Challenge #3 – Gingerbread House
I was very greatful that Lisa gave us our Christmas/Holiday Challenge early November because we had booked a family holiday in December to celebrate our son’s upcoming High School Graduation. With the general crazy-busy holiday festivities before and after our trip, I knew my time to create was limited. It was a good thing too - this project took up many evening hours!!
When Lisa sent me the picture of the Gingerbread House, with the ‘Edible or Non-Edible, but NO CARDBOARD’ parameters, I rubbed my hands together gleefully – “Non-Edible It Is!”
Maintaining our white sugar-free lifestyle is monstrously hard at the Holidays. The abundance of sweets from school, gatherings, generous friends and family is part of the fun of the Holidays and I relax my rules quite a bit. However, I try not to add any more sugar than necessary!
So what could I use to create the Gingerbread House? I thought of felt, which I had already, but I just didn’t feel like that would be special enough. I wanted a project that I would feel happy to bring out year after year. I decided on KNITTING…a skill I learned this year! So far, I had only produced dishcloths with varying degrees of success…
But the Challenge was Accepted and I was determined to make this House cute!
I used an online Gingerbread Cookie pattern and printed it out to what I hoped was the right size. Then I just started knitting! I had to create all the pieces and simply eye-balled as I was going to make sure they would match up. I’m sure there are plenty of knitting patterns online, but I don’t actually know how to properly read them (the dishcloth one was confusing enough!) so I just went for it!
I found the perfect Gingerbread coloured yarn from Michael’s, embroidery thread, green yarn and beads from previous projects, and Red Buttons from Wal-Mart. Polyester filling and a piece of Styrofoam packaging from an appliance recently purchased created a soft but sturdy House. Trying to keep the House true to the picture that Lisa sent was not as simple as I thought – those dormer windows weren’t easy to get right!
Overall, I think I did pretty good, although I totally underestimated the amount of time it would take to knit and put together!! I’m sure the Sisters did a beautiful job on their Gingerbread Houses….but if there’s a prize for Time Spent Creating – I’m the Winner!
It's cold and very wintery already in Northern Alberta - our first 'staying' snow landed on November 1st. Already the stores were being filled with Christmas decorations and reminders that we better get shopping early - The Countdown Has Begun! It is easy and fun to get caught up in the energy of the season and I am definitely one who likes to decorate early and watch The Grinch asap.
Growing up, Remembrance Day was honoured at school and talked about a little bit at home but I don't remember going to any of the city-wide services. However, my husband served in the Canadian Armed Forces when he was younger and views Remembrance Day as Sacred. My eldest son is heading in that direction as well, planning to sign up after graduation next year. So the significance of Remembrance Day is very close to our hearts.
This year, I created a Memorial Wreath for our front door using a wire form and burlap roll, and sewed on simple red poppies. This simple wreath is in honour of those who didn't make it home, those that did, and those yet to Serve.
Thank you, we will not forget.
VICTORY! Double fist pumps to the Max!! Turns out that having a plan and taking your time actually creates a better result…who knew?!?
I started this Challenge by purchasing a $4 hardcover book from Dollarama and a $3 block of DAS clay..everything else I had in the Craft and Nail Tech boxes in my basement.
I wanted to create a Spellbook that had spooky Witches Fingers instead of skeletons (can they read with no eyeballs? I don’t think so) and a Hallowe’en-flavoured spell. After a search on Pinterest, I found this well-known poem and thought it was perfect!
This project took me quite a while to make because of drying time – which broke up the project into do-able 1-hour creating chunks, exactly how I like to operate!
Creating the fingers was a little tricky for me, taking more time to shape in a way that would ‘hold’ the book but not interfere with reading the words. I used my hands as a template for size, forming crude fingers from wire as a base for the clay and then shaping. Once they were formed and dry, I painted them greyish with touches of brown and a watered-down green wash.
I created the nails with tips and gel nail colours and hot-glued them to each finger.
Dipping the hardcover book into a pan with very strong tea and then curling up the pages created the ‘old and used’ look that I had in mind. Fortunately, there were empty pages at the back of the book that, once dry, I could trace the poem in the font that I liked and then glue them into place. A few spider stickers and it was done!
Creating this Spellbook for Hallowe’en inspired me to keep going - I made two more signs and ‘poisoned’ apples to work with my Witch’s House theme. At the start of this project I was seriously doubting my creative skills, (the Autumn Cake from Challenge 1 kicked my butt!!) however….I think I have redeemed myself Here's my Spellbook set up!
Happy Hallowe'en and a Blessed Samhain to All !
