Showing posts with label Homemade. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Homemade. Show all posts

Monday, November 2, 2020

The garden just keeps on giving

 We've brought the herbs indoors and dug up every last vine and plant that had produced, or promised yet failed to produce, food. A few weeks ago we had a tentative dusting, then an earnest full week of snow that killed anything still living. I brought in every tomato that had even a blush of red. Today the very last one adorned my salad - we are now in grape-tomatoes-from-the-store-til-next-summer season. And all that snow melted during a week of above-freezing temps, which was sort of annoying but also made for a more comfortable Halloween.

We have been alerted we got off the wait list for the other community garden where we had requested a plot so we will have two plots next year - in opposite directions from the house - although the new one is also on the way to the source of all rhubarb, so there may be even more muffins and jam next year.

Speaking of which, last week I took a hearty portion of the rhubarb we'd frozen and made a pie. I used some of the pectin we'd recently made (from apple peels and cores) in an effort to keep down the wateriness. It was significantly better than the last pie, but still waterier than I'd hoped. And surprisingly a bit too tart. And then it got moldy in 3 days so we tossed most of it. We now have just enough rhubarb in the freezer for another batch of muffins, which will wait for deeper into the winter.

And the highlight of garden delights: beer brewed with some of the garden's fresh hops. It has a bit of the taste of a sour, and is absolutely my favorite of all the beers Terry has ever brewed that I can remember. I may have to hoard it and hide it. Luckily for me he just bottled a batch of something else he may like more, and has a third batch on deck that I won't like.  Because he never brought a ladder to the garden, many (most?) hops growing tall went unharvested - an error we will not make next year. 

We still need to check out our second garden plot, figure the size and which direction is toward the sun. Then we get to enjoy a gardener's favorite winter activity - planning for next year!

Friday, August 7, 2020

Failures in Sourdough

More accurately, "failure" as it has only been one attempt. We decided to play around with dehydrating the starter just in case we go away for more than a week and are unable to get the thing fed when it gets hungry. The drying was super easy! Just smear a bunch of the discard on a piece of parchment paper and leave it out until it's all dried. Calgary being what it is, that took about a day. Just kidding. But it wasn't long.

The next step of course is trying to re-hydrate it. This is where things got a bit rocky. Mostly because we didn't follow instructions and didn't actually measure/weigh anything. We were just adding water and flour all willy-nilly. It started out looking like it might work, and eventually became clear we had sludge.

Back to the drawing board!

Friday, May 8, 2020


We were lucky enough to get a spot in one of the two community gardens we applied to. Then, after we got that notification Terry found a few spots in the back yard where he thought we could grow a thing or two (it is so shady back there we wrote it off at first).  On Canada's version of Craigslist - called Kijiji - there are often pallets available in peoples' yards for free. It is an entirely contactless experience, if also sometimes a disappointing experience when someone else grabbed the best wood just before you get there. Terry picked up a few and made this awesome planter, which will eventually be mounted into the fence! We're planning a row of lettuce, a row of various herbs, and a row of spinach because one of the children will actually eat spinach (as opposed to chard or kale) ... as long as we refer to it as lettuce. The sacrifices we make for our children's health.

The community garden had a socially distanced tour Saturday morning and Terry went, as this is definitely more his thing than mine and we had a hunch there would be some good tips shared and local gardening in general and the mechanics of this community garden in particular. He came home as close to elated as his stoic self ever is.

After dinner the whole family went down to be introduced to our garden bed - they are all raised beds and each is named for a flower, ours is Aster. Terry and I measured and planned and planted the few cold-weather direct-sow seeds we had - radishes, beets, snow peas, and lettuces. The kids played in the adjacent field, creating some kind of disk golf game that involved their fleeces as "home bases" and Alex's shoes as markers of where the disk last landed.

Look at Terry's super fancy "saddlebag" system for his bike!  He designed it himself, and the buckets handily hold garden tools, seeds, and as necessary - dirt.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Lockdown Passover

Calgary surprised me with the dearth of Hanukkah candles in December, so I was prepared to expect nothing in any store in the way of matzah come spring. Calgary did not disappoint.  Mails shut down before I could ask my mom to ship me  few boxes from the USA, so I called up the old recipe I used back in Russia to make my own matzah! No rabbi would bless this stuff for a number of reasons, but it did get from water-touches-flour to out-of-the-oven in 18 minutes or less so I am calling it a win and moving on.

We have been able to find some lamb, and after searching our bookshelves I have discovered about seven different Haggadot. I first debated between the "30 minute Seder" and whatever we have the most copies of, and it turned out we had the most copies of the "30 minute Seder". Another win.

