Release the hounds... I mean the kids!

The Reckless Abandon of Sunshine on Easter

Growing up in Southern California, our Easter egg hunts were always outside in the gloriously warm sunshine.  In fact, there was often a bit of hurriedness to our egg collecting fueled by concern over finding all of the chocolate eggs before they melted in the sun.  Here on Vancouver Island we’ve learned that early Spring time might be cool and sunny, or it might be dreary and wet, or it could be any number of different temperatures and dampness factors changing every quarter hour or so.  It’s best to be prepared for anything, and simply to enjoy whatever weather comes your way.

While Easter dawned sunny, it was still quite frosty in the shade and a good jacket was required.

While Easter dawned sunny, it was still quite frosty in the shade and a good jacket was required.

We all enjoyed bunny bum pancakes.  The tail is made from a dollop of butter topped with shredded coconut.

We all enjoyed bunny bum pancakes. The tail is made from a dollop of butter topped with shredded coconut.

Little Man decided that his bunny heeded eyes and a nose as well.  I think he was just lobbying for more chocolate chips, but it worked.

Little Man decided that his bunny needed eyes and a nose as well. I think he was just lobbying for more chocolate chips.

We were mentally prepared for just about any kind of weather for this Easter, while having all fingers and toes crossed for sunshine since we were having five families over for a lunchtime potluck and egg hunt.  We knew that we could all crush into the house and have the egg hunt downstairs if need be, but it would be so much nicer outside! In the end, we were blessed with one of the most beautiful Easter afternoons that we’ve had in years.  While it wasn’t So Cal warm, we could be outside without jackets, sunglasses were needed to not be squinting into the dazzling light, and the grass was dry enough for the kiddos to roll around with reckless abandon.  It was fantastic, and we hadn’t even gotten to the food yet.

The kiddos are diving into their Easter potluck feast.  Ears and sunglasses abound.

The kiddos are diving into their Easter potluck feast. Bunny ears and sunglasses abound.

After the kiddos got to run around a bit, we gathered them together on the back deck to get them started eating and then the adults joined in.  Our table was overflowing with food.  We provided pulled pork sandwiches, a green tea punch, and a chocolate cake for dessert.  Our friends also contributed a seven layer dip with chips (they did it as a five plus two layer dip, thoughtfully leaving the two dairy items on the side for those with dairy intolerances), a sun dried tomato pasta salad, Easter Bunny white chocolate bark, stuffed potato skins with cheese and bacon (some graciously set aside for vegan cheese), black bean dip with veges, a Thai peanut broccoli salad, and other Easter treats.  To say the least, no one left hungry and even the adults looked like we could all use an Easter nap.

Our amazing Easter spread!  Pulled Pork sandwiches, coleslaw, dips, chips, salads, Easter treats, it was a wonderful lunch.  See below for recipes for the things that we brought to the table.

Our amazing Easter spread! Pulled Pork sandwiches, coleslaw, dips, chips, salads, Easter treats, it was a wonderful lunch. See below for recipes for the things that we brought to the table.

Please ignore the messy kitchen, and focus instead on the handsome pastry chef and the amazing cake he is decorating.

Please ignore the messy kitchen, and focus instead on the handsome pastry chef and the amazing cake he is decorating.

Yes, indeed...  A chocolate cake layered with homemade chocolate rice crispies and topped with a chocolate coconut frosting that tastes better than chocolate mousse.  Life is tough.

Yes, indeed… A chocolate cake layered with homemade chocolate rice crispies and topped with a chocolate coconut frosting that tastes better than chocolate mousse. Life is tough.

Before we could get to napping, however, we had the Easter egg hunt.  After the adults finished eating, we sequestered the kiddos in our living room with the curtains drawn while half of the adults went outside to the front yard to hide the loot.  Each family brought filled eggs to share, so the front yard glittering with plastic eggs.  Then we released the hounds… I mean the kids… to fill their baskets.  Since some of the kiddos were older and faster than the others, we had a parent-led redistribution after the egg hunt to be sure that everyone had a good collection of booty.

Release the hounds... I mean the kids!

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Then the kiddos and adults got to play in the sunshine or wander over to meet the pigs, sheep and chickens at our landlords’ farm.  The trees were blossoming, the kids were laughing, the sheep were bleating, and it was one of the best Easter moments I’ve had in a long time.

If you want to share in some of the food we had for Easter, here are recipes for those items that we brought to the party.  The recipes for this post are a bit different since I was “in the party prep zone” when cooking and completely forgot to take any pictures while I was making the food.  Doh!  If there are any steps in the recipes that are hard to follow since there aren’t any pictures, or you simply aren’t sure about something, please send me a comment at the end of this post and I’ll get back to you asap.  Have fun!

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

Fluffy Whole Wheat Rolls

Gluten Free Rolls – this recipe is not my own.  I followed the directions for soft rolls made with a Challah dough from the Gluten-Free Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day book by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois.  If you are getting into gluten-free baking, I highly recommend this book.  It makes the best tasting gluten-free bread that I’ve found to date.  Their bread has great texture and mouth feel without being grainy, and without using an obscene amount of corn starch.  Love it!  Click here for a link to recipes for rolls from their book.

Carolina Style Coleslaw

Chocolate Celebration Cake – This recipe is also not my own, but came from Jamie Oliver’s excellent Comfort Food cookbook.  The main differences for what I did was that I used spelt flour instead of all purpose, and I used an organic, puffed brown rice for the home made chocolate crispies.  I also used the same Chocolate Coconut frosting that I wrote about with Little Man’s birthday cupcakes from school.  Next time I think I’ll triple the frosting batch so that I can have some between the layers as well.

