Sunday, December 23, 2007

Cookie time

I found some time today to bake cookies with the boy. We decided on shortbread, which is Colin's favourite. I used an Ina Garten recipe and as usual, it turned out really well!

Shortbread Cookies
From The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, by Ina Garten

¾ pound unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar (plus extra for sprinkling)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 ½ cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix together the butter and 1 cup of sugar until they are just combined. Add the vanilla. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt, then add them to the butter-and-sugar mixture. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together. Dump onto a surface dusted with flour and shape into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.

Roll the dough ½ inch thick and cut with your choice of cutter. Place the cut-outs on an ungreased baking sheet and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the edges begin to brown. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Christmas newsletter that never got sent

Every year we get some Christmas cards with newsletters from friends and family. I know some people think they're pretentious or braggy, but given the right mix of good news, happy moments and real life stuff, ie. not too much bragging, I think they're a great way to keep up with the people you care about. I really like them and look forward to them every year.

Every year I think- I should do that. And every year I leave it too late and it never happens. This year I actually wrote one, but then ran out of time to pretty it up and get it sent out. My friend Katie suggested I just post it on the blog, which is what I'm doing. So here it is....

This year we thought we'd start a family newsletter for the groaning please! We enjoy getting them from friends and family each year, and hope that this one makes you just as glad. We hope this letter finds you well, and looking forward to the holidays and the coming New Year. We've had a year of many things....good experiences and bad, new adventures and more renovations, sadness but also great joy.

We've watched Ethan grow from a baby to a little man, and what an amazing thing it's been! He's now over three feet tall, talks a mile a minute and is getting more independent every day. He's also a bit of a goofball and makes us laugh all the time, even when we're sleep deprived beyond belief! He's mastered the tricycle, sand "cake" building, helps his Dad with projects and has acquired his own tool belt. He knows how to use a drill! This fall, Ethan started pre-school three mornings a week and he's been making new friends and learning new things ever since (some good, some not so good!).

This summer we managed to get away for a much needed holiday- our first road trip with a kid! Being the Powells, who do nothing half-heartedly, we embarked on a three day drive to the east coast via New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. There were plenty of stops along the way- for photo-ops, picnics, running around in playgrounds, sightseeing and shopping (LL Bean in Freeport, Maine was amazing!). We rented a beachfront cottage in southeast New Brunswick for one week, and fit in many day trips including PEI, La Dune de Bouctouche, Hopewell Rocks on the Bay of Fundy. We ate a ton of seafood, enjoyed a few days of beach bumming, shell collecting, and flying kites. We loved every minute and hope to go back again soon. Travelling with a 2 year old wasn't nearly as traumatic as we feared.

Also this summer, Colin's brother Jay and his wife Angela welcomed their new son into the world. Blake is an adorable little boy who is healthy, content and happy, and has brought great joy to Jay & Ange. We're so happy for them and also for Ethan, who will have a cousin nearby to play with.

We've managed to fit in a few home renos- this year's were scheduled, unlike our previous "surprises". The house continues to improve and looks less "dump-like". I continue to have ideas and Colin continues to execute what he calls my "vision". Colin replaced all the nasty yellow siding and soffits, I painted all the doors, the backyard has grass (hooray!) and no major landscape elements (read:overpriced trees) have died this year. The kitchen is done. Yes, a 2.5 year project has finally come to a is indeed a Merry Christmas for me. Next up- moving Ethan and his big bed to a newly decorated room, then organizing our office in his old one. We may build a fountain in the front patio this summer- seriously.

This year we've also watched my mom struggle with illness, after her cancer diagnosis in July. There has been surgery and chemotherapy, and in January she'll begin radiation treatments. It has been a tough journey for everyone, but one also filled with hope and remarkable spirit on my mom's part. Through it all, my mom has remained so strong and upbeat, with her sense of humour intact. She has seized every opportunity to be happy and enjoy what she can, when she can. She has not buried herself in reading and researching and worrying about this disease, which would be her normal reaction. She has probably had private moments of sadness and despair, but we have had far more laughs than tears. She is even suprised at herself in this regard. And I have seen a whole new side of my mom, and I am proud.

From our family to yours, Merry Christmas and wishes for much health, happiness and good fortune in the New Year! cookies and be merry!

