Happy New Year!
Well, ladies. This is a late challenge, so I am going to keep it very simple. It's mid-winter, post-Christmas, and, in this house at least, hot on the heels of a couple weeks solid of a nasty cold doing its rounds. In fact, in honour of Blue Monday on January 21st – aka The Most Depressing Day of the Year – I figured it was time for a little luxury!
My challenge to you is the perfect cup of Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate. My challenge to you, Lisa, is to make it vegan.
Here is an example from the blog 'Lifted Dish':
Since we won't be able to try each others creations, this challenge is going to weigh heavily on presentations to make the other participants drool!
Good Luck and Have fun!
Hello and a belated Merry Christmas!
I think you can tell from my title's exclamation mark that this Challenge was a SUCCESS!!
Before I launch into my Challenge, I have to say to Debbie, OMIGOSH! Kudos!! That is so fricking adorable! I had no idea you were going to KNIT it! What a great idea!
Honestly, if I had looked at Deb's before finishing mine, my heart would have quailed. As it was, I procrastinated on this one even though it was given to us so early, and then I was swept up in Christmas preparations and before I knew it, I had no time. I can't do any big projects during the day with the little boys, and evenings were eaten up by other Christmasy things.
And another reason I probably procrastinated in the first place was sheer fear about this one. Why? Because years ago when I was probably about 11 or 12, my Pioneer Girl's Pal [Pioneer Girls was like Girl Guides, but church based] and I attempted to make a Gingerbread House and it was a lesson in frustration. I loved spending time with Myrna -- a wonderful, sweet and loving woman who was also my mom's friend -- so I still had a ton of fun that day. But my overall impression of Gingerbread houses was that they were impossibly hard to put together.
So anyways, I finally got the nerve to start this project this week. I made the dough and put it into the fridge to chill, and then used cardboard to make myself a pattern. I used tape to keep the pieces in place so that I could get a good idea of how the finished house would look.
Here's the recipe I used for the gingerbread:
The next day, I put chickpeas in the crock pot in preparation for making the Aquafaba Royal Icing. [Omigosh, Aquafaba is amazing!]
Then I went to YouTube to consult the experts! I needed all the help I could get for this one.
And who's video should I find, but the Queen of Good Things herself ... Martha Stewart.
Wow, what a game-changer! Now I knew what we had done wrong all those years ago!
So I'm happy to say that the pieces turned out perfectly!!!
When I finally got a chance to work on it after supper, I whipped up an awesome batch of icing:
I added at least a cup more icing sugar to make it thicker and I probably could have added even a bit more, but it worked!
Now for the super tricky part. Thanks to Martha Stewart, I realized that I should decorate the pieces FIRST, and THEN put the house together. Brilliant!
I had completely forgotten about the windows on the roof, so I had to improvise with a bit of cardboard. And it worked! Yay, yay, yay!
I TOOK MY TIME this go around ... wow. What a difference that makes after all. I waited till the icing hardened each time, built the front porch thingy and the chimney separately so they were solid.
Oh, also, I didn't have Smarties [which I just found out are vegan!] so I added more icing sugar to the icing along with red food colouring [Wilton gel], and rolled it into little pseudo-candies.
I didn't have any greenery, so I used a bit of parsley from my window herb garden.
I was running out of icing, so I used the yellow for the base of the house and what I could spare of the white to fill in the yard, then used coconut for snow. I think the yellow under the windows looks a little bit like light spilling out from the windows ... what do you think?
I borrowed some ornaments from the tree and voila!
Without further ado, here it is!!
Happy New Years!
Well ... not a fail!! [I don't think, anyways]
I haven't seen Deb and Lisa's results yet, but I think mine turned out alright! Yahoo! I have to admit that my confidence was mightily shaken after the last challenge. I can't quite rid myself of this nagging feeling that I am likely to come out in these challenges as the underdog. I could blame it on the fact that I have to do my challenges late into the night after the little ones are in bed, but the truth is, I'm just really, really impatient. Especially when things aren't working out and then I tend to say screw it, good enough. WRONG ATTITUDE! I think these public challenges are going to be a nice little life lesson for me.
