Thursday, June 21, 2012

Adventures in bread making....

Neil's been making our bread  pretty regularly now for quite some time, it's definately an art and at first the loaves would be hit and miss but these days they are consistently good and usually only last about five minutes after coming out the oven before being gobbled up. His fancy twisty loaf pictured above was just about as perfect a loaf as he's ever made and it was so pretty too :)
I haven't really mastered the bread making yet although I do whip up a mean soda bread, a very handy skill to have when hungry kids need bread in a hurry. For Neil's bread he uses store bought fresh yeast and in my new homesteading spirit I decided that we could do better than than and culture our own wild yeast in the form of a sourdough starter. With that, Cuthbert was born......

It's much more simple than I thought to begin your own Sourdough starter.  It's a simple mix of flour and water left in a warmish spot to magically ferment. Cuthbert needs care and attention. In addition to  being kept in a consistently warm spot, every day I need to feed Cuthbert by emptying out about 80 percent and feeding in half a cup of warm water and half a cup of flour. After a week or so you can use your starter to bake a loaf of bread. I was doing well feeding little Cuthbert, in fact he was being fed before every other member of the household, I've discovered that you're better off using a nice organic flour so that you avoid any chemical residues that might be present in a non organic flour from killing off the wild yeast. The same goes for water and that's one thing that presented dear little cuthbert with a problem. I used tap water and being the picky eater that he is, Cuthbert didn't seem to like it. I haven't tested our water but it's quite likely that it has a chlorine content or fluoride content that is too high for Cuthbert and quite frankly not too great for us humans either! I've since discovered that rain water or distilled water are better for cultivating a sourdough starter. Unfortunately it doesn't really matter for poor Cuthbert......Neil killed him.
Yes, Cuthbert, my little bubbly lump of wild yeast, is dead. It is partly my fault, it was a bit chilly in the house the other day and I was worried he might be too cold so I popped him in the oven with the light on just to keep him nice and snug. I forgot to tell Neil he was in there and the next thing I know, Neil's pulling a piping hot pizza out the oven and I'm thinking  "Oooo Yummy!" when it suddenly dawns on me that Cuthbert WAS IN THERE!!! He didn't make it. How could he, it was 550F in there!
 Let's just take a moment for Cuthbert. RIP friend.

It's probably for the best, I was having visions of having Cuthbert tucked into my sleeping bag while we camped. We'll just have to have another go with Cuthbert II upon our return. I'll keep you posted.

Mummy's little helper....

Hehe! I am glad he remembered his boots. 

Neil's smoker and the alder smoked apple butter ribs.....

I'm not sure how best to describe these ribs. Lets just say, if you can imagine perfect, tender meat with a deliciously smokey but sweet flavour and just a hint of a spicey kick that would be about right. For sures......they were the best ribs I've ever eaten. I love the smoker. Enough said.

Monday, June 18, 2012

On the line...

Yesterday I put up a washing line. How is it that such a  simple thing as hanging out my laundry on a warm sunny morning can leave me feeling refreshed and calm all at the same time I don't know. I haven't had a washing line the entire time I've lived in Canada. Nobody in my neighbourhood has one. I don't think I've EVER seen one in Edmonton. WHY???  Last night I fell asleep to the fresh smell of a summer's day on my pillow and it wasn't from stinky fabric softening chemicals!  I say ditch the dryer, come on Canadians  lets bring back the clothes line eh!

The Presso....

If perchance you were wondering about the espresso machine Neil is using in our little video posted a couple of days ago it's a Presso. It's an amazing contraption that pulls a mean espresso without any external power source (other than manly-man power and whatever you use to boil your kettle of course.) The beauty of this machine is that it's environmentally friendly and you can take it anywhere. We'll be out camping in the deep woods next week sipping on our espressos! Love it!

Learning new skills is fun.

This is my brand new sewing machine, of course it's not brand new at all it's actually more like 100 years old but to me it's brand-spanking-new! I got it for 90 bucks on Kijiji and let me tell you the old girl works like a dream!

You're probably wondering what on earth would possess me to buy a 100 year old sewing machine on a whim from an online classified ad. Well, here's the thing, a.) I think I have a Kijiji addiction (three stools, one camping stove and a hundred year old sewing machine in a little over a month, oh dear) and b.) learning to sew has been on my mind for a while now, 3 years or so to be precise. It's one of those things that I kept talking myself out of for fear of failing miserably and having wasted lots of money on a machine I wouldn't even be able to switch on. Over the last year I've sort of realized that the only thing stopping me from doing new things is my stupid self imposed limitations. I've also realized that learning to be a bit more self sufficient is something that makes me feel really happy. So I just bought the darned thing!