Any of these items (or all of them) would make for a fantastic outdoor picnic.  In fact, we will likely do a smoked version of a pulled pork sandwich for an outdoor party later this August.  I’m also toying with making cupcake versions of the chocolate celebration cake…  Stay tuned.  I hope you all are enjoying sunshine!  Our sunshine just went away for a couple of days, but I’m already plotting more outdoor fun as soon as the sun is back.  Or we’ll likely go outside to play in the wet anyway.  We’ve been cooped up inside for too long as it is.

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cake 4

A stack of Perfect Spelt Pancakes

Pancake Breakfast

I love Saturday breakfasts, and I guard this morning jealously.  Little Man is getting of an age when dance or sport classes might make an inroad to our Saturday breakfasts, but not quite yet.  It’s the one morning of the week when we don’t have to rush to be anywhere else.  No one has changed out of their sleep clothes before breakfast.  We haven’t washed our faces or brushed our hair, we just relax and enjoy being with each other.

Two of Little Man’s most requested breakfast foods are pancakes and waffles, which I don’t mind since I can still try to chock them full of as much nutrients as I can, then sit back and enjoy my own buttery, mapley goodness.  I love pancakes too.

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My favorite pancake recipe is adapted from one that we learned in upstate New York, from a family cookbook of dear friends that’s kept up at their camp.  When made with all purpose flour, these are the fluffiest pancakes I’ve ever had.  The only problem with them was that I always ate too much, and that left me feeling all sorts of blah.  So sometime after we moved away from New York I started experimenting with shifting the recipe around and incorporating whole wheat flour.  They were still fluffy and awesome, but I could feel good about incorporating some whole grains into them and they didn’t leave me collapsed on the couch.  I tweaked the recipe a bit more, thinning it out a bit when I wanted to make fun pancakes for little man, like his initials or a reindeer face, but for the most part I was very pleased with my Perfect Whole Wheat Pancakes.

Then came the shift in our diets and wheat was no longer welcome in our household.  It has been a tough break up.  Though I find that some of the gluten free flour blends are fine in some baked goods, I wasn’t happy with them in pancakes.  Then I tried replacing the whole wheat flour with spelt flour, and the results were fantastic.
IMG_3627The spelt flour pancakes are not quite as fluffy as the whole wheat version, but they are incredibly tender and have great flavor.  They aren’t just vehicles for butter and syrup, but have a great nutty taste of their own.  I do still need to thin the batter a bit to make the decorative pancakes, but a little loss of fluff is worth the gain in Little Man smiles when I made planet pancakes for his birthday.

For this post I’ve included recipe links for both my Perfect Whole Wheat Pancakes and my Perfect Spelt Pancakes.  The only difference between the two is in the flour used, but for the ease of people searching for recipes I’ve included them both.  The pictures here are from making a batch of the spelt flour pancakes.  If you are gluten intolerant, this recipe does work well with gluten free flour blends.  I’ve also dosed both versions of the pancakes with a good amount of chia seed meal with the goal of sneaking in whatever extra nutrients I can to Little Man’s diet.  You can, of course, purchase chia seed meal in the store, but it’s just as easy to buy a bag of chia seed and pulverize a bit every now and then in a coffee grinder.  That way you have the whole seeds around if you want them, and you can grind up the meal whenever you want.  I tend to make about 1/2 cup of chia seed meal at a time, and keep the rest in a baggy in the freezer.

Another plus is that if you have extra pancakes (or want to make an extra batch) these store really well in the freezer.  Little Man often eats pancakes or waffles for breakfast during the week when there is no way that we have time to make them from scratch.  So I tend to make larger batches on the weekend and freeze the leftovers.  A couple of seconds in the microwave or in a warm skillet and they are ready to go.

Oh, and one last thing before we get down to the recipe.  As one batch of pancakes are done, I put them in the warm oven on a baking tray and then start another batch.  The main joy of Saturday breakfast is that we all get to sit down together to eat, not to have one family member constantly cooking pancakes to only see them devoured before the short order cook ever gets a chance to sit down.  So use your warm oven well.  Get the food cooked that can hang out for a bit, like the pancakes and bacon, make the coffee or tea, doing the eggs last.  Then make sure that you get to sit down with your family and loved ones for a well deserved meal.  You want memories with your family, not ones where they only remember you standing by the stove.

Little Man and I adding frozen blackberries to a batch of pancakes in our "Saturday best."

Little Man and I adding frozen blackberries to a batch of pancakes in our “Saturday best.”

Perfect Spelt Pancakes
Ingredients
:
2 cups spelt flour
2 tbsp. chia meal (aka ground chia seeds)
1 ½ tbsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. salt
2 cups almond milk (or any kind)
2 eggs
3 tbsp. oil
1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen (optional)

Directions:

  1. Heat a cast iron griddle or other large, flat skillet over medium heat. If necessary, brush your griddle with a little canola oil. Turn your oven on to low (200°) and place a baking sheet inside.

    You don't have to use a griddle to make pancakes, but the nice large flat surface makes it easier to form and flip the pancakes.  A pan with higher edges can make things a bit... awkward.

    You don’t have to use a griddle to make pancakes, but the nice large flat surface makes it easier to form and flip the pancakes. A pan with higher edges can make things a bit… awkward.

  2. In a large bowl whisk the dry ingredients together. Make a well in the center and set the bowl aside.
    The chia meal looks like a nice heap of black pepper right now, but it will completely disappear into the batter soon.

    The chia meal looks like a nice heap of black pepper right now, but it will completely disappear into the batter soon.

    The mixed dry ingredients with the chia incognito.

    The mixed dry ingredients with the chia incognito.