Anyways, this project was a lot of fun. I felt pretty confident with my material of choice in terms of it's forgiving texture, but I really felt horrible when I looked at the name of the product after the fact. It was called Plastilina. I thought, oh great, here I am trying to radically reduce my use of plastic, and I've gone and bought a whole brick of the stuff. It's bad enough that it was encased in plastic packaging. I was in a rush, and it looked like the perfect material, so I bought it. I'm going to have to be a little less impulsive and more aware when I buy going forward. On a happier note, turns out that I'm not so sure what Plastilina is after all. According to the internet, it's made of wax, oil and clay flour. Is it compostable? I'm not sure. I hope so.
So, I started out really strong. I didn't have enough to make this a large project, which I came to regret as I tried to paint it. C'est la vie. I loved the result of the unpainted sculpture and it helped that family members kept saying it looked awesome!
The painting was the tricky part, especially with such a small surface. I tried using my husband's acrylic paints, but I'm so clumsy with the delicate writing via tiny paintbrush and the paints were dried out a bit and difficult to use. I switched half-way to a permanent marker. It was a lot easier to use, but by the time I was done, it looked amateurish and I was frustrated. My daughter came to the rescue! She agreed that it didn't look that great with the marker. A bit of honesty is refreshing sometimes, even when you are frustrated because -- dammit -- I was not going to fail again!
So I carefully scraped all the lettering off, grateful that I was using clay! I smoothed it out as best I could and started again. But it was about 10:45pm and I was freakin' tired! Gracie brought me some of her paints and we experimented not only with the paint dilution but also with its application.
Turns out the Wilton fondant tool came in handy again! I used the needle end like a fountain pen. It took awhile, but it was much better in the end. Finished it off with a coat of my daughter's clear top coat nail polish, and voila! I didn't get to bed till nearly midnight, but I went to sleep with my pride intact!
So without further ado ... here is my offering!
Until next time!
Oh for the LOVE OF GOD!!! NOT AGAIN!! Debbie and Lisa's look so AWESOME! Huge sigh. I see now what I need to do...less literal, more interpretive. Okay, okay. Apparently I'm a slow learner.
Until next time then. The Game is afoot...
Omigosh. It looked so doable.
I started out super strong. Got my layers in order, did a crumb coat ... I was pretty confident when I started in on making my icing. And actually pretty proud of myself because I never take the time to do a crumb coat and usually regret it.
Also, I bought fondant for this! No problem, I could make the tree and the leaves and it would look soooo professional!
My cake was leaning like the Tower of Pisa, but as always, I thought “Oh, I can just fix that with icing.” What's the definition of madness? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results? [insert maniacal laughter]
I carefully applied the yellow icing. Pretty tough to get smooth, but I thought I'd not worry about that yet. I cleverly piped on the other colours, ready for the final sweep around with my professional level Wilton spatula.
It looked not bad! Sure, it was still obviously leaning and there were some bald patches and a few chocolate crumbs that had escaped their coat, but on the whole, not bad!
I mixed the cocoa into the icing and it firmed up enough that I thought, hey, why bother with the fondant? I'll just roll this stiff buttercream and shape it onto the cake!
And it looked pretty good. For a bit.
Actually, it looked a bit like a creepy hand climbing up the side of the cake, but I figured the leaves would be able to make it look more 'natural'.
I figured out the fondant. Not quite the rusty red I was going for – more the colour of a tongue -- but maybe if I rolled it out with some cocoa powder, it would darken it a bit. My Wilton fondant knife didn't work as well as I had hoped, but I found the other end worked pretty well – less knife, more like a thick needle.
As I was working with this, I noticed that the icing on the cake looked a bit ... lumpy. To my utter dismay, it was kind of just wilting. Melting down the cake. The tree was too heavy and it wanted to fall and take the cake with it. Aack!
I quickly put it in the fridge to slow it down. I just needed it to hang in there for the photo shoot!
By now I had some pretty sad looking leaves, and thought, what the hell ... just get them on the cake. Out came the cake again, and I just started piling on the leaves. I wasn't really even looking at the picture at this point, which is pretty obvious when you see how many leaves I put on my version. I was hoping they would cover a multitude of sins.