I did think about getting a bottom of the range new machine, they go for about $150 at Walmart and the like but there were a couple of things that stopped me. For one, those machines are pig ugly! For two, I could only afford a bottom of the range one and frankly if you can't afford a decent one you're going to end up with something pretty cheaply made with mostly plastic components. For three, my sister is a very talented sewist (is that a word) and she whips up all kinds of cool creations with a very similar old Singer to my old gal here.  I consulted her for some advise and decided to go for the old Singer and I'm so happy I did. She is beautiful! I also quite like the idea that my sister and I will be sewing away on our same old sewing machines even though we are continents apart. 
I already had a surprising amount of sewing supplies again thanks to my lovely sister who had made me the nicest sewing kit ever  (see it's beautifullness below) complete with fabric samples and patterns as a birthday present a couple of years ago. So as soon as I got the old girl home I was ready to go. I'm not gonna lie, it took me nearly a whole day to figure out how to thread the needle and wind the bobbin (yeah exactly, "what the hell is a bobbin?" was my first question too), but once I had that mastered I was off!

I've already made actual things! Prepare to be dazzled...........

Thing one is a little felt glasses pouch for Miss Bel's spec's. The opticians had to bend the sides of her glasses so much to hold them onto her little head that the glasses no longer fit into the case they came with. I'm pretty happy with my home made fix for our spectacle problem.

Thing two is a miniature tote bag for Bel, she's obsessed with bags and likes nothing more than to carry about a random selection of goodies. It's just the right size and when I gave it to her she said "I love it mummy!"  I could have cried I was so happy! There's really nothing like the satisfaction you get from making something and having some one else love it :)

Hooray for learning new skills!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The specs....

We are still trying to get used to them and they have been thrown to the floor and squished in one way or another more times than I can count already. They're a pretty high prescription which just makes me feel so bad because seriously, I looked through those specs and it was fuzzy as anything, my poor little pickle must've hardly been able to see before :(

However..... if anyone can rock the besectacled look, she can!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Espresso "presso"

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Power balls! Ka-pow!...

.....Or as I prefer to call them prune balls, I just think it sounds less pretentious don't you? :)

So I whipped these babies up yesterday with a batch of nut pulp left over from my nut milk. I'm afraid to say that nine times out of ten my nut pulp goes into the bin (or at least now the compost bin)  because I really haven't found a recipe that I'm likely to be bothered to produce everyday with my leftover pulp....until now that is! And this one I made up myself, Wooo! It was loosely based on an energy ball I tried at a really cool place in Nanaimo called Power House Living Foods, It's an entirely raw food cafe and for the five minutes that I was in there I was in heaven! If you have a mo check out their menu, it's mouthwateringly good and entirely raw. Anyway, I'm not sure exactly what was in their delicious power balls but mine are made with soaked almond pulp (from about 1 cup of blended almonds), 4 or five prunes ( but you could use medjool dates, figs or the like), a drizzle of raw honey and 1 1/2 tablespoons of coconut oil. Just process the pulp, honey and prunes into a nice fine chop then add the coconut oil and whizz for another minute or so to mix the oil into the mixture. Take small pinches of the mix and roll in the palm of your hand to form a ball. You can leave the balls naked or roll them in anything you fancy. I rolled some of mine in raw cacao (holy yummy balls batman!), some in sesame seeds, some in matcha powder and a couple in crushed up millet cereal (they didn't stick around long enough to be in the photo above). All were delicious but for me it's a tie between the sesame seeds and the raw cacao. Pop them in the fridge and they'll be nicely chilled and ready to eat in about 20 minutes. They make a satisfying and full of goodness treat for those of you with the curse of the sweet tooth like me. Keep them in the fridge and they'll last for 4 or 5 days ( or in my case, 4 hours before they're all eaten up!)
Give it a whirl why don't ya!

Cheeky Monkey....

His latest trick is to constantly try to make me laugh, usually at a time when I really am trying to be serious for instance when I'm on the phone or when I'm trying to tell him off for some naughtiness or the like. He'll put his face really close to mine and pull a selection of silly faces, holding each one for as long as he possibly can until he gets the result he wants, i.e me bursting into an  uncontrollable fit of giggles.

You're a punk but I love you!