Monday, December 17, 2007

After the storm

Last night, after a day in the house, it was time for a walk and some fresh air.

Some fun in the snow...

And some snow clearing.

Then back home for a story and warm milk before bed.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Snowy day

Today we’re being pounded by a huge snow storm, our second of the year already. Last year at this time, we were still waiting for snow and we had a ridiculously warm and green Christmas. Not this year.....

So, since we're stuck in the house for the day, I decided to try baking bread. I've only made bread once before, and it wasn't so great. All the kneading, rising, punching, etc. is a bit confusing and intimidating. This recipe's been making the rounds on my FoodWine list, and everyone was raving. Turns out that bread's not so difficult after all, not this method at least. There'll be more homemade bread in our future- this was so delicious and half the loaf is gone already! The olive-rosemary variation will be next weekend's project.

Published in: Cook's Illustrated


3 cups (15 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour -- plus additional for dusting work surface
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1 ½ teaspoon table salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons water -- at room temperature
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons mild-flavored lager
1 tablespoon white vinegar


1. Whisk flour, yeast, and salt in large bowl. Add water, beer, and vinegar. Using rubber spatula, fold mixture, scraping up dry flour from bottom of bowl until shaggy ball forms. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 8 to 18 hours.

2. Lay 12- by 18-inch sheet of parchment paper inside 10-inch skillet and spray with nonstick cook ing spray. Transfer dough to lightly floured, work surface and knead 10 to 15 times. Shape dough into ball by pulling edges into middle. Transfer dough, seam-side down, to parchment-lined skillet and spray surface of dough with nonstick cooking spray. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until dough has doubled in size and does not readily spring back when poked with finger, about 2 hours.

3. About 30 minutes before baking, adjust oven rack to lowest position, place 6- to 8-quart heavy bottomed Dutch oven (with lid) on rack, and heat oven to 500 degrees. Lightly flour top of dough and, using razor blade or sharp knife, make one 6-inch long, l/2-inch-deep slit along top of dough. Carefully remove pot from oven and remove lid. Pick up dough by lifting parchment overhang and lower into pot (let any excess parchment hang over pot edge). Cover pot and place in oven. Reduce oven temperature to 425 degrees and bake covered for 30 minutes. Remove lid and continue to bake until loaf is deep brown and instant-read thermometer inserted into center regis ters 210 degrees, 20 to 30 minutes longer. Carefully remove bread from pot; transfer to wire rack and cool to room temperature, about 2 hours.

Follow recipe for Almost No-Knead Bread, adding 4 ounces finely grated Parmesan about 2 cups) and 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary leaves to flour mixture in step 1. Add l/2 cup pitted, chopped green olives with water in step 1.

Follow recipe for Almost N 0- Knead Bread, replacing 1 cup (5 ounces) all-purpose flour wim 1 cup (5 ounces) whole wheat flour. Stir 2 tablespoons honey into water before adding it to dry ingredients in step 1.

Follow recipe for Almost No-Knead Bread, adding l/2 cup dried cranberries and 1/2 cup toasted pecan halves to flour mixture in step 1.

The kitchen is done!

After 2.5 years, finally, the kitchen renovation is a few paint touch ups and a new window covering. Hooray!

When we bought this house, it was 10 days before I gave birth to Ethan. We were finalizing the deal as I was in labour. We bought it even though we had no plans to move for a couple of years, and the house we were living in was fine. It was done, decorated and comfortable, just a little small. But, we loved this neighbourhood, the extra was the right house, just a few years too early. It needed work, alot of work. But we loved it, and it felt right, so we talked ourselves into it. How much work could one small baby be, right? We'd reno'd before, no big deal, we could do it. We were wrong. Really wrong. And, that's why we've been picking away at the kitchen for over two years! Of course we've had a few other urgent (surprise!) projects along the way, but that's a whole other story.

So, the pictures are not professional, and it's difficult to get a good angle, but here it is. Please excuse the fridge and all the stuff on's become a play centre for the boy.

I love this floor! And I really really love the wall tile.

Mostly I just love that it's all done, and that I can cook without drywall dust and plaster chunks falling in the food!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Do you think this happens to Martha?

Sigh. It was supposed to be a fun weekend of Christmas decorating (a bit early this year but we're busy this December). You know.....gather the family, pick out a tree, put lights up outside, the usual. I was so happy that I'd carved out a couple of days to do something fun for the holidays. Clearly my expectations were a bit high!