In a word…FAIL
My refined sugar-free cake started out with High Hopes, however the recipe was not a great white cake recipe to begin with and I think that was the beginning of my trouble. I used coconut sugar to replace the white sugar and added 1 tbsp of Pumpkin Pie Spice. The flavor of the cake was nice but, in my son’s words, “No offense..” (which guarantees that I will be offended!) “…it’s more like a pound cake than a white cake”. Ouch! And yet, he was absolutely correct. *sigh
I used an Avocado Chocolate Ganache for the filling, which was absolutely delicious! I used the ganache to create the tree on a piece of parchment paper and chilled in the freezer – it worked! Unfortunately, the flavour didn’t really go well with the pumpkin pie spice.
The icing was a bigger challenge than I expected! I started out with using a flax seed egg recipe to create a meringue. It used white icing sugar though, so I used maple syrup..that didn’t work. I don’t know what I did wrong, but it didn’t fluff up at all. Second try was a recipe for Buttercream Icing from Martha Stewart’s website..the flax seed egg fluffed up beautifully! That is, until I added the maple syrup and butter.
Third try was an Aquafaba meringue creation…and I gave up on the maple syrup and just used icing sugar. But only ½ cup, so much less than a regular icing! I coloured it with Wilton colouring and just went for it!
The flavor of the meringue icing was actually pretty good, very light! Unfortunately, the combination of ganache, pumpkin pie spice and foam was NOT a winner.
I think the Final Creation picture actually looks better than it did in real life. It was tasted by everyone and the kids took a piece in their lunches for school the next day…when the foam icing had dissolved in a puddle at the base of the cake. All I can do is laugh…
Until Challenge #2...
or...Changing the Holidays to Follow the Earth's Natural Cycle.
In the years since my spiritual path diverted from the mainstream religion I grew up with, we have changed the traditional cultural holidays of Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter to follow the Earth-based observances of the Wheel of the Year. With the exception of Hallowe'en (which has definitely grown into a money-making beast of its own!), these Big Three holidays seem to get the bulk of the advertising dollar and have been a big part of our lives!
These holidays conveniently follow the pagan sabbats rather closely - we have just shifted the focus to align with our Earth-based path.
Thanksgiving has been replaced with Mabon. This is our time to give thanks for the Summer Harvest, a feast with family and like-minded friends around the Autumn Equinox in September. The date adjusts to suit everyone's schedule and we enjoy good food and fellowship as we adjust to new schedules and relax into the Earth's journey towards her Winter Sleep.
Yule begins the Return of the Sun - we really feel the loss of sunlight as the days grow shorter and colder during Autumn...I can imagine how our first ancestors must have wondered if the Sun would ever return..what joy must have been felt when they realized that the days were getting longer again! So that is what we honour, the gift of sunshine and the promise that spring and summer will come again. We gather for a special dinner on that Darkest Day, embrace the quiet and light candles symbolizing the light's return.
We celebrate the Magic of Santa a few days later, decorating with stockings, a tree, presents and enjoying our time together as a family.
Ostara is probably my children's favourite. On that still-cold First Day of Spring, we wake up very early and gather with friends to await the Dawn. We cheer when those first rays of sunshine appear! Followed with a Pancake Breakfast, a chocolate egg-hunt, the movie Hop (love that one!) and lots of hot coffee!!
Adjusting the mainstream holidays that are focused on in school, tv shows, shopping malls, etc to following what the Earth is naturally doing has changed the seasons for me personally. My connection to the Earth has deepened, I no longer dread the long, cold winter to come. Right now, Mother Earth is going into Her resting time and I will wait for the Sun's return as patiently as possible until the promised Spring.
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 😀
I am reading "What French Women Know- About Love, Sex, and Other Matters of the Heart and Mind" by Debra Ollivier for the 2nd time. This book dives into the French Women's mind..that cultural 'knowing' that women from France seem to have that is so intriguing. Ollivier covers all aspects of our lives and shows the differences, good and maybe not so good, between us North American women and our Sisters across the Waters.
Today I read Chapter 5 called Nature. These ideas hit home with me this morning, in particular the French Women's take on aging.
Ollivier writes '.., it is not to say that they move away from their feminine centers as they age. On the contrary, they continue to enjoy that culture of seduction with its vanities, while remaining "lucid" about the inevitability of age. In France there is less concern about "fixing" Mother Nature or human nature, because you don't "fix" yourself in France-you cultivate yourself."
Cultivating Self...what a gorgeous plan!
So today I will go for my morning walk because I want to connect with Nature on a beautiful Autumn day. I will work on my Brain Course because I really enjoy learning. I will clean the hamster cages because our weekend plan to clean them went sideways and I love those little critters. I will cultivate my Inner Self rather than 'get today perfect'. That feels much better.