And now I was glad no one was nearby because I started killing myself laughing. I couldn't stop. I texted Deb and Lisa and here's a quick transcript.
Me: Omigosh, I can't stop laughing!!! [Laughing/crying emoji] I started out strong, but holy crap ... it's a mess!!! I'm going to have to rely on some pretty amazing lighting for the photo shoot.
Deb's response: Hahaha I'm sort of happy to hear that.
Lisa's response: I totally just laugh sprayed chocolate all over my phone.
Without further ado, here it is...
I can't wait to see what they came up with after all this. I know Deb's warned us that hers did not -- to put it delicately -- turn out quite as she had hoped. Lisa? I have no idea. It's probably perfect, damn her.
At least I know it will taste good.
Well, my attempt to record our first Coffee Chat wherein we introduce both ourselves and our first Nailed-it Challenge was a fail. I listened to it days later and only my voice was recorded, which meant an awful lot of silence pierced randomly by my horrifyingly loud laughter. It made sense in the chat! Really! Sigh. Back to the drawing board.
In the meantime, I hope you will enjoy our first challenge. I found it on Pinterest, sent the link to Debbie and Lisa, and they accepted so ... here it is!
My original pick was um, quite a bit more complicated but after Henry's Batman Cake Fiasco a couple weeks ago, I lost my confidence entirely. This looked sufficiently complicated, but with less tiers and fondant sculpturing!
Debbie? What do you think?
Wow!! It is a Gorgeous cake!! Very fitting for Autumn....I hope to do it justice - with a few tweaks! I am going to attempt to recreate this masterpiece REFINED SUGAR FREE 😀 I think I've got the icing part figured out in my head but not really sure how I'm going to do the leaves and tree portion..can you mold coconut cream into that shape???
How about you, Lisa?
First off...agreed, it is gorgeous! I think I may have unrealistically high expectations of our creative ability so I can't wait to attempt this and see the reality!! I can foresee the first obstacle in my way is the shape...I don't have any conventional round pans hahaha. I'm going to have to improvise there. Due to time constraints, I may cheat and use a boxed cake for this challenge and focus all the attention to the decoration. Can't wait to see your Progress and After photos ladies!!! Good luck all 😀
~Yes, it's a thing ... and we do it!~
WALK, BIKE, TAXI, BUS...let me tell you about it 😉
So today I thought I'd delve into our lives as a 'car-free' family and answer the classic five W questions, starting with the WHY?
First, let me dispel the notion that many people assume when they hear we don't have a car. It was NOT because we couldn't afford one. We had a van which I affectionately named 'Madame Blueberry' and I loved her. Until we made this big decision, I had always owned a vehicle. Growing up in the country meant that buying my first car came hot on the heels of getting my driver's license.
But in my growing awareness of the horrendous cost of oil and gas production on the environment, on real people and in its role in war, and I just looked and saw oil saturating everything around us. I wanted to escape it. How could I continue to rail against oil and gas companies when I was so dependent on them myself?
It is so hard to extricate ourselves from our systems of production. I'm trying, but every item we buy in the grocery, hardware, clothing, dollar stores -- it all has an imprint of oil and gas on it. Every bit of plastic is a result of it. It just sucks that we are literally swimming in it daily.
So, what was one thing that we as a family could do? Well, we could stop filling our thirsty tank with gas every week.
I read everything I could find on the internet from families who had gone car-free. I scoured YouTube for videos of biking with kids, biking in the winter, biking in the sun, you name it, I was looking for it. I was obsessed. And I had no idea if we could do it.
But here we were, in a city that DID have a transit system. We lived within walking distance of a mall that had a grocery store, bank, drug store and library among other things. Sure, the grocery store was more expensive than the one I usually drove to, but maybe I could splurge on a taxi home when I wanted to stock up on staples at the cheaper place? There was a walk-in clinic a block away...
What else, what else...
There was so much to consider, but finally our van developed a cough and it was going to need some work done in the near future. It seemed like a sign.
So, we thought of a compromise for our own peace of mind. We could keep the van and get a year's worth of storage insurance. If we couldn't do it, if it was too hard, we could just re-insure it and, tail between our legs, go back to our car dependent life.