"Is this fabric bear-proof?"

The countdown has begun, in 12 days we will be heading back to our beloved island (yipeee!) and most of the following two weeks will be spent in carnivore infested woods ( yes bears, yes cougars, yes wolves) sheltered only by the above pictured thin wisp of orange mesh (oh #@&%!)

God save the queen...... and her lovely bangers!

Canadians are good at lots of, poutine,  moose hunting and roller derby to name a few but make a good banger? Oh no-no-no, that is definitely best left to the Brits. A good sausage is hard to come by in these parts, its either a giant hotdog style smokie often oozing and dripping from it's centre with some kind of artificial cheeze-goop or it's a Canadianized "franken-wurst" usually so loaded with garlic it's hard to imagine it contains anything else at all. So after nearly 6 years of living among the franken-wurst lovers, Neil finally decided enough is enough. He bought himself a meat grinder and a sausage stuffer and set about tracking down a good supplier of intestines. He could've stopped there and made some pretty good sausages but no, he insisted on digging deeper into the properties of the perfect british banger. After at least a whole hour of googling and you tubing he had discovered that the true magic ingredient is the rusk, a filler that absorbs the marinating fats and flavours and improves the texture of the sausage. He whipped up a batch of rusk from flour, water and baking powder and then  after a little grinding and stuffing, officially gave me the best sausage I've eaten in at least 6 years, possible longer :) Hooray for sausages made without any hidden nasties!  Hooray for good old Bangers and Mash, a perfect dinner to celebrate our lovely Queen and her Diamond Jubilee!

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Bel's heart check up...

Yesterday we made a family outing up to the Stollery Children's Hospital in Edmonton for Bel's yearly heart check up. For anyone that hasn't read any earlier posts about Bel's special heart, here's a mega-fast re-cap.... She was born with AVSD or Atrioventricular Septal Defect. She had a hole in her Atrial Septum and the muscular portion of her ventricular septum was improperly formed, i.e her AV valve  didn't close and instead of pumping blood just forward into the body and the lungs, it also flows backwards into her atria. The back pressure causes congestion of blood in the left atrium and this in turn causes congestion and pressure in the veins draining the lungs. If left untreated this would cause life threatening pulmonary hypertension.  If she had only ASD (atrial septal defect) they would probably have waited until she was 3 before doing the surgery, it's the risk of Pulmonary Hypertension caused by the defective valve that meant she needed surgery as soon as possible. We didn't find out about her condition until she was 10 months old when our family doctor noticed a heart murmur at her usual baby check up. Within a month we were checking into the Stollery Hospital for her open heart surgery. You can read my first post describing how we found out about Bel's heart here  and about Bel's surgery experience here.
During her surgery they were able to patch up the hole in her atrial septum and carry out a fair repair job on the incomplete valve. As she's so small they could only use her existing tissue for the valve repair, a replacement valve isn't an option as they currently only last 10 to 15 years before requiring replacement. As such, the valve still doesn't close properly, there's still a gap of approximately 3mm causing  a moderate jet of blood back into her atria on every pump. We really don't know quite how the leak will change as she grows. If the gap widens she'll need another open heart surgery to repair it further. Statistically, there's a 30 percent chance she'll need this further surgery so the odds are on
her side.

For now she just has to be monitored every year. On each visit to the Paediatric Cardiology clinic she gets measured and weighed. Kids with this sort of heart defect are commonly small. Isobel was so small on previous visits she was way off the bottom of the growth scale. At her last visit she was on the scale for the first time and measured in the 3rd percentile for weight. At this visit she measured between the 5th and 10th percentile.....hip-hip-horay for a patched up heart! She weighed in at 27 lbs or 12.2 kg. Next she gets an ECG where electrodes are stuck all over her body to make a recording of the electrical activity of her heart as seen below....

This is usually a pretty quick test and swiftly followed by the first in a endless stream of sugar free lollipops dished out by the technicians. Seb usually manages to get in on the lolli action too. 

Next comes the Ecocardigram. This is the one that takes some time. It's basically an ultrasound of the heart and this time took us about 50 minutes. Poor Bel has to stay really still the entire time while the technician makes sure they get all the measurements and pictures the Cardiologist needs. Bel gets to choose a movie which plays on a TV above the bed. Bel did really well but even with a movie on theres only so long a three year old will stay still without getting grouchy. This time we had a particularly un-child-friendly Technician who was a little too abrupt in telling Bel to stay still.