Many twists and turns, stops and starts and stalls led me to a whole-food, processed sugar-free and plant-based life. If we had never had to deal with health issues, I may never have looked at it. So, with one child who suffered from allergies, horrible excema and a gluten-sensitivity and another child who is haywire when he has processed white/brown sugar, I was forced to look at how I was feeding my family.
We eliminated eggs for a period of time around 11 years ago (the Grade 5 immunization in Canada is egg-based, and our daughter's body had trouble dealing with it) and moved to a gluten-free (due to gastrointestinal issues) way of cooking. It was Difficult. My repertoire of recipes were no longer viable and in 2007 the gluten and egg-free options were hard to find...and I found myself dreading cooking. Over those few years, I experimented-many fails, few successes-and eventually got better and started to feel good about my cooking again.
Enter the 'Hungry For Change' documentary....and then 'FoodMatters'...and I shifted again. These movies called attention to the incredible amount of sugar in our North American diet and processed food in particular. We clearly needed to eat more vegetables. I realized that this was contributing to why my son was so difficult - too much sugar was going into his growing body. I learned so much from these documentaries and they really supported me as I implemented going sugar-free.
I would just like to note this mistake I made as a warning for other moms: DO NOT TELL YOUR CHILDREN THAT YOU AREN'T BUYING SUGAR ANYMORE and expect them to be as excited as you are. We had a revolt.
But I was stubborn and prevailed hahaha. We have been white/brown/molasses/corn syrup-free for about 5 years now. Not perfectly! We have icing on cakes and treats from friends and school still make it through the gate but it is WAY less than it used to be. We've even changed Hallowe'en...but I'll write about that in a different post 😉
When we were first married I had a sugar bin, and bought a 10kg bag of white sugar about once a month. Now I have coconut sugar, maple syrup and honey to sweeten our life (yes, I know that honey is from bees and many vegans abstain. We have quite a few bee-keepers in our area who are passionate about their bees and no bees=no growing food, so I am happy to support them). We eat very little processed sugar, preferring fresh and frozen fruit and raisins as sweet treats over the kid-friendly fruit snacks and store-bought cereals and granola bars. The kids still like those things but I don't buy them as a regular staple anymore.
So while I was transitioning to sugar-free and increasing the amount of vegetables in our diet, my sister Carla had been moving towards Veganism and while I was there for a visit, she introduced me to 'Forks over Knives'. While I was always sad when animals die and had to pretend that they didn't when I ate meat, it hadn't really hit me as something that I could or would be willing to change. We need meat, right?? Well, between that movie, Cowspiracy and great support on www.Foodmatters.com...I was done with Meat. Now to get the family on board....
Thankfully I remembered my "DON'T TALK ABOUT SUGAR-FREE" lesson and started with myself. The first week was hard, the cravings while cooking meat for everyone else were sometimes overwhelming. The second week I was tired and had brain fog and thought 'I don't think I can do this' about a million times. By the third week, I was feeling proud of myself and in the fourth week I watched the documentaries again to bolster my spirit. I was still cooking meat, but it was no longer attractive to me. Yay!!
Somewhere around month 4, as I stuffed a Turkey (not for the last time, but I'll get into that later) I realized that I couldn't even cook meat anymore. My Spirit was screaming at me. I was a hypocrite. How could I spout the health and spiritual benefits I was experiencing of living animal-protein free and still feed it to those that I love the most? It wasn't enough for me to just abstain...I needed to remove it from the dinner table. So, a few months later I told my husband "I'm not cooking meat anymore. Period. I just can't do it. I can't feed it to the kids anymore. If you want it, you will have to buy it and cook it yourself." Fight ensued. Not a deal-breaker one, but one that definitely shook things up!
So there we were, a somewhat divided family for a period of time while I once again dreaded cooking dinner and the inevitable discussion of 'where's the beef?' at the table. And I had to learn how to cook food that my family would eat and hopefully enjoy! Some wins along the way...a lot of misses. But we got through it.
In the spirit of compromise, I taught my husband how to stuff the turkey the next Yuletide and washed my hands of it completely the second year..and last year he said 'Why don't we just not have turkey this year?' so we had a Harvest Vegetable Pot Pie and it was a bigger hit than the turkey had been all those years!