It was settled then. We were taking the plunge with a safety net in place. When I went to change the insurance on the van, I had a great chat with the insurance lady. Far from looking down her nose at the idea, she was enthusiastic about our coming adventure and was interested in how it worked out for us. She said that she was trying to walk more and wished she could do the same.
Oh, and there was another little challenge -- I was pregnant when we parked the van that December 31st, 2014. I was staying true to my motto: "What's the hardest possible way to do this? LET'S DO IT!"
Yes, so I feel I can say with some degree of certainty, that if we could do it, then many others could too. At least those who live in cities where there is a decent transit system. It does take some shifting of priorities, some patience as you learn to wait for buses and take the extra time to walk or bike to places, but these are the deep changes that we need to make when we see the environmental crises for what they truly are.
We have been going like this for nearly four years and we are completely used to it now. It hasn't been without it's inconveniences, and there has been grumbling on many occasions, but on the other hand, we haven't had to deal with car breakdowns, accidents or close calls, unexpected costs and the headache of driving kids everywhere all the time simply because there's a vehicle in the driveway. My teens have learned how to take the bus and when there's a crisis of any sort, there are taxis ready for hire. But I will get more into the 'How' of it in another post.
I hope you stay with me as I add to this series. I also hope that it will encourage you to consider making similar changes if you are able!
Until next time,
Well, here is the second recipe in this series. I made it a goal about 2 years ago to streamline and simplify my everyday cooking. Luckily, this recipe was already ridiculously easy. Just like my Never Fail Spaghetti, this uses pantry items and so it is another go-to recipe on nights when time is short or the week's meal plan has gone awry. I have no idea where they get this trait, but my oldest three like spicy food, so they like this chili when it's a little on the hot side. My daughter in particular craves this chili and it's one of the few left-over foods that she willingly takes for lunch the next day. My youngest two aren't fans of it, but I'm sure that will change with time. When I make it, I try to have left-overs from another meal to fill them up.
Fyi, this is one recipe I absolutely refuse to blend! Gracie and Simon have to blend their own portions because I just refuse to turn it into a soup.
This is an easily adaptable recipe. Once again, if I had my druthers, I'd add sliced mushrooms, chopped celery, carrots, green peppers and frozen corn. Adjust the chili powder and add more or less garlic to find the right seasoning for you and your family. If the maple baked beans make it too sweet for you, just substitute another can of black beans [or any other beans you like].
Now without further ado, here's the step-by-step or you can skip to the bottom of the page for a printable version!
1. Gather your ingredients. Set a kettle to boil for the Textured Vegetable Protein [TVP].2. Chop up an onion [I used two because they were smallish] and roughly chop up a garlic clove. If you want to add a bunch of other veggies, this would be a good time +to add them. Saute veggies in a tbsp of vegetable or canola oil. You can saute with a bit of water too, if you prefer to avoid oils.
3. When the onions and garlic are translucent and the kettle has boiled, take off the heat and add 1 cup of TVP and 1 cup boiling water. Stir to combine and set a timer for 5 minutes.
4. Now start opening cans! One can of diced tomatoes, one can of dairy-free tomato soup, one can of maple baked beans [the ONLY ones that are vegan that I have found -- check the ingredients to make sure!], and one can of black beans. Drain the black beans and if you like you can rinse them too.
5. When the 5 mins are up, add all your canned foods and 1 tbsp or more of chili powder. You will have to taste to see if you have the right amount of chili powder after its begun to heat through. Heat over med-high heat until bubbling, then turn down to low and let simmer as long as you have time for, stirring occasionally. You can also add salt and pepper to taste.
6. Best served with Bannock Biscuits or Cornbread [Recipes coming soon!], along with a Garden Salad and/or veggies and dip!
Oh, and fun fact ... The cans fit into each other like nesting dolls!
It's nice when things work out like that 😉
A couple years ago, after CBC listeners were shocked when they realized that Jian Ghomeshi was a sexual predator and a twisted, abusive misogynist who BEAT young women, I wrote the letter that follows in a Facebook post to thank my father. I have a many things I'd like to add to this in light of the #MeToo movement, but I will write about those in future posts. And although this letter is specifically about women, the same holds for boys who have experienced abuse too. For now, I will stick with one extra comment because it emphasizes the salient point of this letter to my Dad.