The kids had a huge fight that left one child refusing to come down when it was time to Seder ... until Terry worked his magic. Wine and grape juice were drunk, matzah was eaten with horseradish and charoset (although I keep telling Terry he isn't doing it right because he likes the horseradish), and yes we opened the door for Elijah. He didn't touch anything.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

More Mcguyver

In typical Soviet fashion, we received a message this afternoon from the kids' summer camp that tomorrow is the talent show/party and everyone should bring some food or drink to share.

We packed out earlier this week, so we have very close to nothing at all in the house both food- and implement-wise.

We do still have chocolate chips.

Each of the two tin foil pieces used to line the baking sheet used to house a loaf of bread in the freezer. They are both now completely destroyed and fit only for the bin.  There is no brown sugar in the mix. All the white flour is now gone, so the pancakes I planned to make to use up the maple syrup will have to be made with 100% whole wheat flour.

I love moving.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Good and Cheap


Leanne Brown is a food-studies scholar who wrote a book, Good and Cheap, that enables people on very tight budgets (think food stamps) to eat healthfully and deliciously for approximately $4 per day. It is a free .pdf available on her web site, and a second run of paper books will happen some day - soon, we hope.  Terry somehow found out about this book and we downloaded the .pdf to try it out.

Here's the thing.  The very basic, staple food items that are affordable to those on a tight budget are also staple items that can either be found overseas or ship well.  Also, the recipes use basic spices and simple pots, pans and casserole dishes - this should appeal to an audience who must carefully weigh (literally and figuratively) every kitchen appliance they want to have on hand.  People like us.  We have made three of the recipes so far - two have been completely delicious and one we plan to tinker with. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Cashew milk

Astana is a consumables, Pouch-only post. There are few non-dairy milks to be found around town and the only ones I have heard of so far are ones I don't drink.  What does this mean? Any non-dairy milk I drink must be procured within the year after my arrival, and too bad that expiration dates don't quite take me all the way to the end of the tour. So, we will be experimenting with the home-grown variety.

On our super-productive trip to the rinok this weekend we found the nuts and dried fruit vendor and got a small volume of cashews to work with for our first experiment. We'd heard it was a super easy nut to milk and if the blender/food processor is good enough you don't even need to strain anything.

First off, we don't have our ship freight so we don't have the awesome Ninja blender. We have the tiny food processor that attaches to the 220v stick blender motor. Second off, ignore the first off. With our inadequate equipment and the need to strain the liquid I still managed to make something I wouldn't mind drinking with a chocolate chip cookie, PLUS a small batch of homemade cashew butter.  Cashew butter is relatively tasteless, or perhaps something is missing from the recipe?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

UAB forts

One thing that has become a tradition for our family with each UAB shipment is the follow on cardboard forts.  We pack a couple of box cutters and a roll or two of packing tape in the UAB boxes.  When they are emptied we give the kids a play area that they are so excited to have.  Another benefit is that the three walled cardboard used for UAB is it really sturdy, so you can make dual level structures.  We could probably go higher but I have visions of Zoltan wiggling out of a window back down to the floor for a nasty bump on the noggin.  So when UAB showed up the kids were very very excited to the see all the big boxes.  The first night we put together a relatively simple structure with two levels (Upper right photo).  The kids each agreed on one entry box being their own houses and the two in the middle are the shared house.  You have to go through one or the other kid's house to get the shared house.  They were quite pleased with the arrangement.

This tour is unusual that we also got an HHE by air shipment. The movers in Maryland packed it just like any other UAB shipment.  So we have lots and lots of boxes this time.  I decided to expand the fort some the next night.  I added another bottom section but not actually attached to the the first section.  Then I added a second section on the second level that you can use to as a bridge to go from one side to the other.  Alex was showering when I finished this up.  She can out and went in the fort and proceeded to go to the second level when she saw the new addition.  Her words were something like "Hey what the? Oh Cool!!"  Unfortunately the written word can not really catch the confusion in her first statement followed by the excitement in here second.  Not sure how many of these we will build before they become boring to older kids (or they just don't fit) but right now it is such fun to watch.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Celebrating birthdays

Every year for the kids' birthdays Terry and I argue about how to celebrate. He prefers the way he grew up: birthday child chooses dinner and cake. That's it. No party, no gifts, nothing more. I grew up differently; birthdays were a BIG DEAL.

This year I think we found our happy compromise. Yes, the birthday child gets to choose the dinner we make and the kind of cake. This year their birthdays were on Saturday so they also got to choose the day's activity from a curated list. Plus, we have introduced the coupon book. It's a gift with no tangible residue (I do agree with Terry that the kids have too much stuff) and the kids have been thrilled to use them.