  3. In a large measuring cup or medium bowl, measure out the almond (or cow or coconut or soy, etc.) milk then break in the eggs and add the oil. Stir with a fork until the yolks are broken and the ingredients are more or less combined. This doesn’t need to be perfect.

    I like to in my milk into a large measuring cup, then add the eggs and oil.  They all get mixed together in this cup without dirtying another bowl in the process.

    I like to in my milk into a large measuring cup, then add the eggs and oil. They all get mixed together in this cup without dirtying another bowl in the process.

  4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir to blend well.

    The batter is ready to go.  If I am making fancy or decorative pancakes, then I like to remove a bit to a small bowl and thin it out with some extra milk.  Then I put it into the pancake pen, or just free hand initials or planets or bunny bums, etc.

    The batter is ready to go. If I am making fancy or decorative pancakes, then I like to remove a bit to a small bowl and thin it out with some extra milk. Then I put it into the pancake pen, or just free hand initials or planets or bunny bums, etc.

  5. Make sure your griddle (or pan) is heated and oiled. Pour the batter onto the griddle in the amounts you desire. I use about ½ cup for a really big pancake with a tablespoon or slightly more for silver dollar sized ones.

    When I called these "perfect" pancakes, I was talking about taste not presentation.  I'm not interested in making Yoda faces or artistic pieces too pretty to eat.  These are pancakes.  They should be fun.  Don't sweat it if your child's initial is barely legible.  As long as they know what you're trying to do, you've succeeded.

    When I called these “perfect” pancakes, I was talking about taste not presentation. I’m not interested in making Yoda faces or artistic pieces too pretty to eat. These are pancakes. They should be fun. Don’t sweat it if your child’s initial is barely legible. As long as they know what you’re trying to do, you’ve succeeded.

  6. Wait until the edges of the pancakes start to look a bit dry and the bubbles stop forming. This is a relative waiting game, and will differ based on the heat of your griddle/pan, etc. Flip your pancakes and adjust the heat. If they are too brown turn down your heat and wait a moment to let the griddle/pan cool. If they are too pale, raise the heat slightly.
    The first batch of pancakes is always the sketchiest.  The griddle may be too hot or too cold.  Just adjust your settings or batter and keep on going.  You can always serve the "special" pancakes last.

    Look for the edges of the pancakes to start to be a bit dry and for the bubbles to slow in forming on the tops. This means that the pancake is set enough to flip without splattering all over the pan.

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    The first batch of pancakes is always the sketchiest. The griddle may be too hot or too cold. Just adjust your settings or batter and keep on going. You can always serve the “special” pancakes last.

  7. Once cooked, remove the pancakes from the griddle and put on the warmed baking tray in the oven. Repeat with all of the remaining batter until all the pancakes are cooked. Prep/cook any sides you want, and warm the maple syrup (the real stuff, please). Enjoy an awesome breakfast!
    Pancakes staying nice and warm in the oven until the rest of breakfast is ready to be served.

    Pancakes staying nice and warm in the oven until the rest of breakfast is ready to be served.

    Any leftover pancakes can be reheated during the week for a fast and awesome breakfast.  I often make extra just so Little Man has some good pancakes to eat on a rushed week day morning.

    Any leftover pancakes can be frozen and then reheated during the week for a fast and awesome breakfast. I often make extra just so Little Man has some good pancakes to eat on a rushed week day morning.

Click here for a printable version of the Perfect Spelt Pancakes recipe.

Click here for a printable version of the Perfect Whole Wheat Pancakes recipe.

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Oh, for the love of garlic

Up until a few weeks ago if you had mentioned the words “low FODMAP” to me, I would likely have thought that I’d misheard you or that perhaps you were referring to some form of low weather pressure zone.  Maybe that’s what’s been dropping all that snow back east?  Alas, no.  It is something far more troublesome…  a huge dietary change.

For over a year now we’ve been struggling to figure out some dietary issues for Little Man.  After a year of tests and tweaks and a complete lack of progress our pediatric dietician suggested that we might want to try a low FODMAP diet to see if that helps.  Let me state right from the beginning that I am not a low FODMAP specialist, and everything that I’ve read states that you should never start a low FODMAP diet without first consulting your doctor.  This is not a weight loss or fad diet, it’s a change in the way of eating for people who struggle with IBS, Celiac disease, or other gastric issues.  In short, this whole thing revolves around the fact that there are certain foods that contain short chain sugars (FODMAP is an abbreviation for the scientific names of these foods, and can be checked out online for specifics) that when they get to the gut can ferment and create unfortunate symptoms in some people.

When the dietician first mentioned the low FODMAP diet to us, I was interested… until she mentioned that two of the high FODMAP foods that we would have to give up were garlic and onion.  Seriously?  How does one live, let alone cook, without garlic and onion?  So I pushed the low FODMAP diet out of my mind and acted like it didn’t exist… until Little Man was still not healthy and nothing seemed to help.  So on board we got, and thus began our saga of a dairy-free, wheat/barley/rye free, garlic and onion free, etc-free diet.  Sigh…  For 6-8 weeks we need to stick this out hard core, then after that we should be able to start one by one reintroducing restricted foods, seeing what does or does not react negatively, and keep on going.  And, yes, I do know that low-lactose foods are allowed on the low FODMAP diet.  Unfortunately Little Man reacts badly to those, so they are persona non grata (or victus non grata?) to us at this time.  Heavy sigh…

With the print out of “foods to be avoided” in hand, I went through our pantry, fridge and freezer with a vengeance.  Shelf stable foods that we could no longer eat were given to a local food bank, while the perishables were “donated” to the pigs.  The pigs, by the way, are huge fans of this and welcome any such donations.  Then I made dinner, and while the flavor was fine, overall the food just tasted bland.  I wasn’t sure what to do to replace garlic and onion since it was banned in all forms, fresh or dried.