I just watched a news clip highlighting the new hashtag #WhyIDidntReport and I was sobbing. I'm so angry that women have had to put up with so much, for so long. And the overwhelming theme of their experiences was their fear/belief/experience that 'no one would believe me'. It's so horrifying, so outrageous, so infuriating that this has truly been the case for countless women.
So here is the letter I wrote to my Dad, and the fact that my experience is the exception not the rule is a tragedy that we need to fight ceaselessly to change -- by believing and supporting women who bravely speak up.
"In honour of Father's Day, I would like to share my gratitude to my Dad for something that I have only just really understood and appreciated of late. I hope it will be encouragement and a lesson to dads of daughters who might read this.
My dad and I have not always seen eye to eye on things, and we have had some pretty big rifts, but I love my dad and I know he loves me. And he gave me a pretty precious gift, maybe without knowing how it would shape me as a girl/grown woman. It may sound like an odd thing to thank him for, but it is really profound: I never suffered physical or sexual abuse from anyone. I always knew that if anyone ever hurt me, he would hunt them down because he told me so. I never felt afraid when I was with him because I knew he would fight to his last breath to protect me. He taught me to fight -- literally, we practiced --, and to stand up for myself, and that no one had the right to hurt me.
And most importantly for the course of my life as a woman, I always knew that if someone tried to abuse me, that he would believe me and do something about it. He proved this to me when I was about 7 years old and we were visiting another family from church. The slightly older boys of the house tried to pull my and Debbie's pants down while we were playing in the basement. I raced upstairs like a bat out of hell and told my parents. My dad believed me. The other people didn't. There was an argument and we were out of that house in as long as it took to put on our coats.
He proved this when I told him 2 of the boys on my street had flashed me and my sister. He was livid, and next time we drove by those boys, he stopped, rolled down the window and told them that if they ever touched his girls he would hunt them down ... not something a parent might be able to do today without getting himself into trouble, but this incident and others taught me something: no one should get away with that kind of behaviour, and I didn't have to put up with any of it.
He warned me never to accept a ride from a man, even if it were a family friend. He said, they are most likely good people, but you could never know for sure, and it was better to avoid the situation. What I learned from that was no man, regardless of power or position was inherently trustworthy -- trust was something that was to be earned, and lost, if proven otherwise. So when a family friend -- an old bachelor neighbour -- and his huge old friend slowed down and offered me a ride home when I was 13, I politely declined and assured them that I liked walking home. I kept far away from the truck's door, but I was prepared to bolt if they tried to grab me -- in the opposite direction from the direction of their vehicle. Our bachelor friend, who was likely just actually being nice, said okay and have a good day. Incidentally, I have never forgotton the creepy smile on his friend's face and later heard a rumour that he was known for molesting his kids and grandkids.
There were more instances of this throughout my life, too many to recount here.
Why this is so significant to me now, is that this year the news has been filled with stories of women who have been molested, raped and beaten by people in positions of power from Jian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby to football players, priests, pastors and politicians. So many of these women dared not tell anyone, felt confused about what had happened, felt guilt for no good reason, feared what would happen to them if they spoke up. Those who had spoken up in years past had their names dragged through the mud, were doubted by the public, were accused of having brought it on themselves and had their lives commandeered by the scandal.
When I heard the stories about Jian Ghomeshi, I thought, why didn't someone flatten him when he started choking them? A swift shot to the nuts, head butt to his nose ... I have run through the cathartic kind of what if's ... imagining scenarios where the pervert tried that on me and I left him writhing on the floor in breathless agony as I called the police and charged him with attempted rape.
