here I am, in my new house, having lived to blog the tale.

Each time I move I get a little better at it.  There are a few things you can do to make it go easier.  Some of these things I learned on my own, and some I learned from friends.  They are all useful, mostly common-sense tidbits, but it's surprising how easy it is to forget to do something basic.

Cross Town Move To-Do List:
  • Call utilities ASAP and arrange to transfer them to your new location.  Remember to ask how much notice they need, if there is a transfer fee, and if your account number will change.  If you're really on the ball, ask for your agent's name and for a confirmation number; this can help if something goes wrong and you have to call back.
  • Check your current lease and make sure you are in compliance with what you agreed to.  
  • If you aren't hiring a professional moving service, start recruiting friends and vehicles.
  • Get boxes (liquor stores are great, they have the strongest boxes).  FYI, the ones for wine bottles are great for glasses, stemware, bottles, anything you don't want to tip.
  • Get your "Moving Survival Kit" ready.
  • Have a plan, but be flexible.
Moving Survival Kit:
  • Boxes (as mentioned above, my personal favorites are liquor store boxes.  Strong, sturdy, and in a variety of sizes.)
  • Packing tape (invest in a tape gun, they save you time in tearing, cutting, and the dreaded "finding the end."  Buy lots.
  • Sharpie Markers
  • Baggies
  • Laundry baskets (a friend lent me hers and they are great!  I'm going to buy some of my own!)  They are especially good for carrying food
  • Hockey Bag (the same friend lent me theirs, and you can fit almost all your clothes in one.  This depends of course on the size of your family, and the size of your wardrobe).  I wouldn't suggest running out and buying one just for a move, but if you have one or can borrow one, use it.
  • Garbage bags.  Use these to move clothes.  Clear ones are best because there is no confusion as to what is in the bag.  If you use black or green bags, make sure your helpers know the difference between your duds and your trash.
  • Box cutters
  • A list of takeout menus
  • Newspapers (for packing fragile items)
  • For short hauls, I don't worry about packing perfectly.  So, clothes go in garbage bags, not everything gets wrapped, and not every box gets closed.  In fact, one thing I do to get more in a box is to raise the four "flaps" and tape them to make a higher box.
  • Try not to buy groceries right before you move.  We tried to use up what was in our fridge so there was less to move.
  • Eat out.  Yes, it costs a bit more, but for what it saves you in time cooking and cleaning, it's worth it.  Rest wins every time!
  • Use those baggies!  I use them to hold the hardware and "little bits" for shelves.  I label the baggies with a Sharpie.
  • Label the rooms in your new place. I put a sign on each room.  This might sound obvious, but there are 5 bedrooms in this house.  No one but me and my husband knew which was destined to be a bedroom, or a craft room, or a study.  We saved time having to direct people by labeling the rooms.
  • Have a survival box, and keep it safe and separate.  It should be the first box in.  In it, put everything you will need for your first night in your new place.  Toilet paper, sheets, cell phone chargers, light bulbs, a few towels, a dish cloth and towel, a bar of soap, tooth paste, pet food, etc. 
  • Have a set up box.  In this, put your tool kit, and anything you will need to get set up.  Cords for electronics, your telephones, and all those baggies will go in this box.
  • Take care of you.  I learned from my mom that the first thing you should do is set up your bed (or get the mattress on the floor) and get it ready to sleep on.  It saves you from having to go searching for your bedding exhausted when you finally decide to collapse.  Sleeping under a coat is never fun!!!
  • Have a system for unpacking.  Mine is to get everything into the rooms they are meant for.  Then, with the mess out of the way, get your "living space" ready.  I get my kitchen in order first so that there is a place to eat, sit, and visit if someone drops in. Then I do the living room.  Next I finalize the bedroom and bathroom (since they were semi set-up from the survival box).  After that, I take a room at a time until it's done.  
  • Keep track of who's helped you and thank them.  Also, make sure you return borrowed items promptly.
And most important of all - enjoy your new space!!

Retro Recipes - Easter Dinner

Easter-y Good!!
Happy Easter!  I hope that you have been enjoying the long weekend, the great food, and hopefully, somewhat Spring-like weather.  And of course, quality time with family and friends.

Growing up, Easter was a holiday filled with religious meaning.  Starting on Palm Sunday, we would have lots to do at our church.  As children, we would be involved in distributing the palm crosses; often, the organist would play joyful music as the children paraded throughout the aisles holding palm leaves aloft and handing out the crosses.  This exercise was to emulate Christ's joyful entry into into Jerusalem, and is a contrast to the somber ceremonies held on Good Friday commemorating when he was crucified.  My participation in Good Friday services started as a young adult, when I was old enough to participate in the Senior Choir at our church.  The Inner City Churches of the Sydney area would hold a four hour service and local clergy would preach on the last words of Christ.  The participating choirs would, of course, contribute suitable musical accompaniment and lead the hymn singing.

Saturday was a break from the religious festival, and the day when we would enjoy some of the more secular traditions associated with Easter.  Dying eggs, making crafts, and cooking often took place on Saturday.