Since then I’ve learned a couple of tricks to add the lacking depth of flavor to our garlic-less and onion-less meals.  The first thing I did was to use more spice in just about everything.  While I cannot use garlic or onion powder, I’ve been digging deep into my stores of cumin, coriander, paprika, and just about anything else I can get my hands on. I’ve also been using colored peppers with reckless abandon.  Normally I don’t splurge for those in the produce aisle, but in times such as these I’ve been looking for more flavors to add and some brightness to the dishes.  The colored peppers fit the bill nicely, and as soon as the weather warms up a bit out here I’ll be planting some in our garden.

Another trick that I’ve been using is garlic-infused olive oil.  While garlic itself (dried or fresh) is to be avoided (sob!), you are allowed to use garlic infused oil.  For the first couple of tries, I would heat a little bit of oil in a pan and toss in a whole peeled clove.  Once the clove browned, I would remove it and proceed as normal.  Would I toss out that lovely browned clove?  As Pete the Cat would say, goodness no!  This was sliced up and given as a treat to Dave and myself since we are not fodMAP restricted.  While Little Man didn’t get the actual garlic, he did get the flavor in the meal itself.

While this infusing of oil with garlic in the pan each night allowed us to have some garlic flavor, it became cumbersome. Most nights I don’t cook with much oil at all, and it was difficult to even coat the clove with oil let alone infuse any flavor.  There’s also the fact that during the week I’m generally trying to get dinner going fast, and any steps that I can take to make dinner prep quicker are golden. Enter the glory of garlic infused olive oil.  You can, in fact, infuse any type of oil that you generally cook with, including canola, grape seed or peanut oil.  We cook mainly with olive oil, as well as using that in marinades, salad dressings, etc. so that is the oil that I chose.

A quick word of caution before we get to the recipe.  During my research into garlic infused oil, I came across a number of cautions about simply dropping raw garlic into oil and letting it sit.  This can lead to a rapid development of botulism and should not be done.  Here’s a link where they discuss this problem (Garlicster).

It should also be noted that garlic infused olive oil only has a shelf life of about one week in the refrigerator.  So if you aren’t sure that you will use two cups of olive oil over the course of one week, then simply cut the oil amount in half.  I started with the two cups of oil since I knew that there were a number of recipes that I would be making that first week that required olive oil, including a couple of salad dressings, a marinade, and a low FODMAP version of garlic bread.  If that didn’t use up the oil along with my regular cooking, then I had plans for a hummus type dip that would be amazing with that garlic infused olive oil.

Oh, for the love of garlic.

Oh, for the love of garlic.

Garlic Infused Olive Oil Recipe
This is an intensely flavored garlic infused oil specifically designed for use in cooking when you cannot use actual garlic. If you want a lighter flavored oil, simply reduce the cooking time to 5 minutes. This infused oil is great to use in vinaigrettes, to flavor pastas, make marinades, for dipping bread, or in any of your regular cooking where you would use olive oil. Just be aware that it has a relatively short shelf life of about 1 week, so only make as much as you think you will use within that time frame.

Ingredients:
1 head of garlic
2 cups of olive oil

Directions:

  1. Dismember the head of garlic, disposing of any loose, papery skins that come off. Don’t be too finicky here, since you will have plenty of garlic skin to get rid of soon.

    The dismembered head of garlic ready for bashing.

    The dismembered head of garlic ready for bashing.

  2. Place the whole garlic cloves into a small metal bowl and cover with another similarly sized bowl. The bowls must be metal; glass, ceramics and plastic are not hard enough to properly bash the garlic and will not work. It is fine if one of the metal bowls fits into the other, as long as the garlic can’t come flying out the sides.
    The reflection of the camera flash in the metal bowl makes the skins of the garlic look shiny, but they haven't been peeled yet.  That comes next...

    The reflection of the camera flash in the metal bowl makes the skins of the garlic look shiny, but they haven’t been peeled yet. That comes next…

    The bowls don't have to be the same size.  In fact, having the smaller bowl fit into the larger bowl made it easier for me to hold on to them both while I shook their skins off.  Just be sure that both bowls are metal, or this won't work.

    The bowls don’t have to be the same size. In fact, having the smaller bowl fit into the larger bowl made it easier for me to hold on to them both while I shook their skins off. Just be sure that both bowls are metal, or this won’t work.

  3. Shake the bowls hard for a good 15 seconds, then open them up to see if you need to shake them some more. This is a great task for little kitchen helpers, but gauge your child’s skill level. You know what s/he is capable of, and what could create a lovely mess. Little Man is not quite ready for this task, but he’s getting there.  After being shaken for 15 seconds or so the garlic should have bashed itself right out of the skins. If any are still clothed, simply pull off the skins, since they are likely cracked and easy to peel.
    Oh yeah...  After a good 15 seconds of shaking the cloves literally fell out of their skins.  Two weren't completely undressed yet, but I just needed to pull off the already cracked skin and they were done.

    Oh yeah… After a good 15 seconds of shaking the cloves literally fell out of their skins. Two weren’t completely undressed yet, but I just needed to pull off the already cracked skin and they were done.

    Your fingers still get a bit sticky removing the cloves from the pile of skins, but when trying to peel an entire head of garlic... I've never had it go so quickly and with so little mess.

    Your fingers still get a bit sticky removing the cloves from the pile of skins, but when trying to peel an entire head of garlic… I’ve never had it go so quickly and with so little mess.