Seb was really good too. He sat and snacked while watching the movie and occasionally feeding Bel a chocolate chip from his trail mix. (it's pretty unheard of for Seb to part with chocolate chips so I was impressed!)  At one point the technician had to turn Bel onto her side, she did it a little roughly and Seb snapped at her "Don't hurt my Isobel!" of course Neil and I loved that!

After all that and a whole lot of waiting around we get to have consultation with our very nice Paediatric Cardiologist Dr Dyck. He's a nice chilled out kind of guy and he seemed pretty happy with Isobel. Her heart is growing at a good rate (not too fast which can be a concern) and the leek is still moderate. He did notice that Bel has a slightly concave chest, a condition known as Pectus Excavatum. He said that this could likely be a result of her surgery and may worsen over time, another thing we'll just have to keep monitoring. In some cases surgery can correct the condition but it's a pretty aggressive surgery with metal plates inserted so I'm really hoping that it doesn't develop to a stage that bothers her enough for surgery. Anyway.....all is well right now. Miss Bel is a highly energetic little monkey and as far as I can tell as healthy as an ox.

After we left the hospital we headed to Whyte Ave for pizza and ice cream. with a quick stop in a back alley for this little photo shoot.......

Miss Bel with an attitude!

Seb was obviously still feeling a bit protective of his little sis, awww!

All in all it was not a bad day  :)

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Yay me! I planted a tree...

And a few wee shrubs....

I worked very hard indeed for two whole days. Bear in mind a few things.....I did this ALONE, (Neil was at work), the tree is at least 13 feet tall and although skinny, it's a heavy blighter! The ground here in Beaumont is some kind of impenetrable sedimentary rock (by impenetrable I mean quite hard and by rock I mean clay). The entire time I had at least one kid, sometimes two crying that they'd been hit by the other kid / fallen off the coffee table / got a splinter / lost their lego man / needed a pee pee / needed someone to clean their butt / wanted some milk / had spilt their milk / wanted cereal / had spilt their cereal / didn't want to watch Treehouse / wanted to watch Treehouse and so on and so on. At one point the wind picked up into a near hurricane state, the wind blew over the tree and the tree fell on my head, this made Sully jump backwards in sheer fright, knocking over Bel who landed screaming in a heap on the floor with untold injuries......just out of my reach as I was still slightly concussed and desperately trying to hold up the tree in the howling wind. We were all ok but I hope you're getting the picture here, it was hard work.  I'm hesitant to show you the next shot because, well, it really doesn't look like I did much at all but here goes, DA DAAAAAA......

I know I know, you were expecting something a little more impressive but hey, it's better than the bland little corner of dullness it once was and I am proud!

On the subject of gardening, obviously I'm a little limited at the moment because I'm hoping we won't be in this house all that much longer but I have great plans let me tell you! I'm enjoying composting far more than I think composting is supposed to be enjoyed (is it normal to spend long lingering moments staring into your compost heap savouring every little bit of decay with unimaginable glee?) Oh. That must just be me then. And before anyone helpfully points it time  I'll remember to remove the stickers from our banana skins.

Having done so well with sprouts and micro greens I've decided to take my indoor gardening skills up a notch and have been attempting to grow herbs from seed. It's been nearly 4 weeks and to be frank, progress is slow. Painfully slow. I think perhaps there is a problem but I'm not sure so I shall keep checking and watering and checking and watering.

And finally there's these little fellows. I think I'm more proud of these than the tree.

They are teeny weeny Arugula seedlings (Roquette if you're English). I grew them from seed inside but they've been growing outside now for just over a week and seem to be doing well. Here's a shot from a little further away to give you more of an idea of their scale....

I did tell you they were small. You gotta start somewhere but like I said, I have big plans!

I saw a nice pin recently that I really liked and I think is kind of relevant here.......

"Do small things with great love."


Saturday, June 02, 2012

Fun with Sethy Pants.....

If there's one good thing about being back in Edmonton it's that we get to spend a bit of time with this little fellow. Having missed out on most of his first year the kiddies are making up for lost time and teaching him all kinds of cool tricks like how to eat lego men and how to roll down the stairs head first. So far Seth seems to be enjoying our company despite the coincidental increase in injuries whilst in our presence :)

Neil is happy to demonstrate his natural delicate approach to baby care again.....

And as for Bel, well she just wants to follow Seth around patting his head and giving him kisses. She does love her babies (even when they are pretty much the same size as she is!)