Sunday morning started early for there was a lot to do!  But we always had time for our annual family Easter Egg Hunt!  Since it is not unusual in Cape Breton to awake Easter morning to a snowstorm, the Easter Bunny had to hide our eggs inside the house.  One memorable year when we were quite young, the Bunny left a few baskets hidden in the woods behind my grandfather's house, and we had to don our snowsuits and venture out into the snow to locate them.  Important work, this!  Curiously, Santa once crashed his sleigh not far from where the Bunny left his baskets behind and we were also called out on an important retrieval mission.  I wonder....

Once the eggs were all located and counted it was time to hurry hurry hurry, as we had to be out the door to get to church for the early Easter morning service. Since we would be singing with the Junior Choir, we couldn't eat any chocolate before church.  This, and the early morning communion service, never really bothered us since after the early service came the best thing of all...Easter breakfast!  The people of our church always brought forth a wonderful array of muffins, cheese, coffeecakes, fruit, jello, lots and lots of fabulous things that we'd NEVER have for breakfast any other day.  I swear this is where my love of cornbread stems from.  After breakfast there was a quick choir practice and then the main service.

After this long morning, we were always hungry and ready for our Easter lunch (despite having eaten our weight in quickbreads just a few short hours before!)  Often we had a turkey dinner; this was our family's celebration dinner of choice.  Occasionally we had ham or roast beef.  I seem to recall a few years when the weather was really lovely Dad barbecued.  Regardless of what was served, we had a wonderful time and were so happy to still have a day and a half left before we had to go back to school.

Last Easter I was in Regina for my husband's graduation.  We went to the graduation service at the RCMP chapel and then had breakfast in the mess.  Later in the afternoon we nibbled on munchies at his graduation wine and cheese.  I'm sure at one point we ate supper but it's such a blur now I honestly don't remember what I had.

This year, of course, we are far away from home, but we have each other and lots of new friends.  And so, I've decided to go all out and prepare a retro fabulous traditional Easter lunch for four. I may be a bit mad to attempt this since we are also moving into a new house this week, but my theory is if I give myself a deadline, I will be motivated to get everything done!  We'll see how that goes!

As you know, I am writing this post in advance.  While I have great faith in my internet provider, on the off chance that I am still offline today, I am preparing this post in advance and scheduling it to post.  If this happens, I promise pictures of my feast just as soon as I'm online again.  In the meantime, I will share with you my menu and the recipes I'm planning to use. 

In the interest of time and sanity, I have decided to make the cake the night before (many sites I visited suggested it's actually better this way.)  As well, I'm doing the potatoes in the slow cooker so that only the ham needs to go in the oven.  The potatoes have a cheese-free option, so if I want scalloped potatoes on the day instead that's what I'll do.  I decided on peas for my other vegetable because they are simple and easy to make; given that the rest of the meal is pretty heavy, I think it will be fine to go with simple peas.

Obviously, this menu has a distinct 1950's vibe, and I'm totally embracing it.  While I normally try to cook and eat "clean," every so often you need to get out the sugar and white flour and have yourself a time!  I looked for recipes that used styles, methods, and ingredients that would've been en vogue in the fifties. As soon as I read that the ham used a can of Sprite, it was in!  I also knew when I started searching that I wanted my ham to be studded with pineapple rings and cherries, and that I wanted cherries on my pineapple upside down cake too!  And since I'm serving this meal at lunch, I'm playing around with the idea of serving a vintage-y good mocktail, like Shirley Temples or Ginger Ale and White Grape Juice (my Aunt Irene used to make this for us and it's soooo good.  And my dad always ordered us Shirley Temples with lots of swords and stuff at restaurants.)  I recently read about someone serving Shirley Temples for a "grown up" event but I can't remember who it was.

In the most recent issue of Everday with Rachel Ray there is an article about Donatella Arpaia, a Manhattan chef, restaurateur, and author.  In the article Donatella talks about how she like to serve meals "family style," that is, by placing food in large bowls and platters and letting guests serve themselves. I like this approach because guests can pick and and choose what they like and how much they want, thus preventing that awkward moment at the end of the meal when someone has left all their peas on their plate. Also, people can help themselves to seconds (and thirds and fourths!) without having to ask or be asked.  And again, it's very retro! So I'm going to be serving my Easter Dinner family style.

Here's hoping the "family" doesn't have to gather around a packing box!  Happy Easter!  And remember, it's another short week!

Update - Great news - I'm back online!  

My final menu included the scalloped potato version of the au gratin recipe, and the vegweb cake, as well as ginger ale & white grape juice mocktails, and sauvignon blanc.

Yummy Pineapple Upsidedown Cake
  Everything was delicious, although I would like to play with the potato recipe a bit; it tasted good but not really like scalloped potatoes.  I cooked it over 10 hours, next time I think I will use a shorter setting.  In addition, I would be interested to try the au gratin version.  In the meantime, if you have a slow cooker scalloped potato recipe I'd love to hear it; it certainly made getting the meal on the table a piece of cake.  And speaking of cake, I'm seriously in love with vegweb's Pineapple Upsidedown Cake. The recipe uses no eggs, milk, or butter; it does use the juice from the can of pineapple and the result is a sweet, moist cake that is soooo yummy.  I used pineapple rings and cherries to get the full  effect, but you could use chunks and it would still be mighty tasty!