  4. Cut the cloves in half the long way and place them in a small sauce pan, just large enough to hold them and 2 cups of olive oil. Pour the olive oil over the sliced cloves and heat the mixture over medium heat until it just starts to bubble. Cook the garlic in the oil for 10 minutes. If the garlic begins to brown quickly, carefully remove the pan from the heat and let it cool briefly before returning it to the stove. Monitor it regularly to make sure nothing is burning. After 10 minutes carefully remove the pan from the heat, cover it and let the garlic steep in the oil for one hour.
    I halved the garlic cloves since I greedily want as much garlic flavor in the oil as I can.  If you want a milder flavor, then omit that step.

    I halved the garlic cloves since I greedily want as much garlic flavor in the oil as I can. If you want a milder flavor, then omit that step.

    The garlic cloves in the bath before heating.

    The garlic cloves in the bath before heating.

    The garlic should just start to bubble in the oil over medium heat.  If it starts to brown too quickly, carefully remove it from the heat for a minute or two and then put it back on.  No burnt garlic here, please, or your whole batch will taste burnt.

    The garlic should just start to bubble in the oil over medium heat. If it starts to brown too quickly, carefully remove it from the heat for a minute or two and then put it back on. No burnt garlic here, please, or your whole batch will taste burnt.

    This is the garlic after 10 minutes simmering in the oil.  They are lightly brown all over, but still look like they have some moisture left inside.  Take them off the heat, cover them, and let them steep.

    This is the garlic after 10 minutes simmering in the oil. They are lightly brown all over, but still look like they have some moisture left inside. Take them off the heat, cover them, and let them steep.

    This is the garlic after steeping in the oil and cooling to room temperature for an hour.  Most of the moisture is gone, and they've given all of their awesome garlic-iness to the oil.  Spell check doesn't like that one.

    This is the garlic after steeping in the oil and cooling to room temperature for an hour. Most of the moisture is gone, and they’ve given all of their awesome garlic-iness to the oil. Spell check doesn’t like that one.

  5. Once it has cooled to room temperature, pour the oil through a strainer into a clean glass jar with a lid. The oil can be used immediately, or it can be stored in the refrigerator in a glass jar for up to a week. If you think that you won’t use two cups of oil over the course of a week, simply cut the quantity of oil in half and make the same thing with 1 cup of oil.
    I didn't want to spill the oil as I strained it into the glass jar, so first strained it into my measuring glass that had held the olive oil for this recipe.  Then I poured from the spout of the measuring glass into my storage jar.

    I didn’t want to spill the oil as I strained it into the glass jar, so first strained it into my measuring glass that had held the olive oil for this recipe. Then I poured from the spout of the measuring glass into my storage jar.

    Lovely dessicated garlic and beautifully infused garlic olive oil.

    Lovely dessicated garlic and beautifully infused garlic olive oil.

    With a tight fitting lid this garlic infused olive oil will last for up to one week in the refrigerator.  I already have many plans for my oil, including a low FODMAP garlic bread, so stay tuned.

    With a tight fitting lid this garlic infused olive oil will last for up to one week in the refrigerator. I already have many plans for my oil, including a low FODMAP garlic bread, so stay tuned.

Click here for a printable version of the Garlic Infused Olive Oil recipe.

P.S.

Since originally writing this blog post (it sat around a bit until I could take the pictures) we have found that as restrictive as it is, the low FODMAP diet has had a tremendously positive effect on Little Man.  We are looking forward to being able to try reintroducing some of the high FODMAP foods back into his diet eventually, but for now the sacrifice of the dietary change has been well worth it.

The finished blanket.

Making a Knotted Fleece Blanket

For a long time I resisted the urge to be crafty.  I liked the art things I did, like throwing pottery and making mosaics, but I didn’t “do crafts.”  I’m not sure what my issue was with being crafty, maybe I was too mired in graduate school to be allow myself the freedom to do fun creative things.  They had to be serious art, not fun.  Bleh!  Whatever the reason, soon after moving to Iowa and after Little Man’s birth I was invited to join a Mom’s Club and I started to notice that a number of the moms in our group were not only crafty, but made some truly beautiful things.  One was crafting a fantastic quiet book for her daughter with hand sewn pages of button flowers, and tie up shoes, etc.  Another was getting into felting and made phenomenal dolls and toys.  Most importantly, as beautiful as these pieces were, what made them the most special and unique was that the crafts were made for a specific person (or child) by someone who loved them.  I started to rethink my bias against craftiness.

I already knew that I loved throwing pottery and making mosaics, but neither one was really useful for Little Man the infant.  While I did throw some special bowls and plates for him, the fact that I made these specifically for him will be lost on Little Man for awhile yet.  I wanted to make something for him that he could have and use now.  I wanted it to be crafty, but functional at the same time.  I decided that I wanted to make him a knotted fleece blanket.

Of course I had no idea about how to go about doing such a thing, other than the fact that I’d need some fleece and scissors, but a little Pintrest research solved that issue.  I wrote down the things I would need, went to my local warehouse store, bought my supplies, and then proceeded to do nothing for weeks.  I watched the calendar move forward towards Christmas and dust gather on my plastic bags of goodies, but couldn’t bring myself to actually do anything with them.  One evening while I sat there and contemplated my bags of unfulfilled craftiness, I finally put words to my dragging feet.  I didn’t want to do the craft alone, but with friends.  Not because I needed any help, this craft is superbly simple, but I just wanted to share in the camaraderie of being crafty.  So I invited the members of the Mom’s Club over to my house with the caveat that each woman bring a craft that she wanted to work on.  I would provide snacks and a cocktail, and we’d see how much we got done.