This year's coupons were (2 each):
- one TV show even after mom and dad said no
- one dessert without eating a good dinner
- one trip to a cafe or ice cream shop with just mom or dad (this was sweet, they pooled them once so the whole family could go together)
- one treat at the supermarket
- 30 minutes of playing on the tablet

6-8 weeks later they each have 3 left. I'm keeping track of which ones they use when, and plan to modify the coupons each year. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


Today was the first in what I believe will be a series of trips to our local orchard for apple "seconds'. From today's haul I filled all 6 trays of the dehydrator with apple chips; saved about 5-6 of the best looking apples for eating; and made 3 quarts and 4 pints of applesauce (canned) and 2 12-ounce jars of sauce for eating right away. Plus, the Dutch oven is filled with peels and cores to process into pectin for next year's jam.

This bounty came from a half bushel of mixed apples. Next time, I'll get a full bushel.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Homemade bread

It turns out, in America, that the fewer ingredients your bread has the more it cost. Being all house poor and all, paying $5 per loaf when we go through 1-2 a week wasn't working out. Plus, a good friend gave me the her special secret recipe (ok, not so secret and easily found here). So, I got cooking. Well, baking.

The first batch was decent. The second pretty good. By the third I definitely had the hang of things.

 The only problem is that we gobble up the first loaf the within the first 24 hours and then have to ration out the sandwiches for the rest of the week out of the second loaf. The only good news is Zoltan seems interested in helping me, so it can be a weekday activity we do together.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Pectin free jam

We eat a lot of jam in our family. Lots of peanut butter and jam, lots of toast with jam. We throw jam into our oatmeal and in our plain yogurt. For the 13 years we've been jam making, we have always stood by the Certo product and method. In fact, we've been quite timid about venturing on our own.  Until last year, when we made our own pectin.

I think that was our "gateway" experience. With homemade pectin, you add some, see if things gel, add some more, see if you get fruit cement, then grump about the ruined jam.

A couple of weeks ago I entered the as yet untraveled ground of pectin free jam. First, the trip to Butler's Orchard in Germantown. Because of some bad instructions by the lovely workers at the orchard, by the time we realized the middle was not in fact the picked over part there was massive grumpiness and hunger (Zoltan) and hot and tiredness (me) so we left with a mere 2lb of  raspberries. Then to the farm market, where we got 25lb of tomatoes and what I think was about 18lb of peaches. After lunch, while the rest of the family napped, I made raspberry jam. Way easier than I thought. One of the things I really like about jamming "outside the box" is the fruit to sugar ratio - 1:1 rather than 1:2. The jam tasted intensely of fruit, and was plenty sweet. In fact, the kids spent a healthy amount of time lobbying to be allowed to eat the jam with a spoon.

Some web sites that helped me figure out what to do:

The raspberry jam turned out perfectly. It has a wonderful jam consistency. The peach turned out not quite so "jammy" and a bit more syrupy ... well thicker than that ... more like Russian vareini.Turns out the riper the fruit, the less pectin, and the peaches were "seconds" so, well, overripe. The taste is wonderful and the kids like it on their pancakes so it's still a win.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Today is Beer day (oops I mean Marmalade)

I brewed my second batch of beer a little before the New Years and it has been fermenting for two weeks. I was planning this weekend to be the bottling weekend, but when I popped open the fermenter to have a peek, the sediment had still had not settled. When you brew beer you take this measurement called original gravity, which tells how dense the liquid is in comparison to water. As the yeast changes the sugars (heavier then water) to alcohol (lighter then water) and Carbon Dioxide (escapes from the brew) the gravity drops and the beer becomes thinner and closer to the density of water. Since all the things that go into beer never come out completely you are left with a number that is denser then water but much lighter then when you start. Consequently you can use this number to tell you alcohol percentage by volume. Most recipes include an original gravity and ending gravity so you can tell when the fermenting is done. Also all the sediment will settle to the bottom about the time the fermenting is done. So seeing all the sediment floating around was the first clue it was not done. I took a gravity reading and it was only about 2/3 of the way there at best. So I sealed everything back up and will wait some more. Now what to do with my day?

Malta has really good strawberries when in season and since we have run out of the last years jam we asked my mom to ship us some pectin. We expected one, maybe two, packs. Each pack makes two batches of jam. My mom shipped 5 packs. So with more pectin then we expected (or probably needed) we decided to try some new things. Citrus plants grow well in Malta. In our backyard we have 5 citrus trees. Most of the fruit is kind of sour and not really tasty fresh. But the main ingredient of jam is lots of sugar so tart fruit actually works better then sweet fruit. With my day now free and the trees full of fruit I decided to try orange marmalade. It will take up to two weeks to set to know if it is any good. It tasted good this morning but was runny so we will have to see if it sets properly. If not we have a lot of Orange Syrup. So anyone who comes to visit may get a departing gift of orange marmalade. That should entice the people to come flocking to Malta.