My beautiful ham
 The ham recipe was amazing!  I was so impressed with this!  I used yellow sugar and pineapple in juice (couldn't find it in syrup) so my glaze was probably thinner than the one in the recipe, but it was still great! I will definitely be adding this to my special occasion menu list!

Something Old & Something New, Part III

Just Married & Enjoying Our Cake!
Happy Friday!  I've had a wonderful time this week sharing homespun, heartfelt weddings.  And today, I'm very excited to share my wedding with you!  Angus and I were married on July 3, 1999, almost eleven years ago.  We had a wonderful time planning our wedding together and I have always counted myself lucky to have had a groom who was happy to be a part of the process!

When we got engaged in the fall of 1998, we had intended to wait until the summer of 2000 to get married.  By then, I would be finished university.  However, one Sunday in March we got to talking and we decided that we didn't want to wait any longer and why didn't we just have a small wedding that summer?  When I told my parents that we were planning to be married in July (just 3 months away) they were very excited.  Many parents would be less than impressed with the lack of notice, but our parents were all thrilled.  And so, thus began our whirlwind engagement.

A piper leads the way
I once read somewhere that you will take as long to plan your wedding as you give yourself.  So if you are engaged for two years, it will take you two years to plan your wedding.  And if you give yourself three months, you'll get it all done in three months.  We had a definite vision of what we wanted for our special day, and I enjoyed every minute of bringing it to fruition.

Ainsley & Anna
We knew we wanted an outdoor wedding.  My parents are blessed with a beautiful backyard completed walled on one side by towering spruce trees.  In preparation for the wedding, they designed and installed a garden and a flagstone patio for the ceremony to be held on.  A white wedding tent was rented and would be placed to the side of the house.  And with those additions, the yard where I played as a child was transformed into an intimate outdoor wedding chapel.

Angus and I are both of Scottish descent, so we knew we wanted of lot of highland touches.  In addition to those, I was aiming for a whimsical, eccentric garden party atmosphere.  With lots of butterflies.  And kilt clad Scotsmen.  (Hey, it was my wedding!)

Just married, and still bound with tartan!
Everything came together beautifully and our vision came to life.  The wedding party was piped in by a piper from the Gaelic College in Saint Ann's.  My Aunt Dale, a floral designer, created beautiful floral elements that brought the image in my head to life.  Nosegay dotted tulle flowed along the veranda and down to two topiaries.  The bouquets were fragrant delights concocted from spring coloured roses, irises, and greens.  Instead of a flower girl, my cousin Anna was a "bubble girl" and carried a cleverly designed basket of flowers with a bottle of bubble solution hidden within.  My maid of honour Ainsley and I wore sun dresses from April Cornell's collection and Angus and his best man wore kilts.  We kept the ceremony short and simple but had one very unique touch at the very end.  After signing the register on a table decorated with a stunning embroidered Syrian table cloth (a family treasure borrowed from my mother in law)  our minister performed an ancient Celtic hand-binding ceremony.  Still bound together with a piece of his family's ceremonial tartan, my new husband and I made our way through our guests to a receiving line among the spruce trees.

My mother-in-law's Syrian cloth "something borrowed"
There were so many special, homespun elements at our wedding that it would be hard to detail them all.  We had pews from the nearby Sunday school established by my ancestors.  The food (barbecued chicken and salads) was lovingly prepared by my family and friends.  My sister in law flew in from Vancouver as a wedding surprise for her brother.  My parents worked tirelessly to prepare their home for our guests, and received many, many compliments for their efforts (as well as my undying thanks!)  My dad showed off his creative side, designing an "ice table" for the salads and creating a bar area that people are still talking about.  Behind a simple wooden work table, he filled his canoe with ice and placed bottles of beer in the ice!  Everyone loved the beer boat!  My Nana showed up with a large bowl of peppermints as well as homemade sweets adorned with tiny white wedding bells that I have to this day.  Every time I purge my kitchen I look at those bells, now yellowing, but they remain.  Even the family cat got involved, bringing home a rabbit which she left on the step early on my wedding day (a fact that was kept from me until well after the wedding.

Favors, Cake, and Peppermints
It was a wonderful party and our guests danced long into the night, and when they left we sent them home with hand made favors; tiny bags of coffee and tea with labels that said "Kim and Angus, the Perfect Blend."  When I ended the night, with feet grass-stained from dancing, I was happy knowing that I had married my best friend and that we had accomplished the perfect wedding for us!

I've had a wonderful time sharing these three special weddings with you.  Whenever I am asked for advice on weddings, I offer this; don't get so caught up in the wedding that you forget about the marriage.  Your wedding lasts for one day, but your marriage will (hopefully) last forever.  Try very hard to consider the feelings of all those who are part of your day as they will be part of your life long after the cake is cut and the bouquet is thrown.  Remember that person who is nagging and annoying now loves you very much and is actually just desperately trying to ensure that your day is perfect.

Have a wonderful weekend!