In the end, I don’t think I accomplished much beyond laying out my fleece and getting it pinned together.  Not a single cut was made or knot tied that evening, but I had a wonderful time.  And after that, the knotted fleece blanket became something that I worked on in the evenings when Little Man was sleeping but we hadn’t yet gone to bed.  It didn’t take long to finish once I’d actually started it, and for Christmas Little Man got a soft, snuggly, fleece blanket that is still on his bed today. Looking back, that first Crafty Night was one of the moments that made Iowa feel like home, though it was far from family and anything but familiar.  In fact, it was the friends that I made through the Crafty Nights who I knew I would miss the most when we moved.

Little Man and his first knotted fleece blanket in Pooh Bear print with a cloud background.

Little Man and his first knotted fleece blanket in Pooh Bear print with a cloud background.

Then last Fall we needed a blanket to send with Little Man for his day care while I was teaching at the University of Victoria.  This was a big step for us all, since before in Iowa his day care had been in a lovely woman’s home with his best buddy and just a couple other children.  Here in Nanaimo day care would be much larger, and I really wanted to send him with something that felt like a big hug.  So off to the local fabric store I went, Little Man in tow to pick out his fleece.  Then the week before he was to start day care I pulled out the materials and went online to refresh my memory of how to put the whole thing together, only to find that the original post was gone.  Luckily it didn’t take me long to remember the few tricks involved, and I quickly had it all laid out, cut and knotted well in advance of the blanket being needed.

The night before Little Man was to start day care we read the Kissing Hand story about a racoon who is getting ready to go to school for the first time.  In the story the little racoon’s mom kisses his hand and tells him that the love of that kiss will stay with him all day long at school, and any time he needs to feel the warmth of that kiss he just has to lay his hand to his cheek.  Then we pulled out his new knotted fleece blanket and talked about how Mommy and Daddy’s hugs stayed with the blanket and that whenever he got to use the blanket at day care our hugs and love were with him.  Sappy, yes, but such is the life of parents of wee little ones.  Embrace it and move on.  ;)

If you would like to make your own knotted fleece blanket, here are the instructions:
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Knotted Fleece Blanket Craft
This was my introduction into the world of being crafty. It’s a great place to start for someone who would like to make something for a loved one, but may not yet be ready to tackle something that involves machinery or needles. The soft fleece is machine washable and snuggly as a hug.

Supplies and Equipment:
2 pieces (1 – 1 ½ yards) of fleece. One patterned and one solid.
Scissors
Yard (or meter) stick
Lots of large safety pins

Directions:

  1. Machine wash and dry both pieces of fleece.
  2. Lay one piece of fleece face (or presentation side) down on a large, flat surface, such as a kitchen table. If the fabric has any sort of pattern or picture, the “pretty” side should be down and the dull side facing up.

    The first piece of fleece should be laid face down on the table, so the presentation side will be facing out when the blanket is done.

    The first piece of fleece should be laid face down on the table, so the presentation side will be facing out when the blanket is done.

  3. Lay the second piece of fleece face up on top of the first piece. Make sure that all edges line up. If one is larger than the other, trim the larger piece to fit the smaller. You may find that the person who cut your fleece at the store did not use a very steady hand with the scissors. This is your chance to clean up those edges, but don’t drive yourself crazy about it. Once cut and knotted most such inaccuracies will be invisible.

    The second piece of fleece should be laid face up so that the "pretty" side is visible.  I like using one patterned piece of fleece and one solid color.

    The second piece of fleece should be laid face up so that the “pretty” side is visible. I like using one patterned piece of fleece and one solid color.

  4. Using the safety pins, pin the two pieces of fabric together about 4 ½-5 inches in from the border. This will keep the two pieces of fabric together as you move it around to cut and knot the fringe.

    This craft uses a lot of large safety pins.  The more the merrier.

    This craft uses a lot of large safety pins. The more the merrier.

  5. Cut an approximate 4 inch square out of each of the four corners of your blanket. This is an important step so that your pieces fit together nicely.

    Could my cuts have been smoother?  Yes.  Do I care?  No.  Once knotted the messy edges disappear.  Remember that the goal is to have fun and to create something meaningful.  So relax, and give yourself the freedom to have some craft fun without the pressure of trying to be perfect.

    Could my cuts have been smoother? Yes. Do I care? No. Once knotted the messy edges disappear. Remember that the goal is to have fun and to create something meaningful. So relax, and give yourself the freedom to have some craft fun without the pressure of trying to be perfect.

  6. Lay your yard (or meter) measuring stick down along one straight side of the fleece about 4 ½ inches deep from the border. Use this as your guide as you cut the fringe incisions along the four sides of your fleece. Make 4 inch deep incisions through both layers of fleece at 1 inch intervals down the length of your fleece to create the fringe. Don’t panic if your incisions are not exactly at 1 inch intervals, just do your best. If you go too much thicker than that, then the knots can be a bit messy. If you do much thinner than that, and the knots look too small. Repeat this for all four sides of the blanket.

    Use a yard stick to space your fringe incisions along the four edges of your blanket.

    Use a yard stick to space your fringe incisions along the four edges of your blanket.

  7. Starting at one corner edge, loop both pieces of one section of fringe around your finger and tie a single knot as high up on the incision as possible. You should see the color of your bottom fabric at the base of the knot. Tie the knot tightly so that it does not unravel later. Some people pull the two layers of fleece apart and tie them in a knot that way, but I think the looping method of both pieces together looks nicer. Continue this until all fringe pieces are knotted.
    Loop both pieces of one fringe section around your finger.

    Loop both pieces of one fringe section around your finger.

    Knot the section as high up on the incision as possible.

    Knot the section as high up on the incision as possible.

    Pull the knot tight so that it doesn't loosen or come apart later, even in the wash.

    Pull the knot tight so that it doesn’t loosen or come apart later, even in the wash.

    Keep going around the blanket until all fringe sections are knotted.  This is a great activity for the evenings when you just want to relax a bit and not think too hard about anything.