And then it began to dawn on me why I should have that reaction, and why I flipped a guy onto the ground in the church foyer when he jokingly grabbed me from behind. And why I stood up to the creep in high school who tried to harass me and nearly clipped his chin with my foot, I was so outraged. And why I never hesitated to tell someone if something inappropriate happened, be it an 11 year old flasher or an older man -- a youth leader -- who wouldn't stop lecherously watching my 16 year old self to the point of stalking. It wasn't because I was inherently braver or more fearless -- on the contrary, fear has pervaded and shaped and dogged me my entire life -- but it was because I knew I had someone in my corner, someone who would believe me, fight for me and who gave me the right and power to fight for myself and to not put up with crap because I was a girl.
So Dad, thank you. You gave me an immeasurable gift and I am so grateful."
Greetings, Culinary Compatriots!
I thought I would take a quick moment to sing the praises of Textured Vegetable Protein, aka TVP. TVP is made from soy and I can’t think of a better food to help people transition to plant-based cooking. It can replace hamburger in almost any familiar recipe you can think of and it is SO EASY TO USE! SO EASY! I really can’t emphasize that enough, because gone are the days of standing over a pan scraping a solid block of slowly thawing/cooking frozen hamburger.
Instead, I boil a pot of water and five minutes later, I have my mince for any recipe I can think up. Here’s why I like it so much:
It has a neutral taste, and so it can take any flavour you want to add to it. I can make chili, spaghetti, taco ‘meat’, lasagna, shepherd’s pie, spicy Jamaican patties … you get the idea.
HUGE bonus — if you buy it from a Bulk Store, it’s super cheap. And Zero Waste if you use a cloth bag.
It also doesn’t go bad because it is shelf-stable. I have a huge glass jar of it in the cupboard above my stove.
In short, it is awesome.
To prepare it, it is a simple ratio of 1 part TVP: 1 part BOILING WATER. 1:1 — it doesn’t get easier than that. Leave it for 5 minutes to reconstitute and it’s ready to use. Don’t worry about the slightly earthy smell, once it is added to whatever you’re cooking up, it has a very neutral flavour — try it and you will see what I mean.
I hope you find it as easy and versatile as I have.
So here is the first of a series of recipes that are QUICK and EASY to make. These recipes/menus are tried and tested in my house and I rely on them a lot for days when life gets busy or I'm tired, or a combination of both. They are generally pantry-based meals too which means that I usually have everything I need for them.
In fact, one of the unexpected benefits of going vegan is how many of the ingredients are shelf-stable, even plant-milks. I love it! It really makes life easier and cheaper ... bulk buying staples means you are always prepared and it saves money.
This spaghetti recipe is so simple and satisfying that we rely on it probably the most of all my recipes. Everyone here loves it, so it's a perfect supper to follow up a more experimental meal from the night before...and it means great left-overs for lunch the next day!
So much of home-cooking is intuitive, so I'm going to first go through step-by-step with pictures, but you can scroll to the bottom of the page for a printable recipe. Also, this recipe uses Textured Vegetable Protein, so here's my post on TVP if you don't know what it is or how to use it!
1. Put a kettle of water on to boil. Set water to boil for spaghetti noodles too.
2. Chop an onion and saute with about 1-2 tablespoons of oil.
3. Peel and roughly chop 1-2 cloves of garlic, add to onions and saute.
4. Once onions and garlic are translucent and fragrant, take off the heat and add 1
cup of Textured Vegetable Protein and 1 cup of boiling water and stir. Set aside for
5. By now, your pot of water should be boiling, so you can take this moment to add
your spaghetti noodles.
5. Start your can opener! Time to add a can of tomatoes and a can of dairy-free
tomato soup. Then add oregano and basil, salt and pepper -- all to taste. I estimate
every single time.
6. Heat the sauce on medium to high until it starts to bubble up and then turn it
low to simmer. Let this simmer as long as you have time for -- it can simmer on
low for a long time, but tastes great simmering for as long as it takes to finish
cooking the noodles, whip together a simple salad or cut up a veggie plate if you're
up to it.
7. And finally, I pull out my kitchen's MAGIC WAND. My kids collectively don't
like texture -- sigh -- so I blend EVERYTHING. It's actually a great way to get
kids to eat a ton of veggies in soups too, so I guess I shouldn't complain too much.
And there you have it! A really super easy and quick supper that you can throw
together last minute. Here's Peter digging in ...
Click here for the printable recipe!