Picking the tree out went well. Decorating the tree went as well as could be expected when assisted by a two year old who insisted on putting ornament hooks on every single ornament...and then attempting to hang every single ornament on one branch. Even though it went very very sloooowly, it was amusing and pretty cute. We laughed, he was proud. After he got bored and wandered off, I moved the ornaments around and fixed it all up- call me anal, but Christmas is for me too!

Today was the day I was going to make beautiful outdoor arrangements with greens I'd gathered in the woods last weekend. I was going to put lights in all the trees. I was going to deck the house, so to speak. It started out well enough- the sun was shining, it was even warm-ish. I gathered all my branches and made this:

Pretty huh? Yes it was...until it came crashing down two hours after completion! Great. While it was still hanging, I proceeded on to lighting up my trees. I was in a good mood! That's when I discovered that most of the lights that I'd purchased last year, and that had been fine when stored away, were no longer working. So, no lit up trees- just a trash can full of lights. And, of course, just as I was pitching my lights, I heard the crash that was my greens falling off the wall. That's when I started to weep. And curse. Alot. Seems a part of the wall basket had broken. Fortunately Colin hates weeping and hastily dropped what he was doing and fixed the thing all up. A few minor adjustments, and it was all okay.

Except for the state of the patio, which is what we walk through to get into the house.

See all that? That's mud and ice....the result of leaving planter emptying and storing until now. Seems the best way to empty a frozen pot of soil is to soak it in water, alot of water, and then dump it. And then shovel it into my garden. (That wasn't really what I had in mind, but I wasn't asked my opinion!) So, if you come to my house, tread carefully and please wipe your feet!


Monday, November 12, 2007


This was good soup. Perfect way to use some of the rosemary still growing in the garden. Doubled the recipe, used more rosemary and more garlic, had lots leftover for freezer lunches.

Rosemary White Bean Soup
From The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

1 pound dried white cannellini beans
4 cups sliced yellow onions (3 onions)
1/4 cup good olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 large branch fresh rosemary (6 to 7 inches)
2 quarts chicken stock
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a medium bowl, cover the beans with water by at least 1-inch and leave them in the refrigerator for 6 hours or overnight. Drain.
In a large stockpot over low to medium heat, saute the onions with the olive oil until the onions are translucent, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the garlic and cook over low heat for 3 more minutes. Add the drained white beans, rosemary, chicken stock, and bay leaf. Cover, bring to a boil, and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, until the beans are very soft. Remove the rosemary branch and the bay leaf. Pass the soup through the coarsest blade of a food mill, or place in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse until coarsely pureed. Return the soup to the pot to reheat and add salt and pepper, to taste. Serve hot.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Sunday Update

First of all, if you read my post from last Saturday, and you liked the recipe for the yummy yet healthy Pumpkin Cookies, go back and get the recipe again. I've updated it. I've been playing with it a bit, and this morning, I think I perfected it- according to the cookie experts in the house anyways!

This is the first day in almost a week that I feel somewhat less than teetering on the brink of death. Okay, maybe that's an overreaction, but I've had a really really rotten cold accompanied by a bout of insomnia (which does not for good healing make!). Then I wrenched my back while coughing. Ouch. I was in a sad sad state. Yesterday I dragged (drug?) myself out in the late afternoon, as I was desperately craving fresh air. So, to the park we went, with a pocket full of tissues and a hot drink. It was a beautiful fall day, so I'm glad I ventured out. Last night I finally had a decent night of sleep, so I feel somewhat human again. Good thing, I've probably been a bit unbearable lately.....

And, for those of you that check in to see how my mom's doing, this last round of chemo was much harder on her than the doctors anticipated. She's developed an infection which started in the mouth and progressed through her digestive tract. Very draining, very uncomfortable. She's been on some medication for that for the last few days, and feels a bit better now. So, we shall see what comes next.

Saturday, October 27, 2007


It was a rainy, windy, cold fall day today, the kind of day that screams lounge around in your pyjamas, drink coffee, hang out with your family and do a whole lot of puttering, or nothing at all. Colin is sick, I'm fighting a cold and Ethan's had a busy week- we all have- so today we stayed home. Never went out at all. And it was nice, different for us.