    Keep going around the blanket until all fringe sections are knotted. This is a great activity for the evenings when you just want to relax a bit and not think too hard about anything.

  8. Remove all safety pins from the blanket, and let the snuggles begin!

    The finished blanket.

    The finished blanket.

Click here for a printable version of the Knotted Fleece Blanket craft.

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An Eagle and the First Blossoms of Not-Yet-Spring

We were greeted by an eagle and the first blossoms of Not-Yet-Spring when Little Man and I went for a walk/bike ride the other day.  The sky was overcast and everything was deeply wet, but the paths were passable with only the occasional puddle of awesomeness to splash through.

Little Man tooled around on his balance bike, and has gotten quick enough that I now need to wear appropriate shoes so that I can jog along behind him.  He skidded through a couple of muddy areas, fish tailing and whooping, and kept on going while I slogged through in his wake.

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We heard the uproar of birds before we saw the eagle loop over the treetops above us.  Little Man called out that there was a “bald eagle,” and I think I saw enough of a white head and tail feathers to agree with him.  Later we would hear sea lions, but not be able to track them down as the wind shifted and carried their barking to different parts of the path.
20150211_100203 (2)Lastly we tracked down various fairy houses along the trails.  A posted sign described the different ecosystems of the park, and Little Man had a good time noticing the ocean ecosystem, the forest ecosystem, and the fairy ecosystem.  The number and placement of the fairy houses has changed since my first post about them (A Week On Our Own: Day 2), and its fun to keep exploring to see if we can find more and some have moved.  At the “Give a Little/Take a Little” fairy house, Little Man exchanged some leprechaun gold for a sparkly pink jelly bracelet that he promptly declared to be a “beautiful Power Ranger bracelet,” and had a wonderful time all day “transforming” it into a ring by coiling it up tightly.

I didn’t have our camera with us, so I made due with the camera on my phone.  While officially still Winter, it’s been a mild one for us here on the island.  This was the first tree that I’d seen actually blossoming, and in our yard there are mystery bulbs sprouting everywhere.  Our farmer-landlords’ garlic is looking good too, as are our Dinosaur Kale plants that have kept doggedly at it since the summer.  Though our winter has been mild, February isn’t over yet, and I try not to think about Spring too much in case something changes.  It was in February and then again in March of last year that we woke up to a huge snow dump after all (I Woke Up To the Snow and Embracing the Snow).

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As we walked along, skidded out, and laughed our way through our beautiful but overcast surroundings, I couldn’t help but wonder at the gorgeous surroundings that will likely make the basis for his first long term memories.  Life is good.

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Our little solar system of sugar crystal planets and the comet hung above Jupiter.

Crystal Planets

I’ve been on a bit of a planetary kick recently, with the theme of Little Man’s birthday party and with us redecorating his bedroom.  But since I’ve started on this path, let’s continue.  :)  This Crystal Planets craft is something that Little Man and I did last Autumn, but I haven’t had a chance to share here until now.

I was initially inspired for this craft by a post about making sparkly crystal Easter eggs to hang in the window.  The pipe cleaner eggs,however, were crystallized using Borax to form the crystals.  While they were beautiful, I didn’t feel comfortable using a substance that I wouldn’t want Little Man to handle.  As I thought about the craft more, even if Little Man didn’t touch the Borax crystals themselves, I was concerned about what would happen if the crystals flaked off and he (or our cats) found little sparkling bits on the floor.  In one of the comments on that post another parent expressed concern for the toxicity of the Borax and wondered if sugar crystals could be used to do the same thing. That was my “ah ha!” moment, and I started working on ways to use sugar to create sparkly, crystal planets.

"Uranus"

“Uranus”

Before I go further, I want to be clear that while kiddos can help with the beginning of this craft, the making and pouring of the sugar solution should only be done by adults.  Hot sugar solutions are quite dangerous if spilled or splashed, so little hands should not be involved in those parts.  Little Man loved helping me shape and initially sugar the planets, as well as checking on the planets daily to look at their growth.  He also loved hanging the planets in the window, and even took one (Mars) to day care for show and tell.  So while little hands cannot be a part of every step of this craft, the process and the final product are totally worth it.

Yes, Little Man enjoyed this craft quite a lot, especially the part where he got to play in sugar.

Yes, Little Man enjoyed this craft quite a lot, especially the part where he got to play in sugar. Notice the little water hand print on the table as well.

While I shaped the pipe cleaners to make planet shapes, like I mentioned above the original post I saw used the cleaners to make Easter egg shapes.  I’ve since seen posts for the Borax crystals to make heart shapes, shamrocks, and the list goes on. It could be fun to shape the pipe cleaners into letters to form a child’s name, or to make butterflies.  The possibilities are as endless as your imagination… and the size/depth of your mason jars.

This same “craft” can also be used by suspending food safe chopsticks (I recommend bamboo since its more environmentally friendly) in the sugar solution to create rock candy sticks.  Some day if I feel like completely wiring up Little Man’s birthday guests, we’ll make these as part of the goodie bag.

Enjoy!

Making Crystal Planets
Equipment and Ingredients
:
Assorted colorful pipe cleaners
2 bowls and 1 plate
Stock pot
4 large (1 liter) canning jars
4 wooden chopsticks or other sticks
Kitchen string
Assorted food coloring
18-20 cups white sugar

Directions:

  1. Coil 1-2 pipe cleaners to make your planet shape. Don’t make it too fussy since you need to have room for the sugar crystals to grow. My favorite shape was a circle with a small curlicue across the equator to give it depth. Make sure that the “planet” can easily fit into and out of the mouth of your jar with extra room. It will be wider than it is now once the crystals have formed.