Over the last year, I have let go of dairy. It's not always perfect - I love dips and caesar dressing and sometimes slip, forgetting that there's probably dairy in them. Letting go of cheese was tough, but I found that once I stopped looking at it like a nutrient source and more like a garnish, it was easier to give up and convert to Non-Dairy cheeses when I feel the craving. Dairy-free options in restaurants can be hard to find, so occasionally I send an energetic Thank You to the cow or chicken who provided me with that aspect of my meal. I have learned to Forgive Myself on this path.
Overall, the dairy consumption in our home has DRASTICALLY reduced - in the past we used to buy FOUR 4L jugs of milk a week..yes, you read that right...and now we buy none. There's still cow cream going into some coffee mugs, cow butter for those that still want it on their toast and cow cheese going on kid pizza and nachoes (still working on a good melt-in-the-oven cheese!) but waaay less than even a year ago! I'm excited for a further reduction in this next year!
As far as the kids go...I have one daughter who transitioned easily to about 98% meat-free (parties and friends homes are the other 2%) in the first few months of my cooking completely meat-free, a son who has discovered that veggie hotdogs and nuggets are now his favourite (yes, they are highly processed, but this is a Journey, not a race!), another son who craves Udon Noodle Miso Soup (from www.itdoesn'ttastelikechicken.com - LOVE her!!) which is loaded with straight-up tofu! And because my eldest is out in the Great Big World living her life...all I can do it hope that her Food Choices are a Blessing to the Earth and her body and encourage her where I can. My husband and children may never be completely vegan, but through discussion and taking the time to really acknowledge where our food comes from, their food consciousness has definitely improved.
It has been over 3 years now that I have been fully vegetarian.
I feel good, from the Inside-Out. My kids are healthier, we talk about food differently now. This was the right path for us and I'm glad I implemented it for my family. This journey began with excema, tummy troubles and a child who literally bounced off the walls, challenges that felt frustrating and very unfair at times, but the strings weaving our Family Food Story led us to where my Spirit always wanted our family to go. 'Do what you will, and harm none.' We're getting there and I am Greatfull for that 🙂
From the time we were small and entering the school system, our lunches were consistent: a honey and peanut butter (sans PB for me - I'm allergic to nuts!) sandwich on homemade bread, an apple and two Cowboy Cookies. This pattern continued with very little deviation from kindergarten to Grade 12 ~ we were creatures of habit!
To this day the smell of Cowboy Cookies baking conjures a feeling of safety and comfort, for myself and my kids! These cookies are a staple in our house and when using coconut sugar, maple syrup and vegan butter they are a healthier alternative to store-bought! They pack well and freeze well too. Enjoy them dipped in coffee or eaten clandestinely in the pantry 😉
Cowboy Cookies (- exact measurements in Recipe link below)
Mix flour, oats, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix butter, sugars and chia seed mixture.
Add raisins and dark chocolate chips to the flour mixture. Mix wet into dry and blend well.
Using a spoon or a scoop - I love my Pampered Chef 1 tbsp scoop! - drop onto a cookie sheet.
Bake at 350F for 10mins or until they are a bit browned on the bottom and cooked through.
I use Pampered Chef stoneware so they take a little longer to cook, about 15 mins.
Lisa would probably suggest at least 15 mins...she likes hers the way they ended up when Mom was busy - almost burnt!
A lovely afternoon tea!
One of the things that I felt would help me on the way to a Plastic-Reduced kitchen was Beeswax Wraps!
These handy sheets and bags were made with an old, clean duvet and napkins that were destined for goodwill, a block of Beeswax from our Health Food Store, my handy dandy sewing machine and some string from Dollarama. Thankfully my Mom was around while I sewed the bags and she grated up all the beeswax for me (thanks Mom!)
First Step was to create the bags...I used no pattern and just eye-balled the size and shape (which is why this rectangle is not perfect - I am a 1 hr-project girl after all!), creating a 1/2 inch hem at the top for the drawstring.
Next I used aluminum foil to line my oven rack and cut to size a piece of parchment paper to go inside the bag to keep the two layers separate. This way I could do 1 side at a time without them fusing together 🙂
Oven preheated to 200F, it only took a few minutes to melt into the cloth...keep an eye on it! When it looks all melted, pull it out of the oven and let it cool ~ I like to pick it up and wave it around 😉 Once it is cool, it is ready to use!
They aren't perfect or overall as pretty as I would like...but that's what trying something new is all about! Next time, I want to choose some fabric that is more colourful and create some sandwich/snack bags for school lunches ~ when I have done them, I'll post some pictures!I find that they keep my vegetables fresh for waaay longer than plastic bags!
Here's an example of mushrooms that I bought in a plastic container, removed the plastic and replaced it with a Beeswax Napkin:
TWO weeks later....
a little bit brown but Still Edible! That's a WIN!