So, first thing, I finally finished another hat for my mom. I'd cut out the pieces weeks ago and then it sat. So, now it's done. It's okay, but not as cute as the other one, which I liked better. It's more of a headwrap with ties at the back. I looked kind of unkempt this morning while making it, so a picture on the table will have to modelling in my pyjamas is not something I'm willing to post!

After lunch, when my boys went for a nap, I settled into the kitchen for some cooking and what we call Saturday schlock TV around here, also known as the weekend afternoon movie on W network. It's usually a lame & mindless movie, often based on a Danielle Steel novel (remember her?), but it's just what I do. Now you know my little indulgence :)

First up, Cream of Mushroom soup. Colin loves the Campbell's version but I think I can do a better job with less sodium and less fat. He said he's fine with Campbell's, I told him he doesn't know how good the real thing can be. He rolled his eyes...oh wait, that was me. And so it went. But I'm determined.

So, I think it turned out great. I used portabellos, white mushrooms and a couple of handfuls of dried porcinis. Basic cream soup recipe (actually uses no cream at all, just milk and stock) from the Williams Sonoma Mastering Soups & Stews book. Really yummy. E loved it, had two bowls for a post-nap snack. Colin will have some tomorrow, so we'll see whether I measure up to the mighty Campbell's.

Then, I made these cookies. They're really really good.....all soft and moist and spicy. (Just so you know, I only post the good stuff here....don't want you to think that everything I make is "really really good"- sadly it's not!) They're low fat and I think the possible combinations of flours, and additions of nuts, seeds, whatever, are endless. My "helper" and I had a great time making these.

Whole Grain Pumpkin Cookies
Adapted from a Prevention magazine recipe
(updated after further "testing", on November 4/07)

1 ½ -2 cups sugar (I used organic raw cane sugar)
2 ½ cups rolled oats
½ cup millet (or substitute some seeds or nuts)
3 cups spelt flour (or other gluten containing flour like all purpose or whole wheat cake & pastry)
1 ½ cups whole wheat cake and pastry flour or amaranth flour (or substitute a non gluten containing flour like soy, quinoa, or arrowroot)
5 ¼ teaspoons baking soda
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
1 ½ teaspoon salt
6 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2-3 teaspoons ground nutmeg
3 tablespoons flax seeds (optional)
1 cup raisins (optional), or use a mixture of other dried fruits
Seeds and nuts, as desired (optional)
1 ½ cups pumpkin puree
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons water
6 egg whites
1 tablespoon molasses

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
2. In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, oats, flours, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, flax seeds and raisins.
3. Whisk together pumpkin, canola oil, water, egg whites, and molasses.
4. Add dry ingredients to wet. Mix together. Let batter sit for 15-30 minutes, if using whole grain flours like spelt.
5. Form heaped teaspoon size balls, and flatten slightly on a baking sheet.
6. Bake for 8-10 minutes in preheated oven. Cool slightly on cookie sheet before transferring to rack.

Makes 3-4 dozen cookies.

Friday, October 26, 2007

I've been busy busy, there's been no time to blog! I'm not even sure what I've been so busy with- just life I guess. There was a baby shower for my new nephew, a trip to Toronto with friends to visit our friend Moira (who is making me a fabulous custom bag!) and to do some shopping, putting the garden to bed for the winter (although it's still so warm here I'm not sure when that'll be), some fall decorating outside, working at the preschool and a lot of real-job working, cooking and laundry!

I need to organize my kitchen, the utensils are getting out of control. But, how do you throw out beloved but (perfectly) worn and stained wooden utensils???? They all have a special purpose, or something anyways, that makes me hang on to them. Maybe I just need a bigger bucket for them all? Or better yet, perhaps I should stop buying new ones. I am a sucker for the kitchen stuff. And the cookbooks....two more are on their way and I'm running out of room. I really should weed some out.

Anyways, enough of my drivel. This weekend is mercifully free of company, no events, just a whole two days of nothing :) On the agenda- cream of mushroom soup, chicken curry, pumpkin cookies, some sewing (got some great new hat and scarf fabric last weekend in TO), pumpkin carving (um, why did we buy 3????), and assembling Halloween costumes for all of us. Definitely a big walk and a trip to the park if the weather co-operates. Perhaps that's an ambitious list. We'll see. Pictures of successes and failures to follow....