    Pipe cleaners coiled and shaped into "planets."

    Pipe cleaners coiled and shaped into “planets.”

  2. Measure a length of string so that once it is tied to the top of one of your “planets” and  suspended from your chopstick, the planet does not touch the bottom of the jar. If it touches, crystals will form and adhere your planet to the bottom of the jar, and you’ll have to destroy your planet to get it out.  Make sure that your chopstick (or other stick) is long enough to rest both edges on top of your jar. The chopstick will suspend your planet in the sugar mixture, so it’s good to have a bit of overhang to ensure that your “planet” doesn’t fall inside.
  3. Tie one end of the string to the top of your planet and the other end to your chopstick. Suspend the planet in your empty jar and make sure that it fits well, adjusting as necessary. Remove the planet from the jar and repeat this for the number of planets that you want to create. Set them all aside.

    A planet with string ready to be sugared.

    A planet with string ready to be sugared.

  4. Pour about ½ cup of sugar into a bowl and place a bowl of cool water next too it.  Working one at a time, briefly dip the pipe cleaner planet into the cool water, and then press the planet into the sugar on the plate. Flip it over and press it in again. Gently take the sugared planet and place it on a plate to dry completely. Repeat this with all of the planets and then set them aside until you are ready to proceed.
    Planets ready for sugaring.

    Planets ready for sugaring.

    This is definitely a kid-friendly part of the process.  Just be warned that sugar will be flying, often towards the mouth. Little Man had a blast feeling the sugar... and then jamming his little fist into his mouth before I could wipe it off.

    This is definitely a kid-friendly part of the process. Just be warned that sugar will be flying, often towards the mouth. Little Man had a blast feeling the sugar… and then jamming his little fist into his mouth before I could wipe it off.

    A planet made it into the sugar and not Little Man's mouth.

    A planet made it into the sugar and not Little Man’s mouth.

    Sugared planets set aside, out of Little Man's reach, to dry.

    Sugared planets set aside, out of Little Man’s reach, to dry.

  5. In a stock pot add 8 cups of water and begin to heat it. Do not bring it to a boil, since you want to create a sugar solution not sugar taffy. Be careful since hot sugar can be dangerous. No boil overs or burns, please!
  6. Once the water is hot, but not boiling, slowly add the sugar. You want a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio of sugar to water. If you need a refresher on your high school ratios, feel free to look them up on the internet. :)  In short, you want 2-3xs more sugar than water. Start adding your sugar a few cups at a time, stirring carefully until the sugar dissolves and the water becomes clear again. Go carefully and slowly here. After you add a good amount of sugar (aka an obscene amount), it should start taking longer for the sugar to completely dissolve. This means you are reaching saturation and that’s what you want. You want the sugar solution to be so full of sugar that it can’t hold any more (aka saturation). This may look like you have a few grains of undissolved sugar at the bottom of your pot, or some cloudiness.
    At first I used my lovely Dutch Oven, but soon found that it wasn't quite big enough for me to feel comfortable with all the heating sugar solution.

    At first I used my lovely Dutch Oven, but soon found that it wasn’t quite big enough for me to feel comfortable with all the heating sugar solution.

    So I upgraded to this one.  Little Man loved using the LONG handled wooden spoon to stir our "cauldron."

    So I upgraded to this one. Little Man loved using the LONG handled wooden spoon to stir our “cauldron.”

  7. Line up your four (or more) one-liter canning jars on a heat resistant surface (I used my cutting board) and carefully ladle in enough sugar solution to fill the jars to just below their shoulders. Leave some room at the top for the planets to be added without causing an overflow.

    One jar ready to go.  Filling the jars is definitely an adults only task.  I used a canning funnel to make sure I didn't make too much of a mess while ladling in the hot sugar solution.

    One jar ready to go. Filling the jars is definitely an adults only task. I used a canning funnel to make sure I didn’t make too much of a mess while ladling in the hot sugar solution.

  8. Carefully add a few of drops of good quality food coloring to each jar to create the color that you would like. If you add too much color the solution may become so opaque that you cannot see the crystals form. However, if you don’t add enough color the crystals will not take the color. My planets do not have much color to them beyond the color from the pipe cleaners, but they looked pretty in the window while they were forming.Once the sugar solution is dyed to your liking in the jars, carefully insert the planets using another chopstick to submerge the planets in the liquid. Let the jars cool until safe enough to handle.
    Adding a few drops of yellow food coloring.

    Adding a few drops of yellow food coloring.

    With me right beside him, I let Little Man use another chopstick to stir the food coloring into the solution and then to help submerge the planets.

    With me right beside him, I let Little Man use another chopstick to stir the food coloring into the solution and then to help submerge the planets.

    One down...

    One down…

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    Three more to go.  I ended up having a good amount of extra solution, so made an impromptu fourth "planet."  I did a quick coil of yellow pipe cleaner to make a "comet."  Interestingly this one did not have the same amount of drying time as the others, but still formed crystals just fine.

    Three more to go. I ended up having a good amount of extra solution, so made an impromptu fourth “planet.” I did a quick coil of yellow pipe cleaner to make a “comet.” Interestingly this one did not have the same amount of drying time as the others, but still formed crystals just fine.

  9. Once the jars have cooled until safe to handle, place them in a sunny window or tall shelf where they can sit and slowly, slowly, slowly grow crystals. If after a few weeks you do not see crystal growth, then you may need to individually pour the solution back into a pot, heat it again, add more sugar and repeat the process. It took my planets awhile to form the crystals, but they did.
  10. Hang your planets in a window for a sparkly decoration.
"Jupiter"

“Jupiter”

"Uranus"

“Uranus”

"Mars"

“Mars”

This is the full view of Mars, showing the sugar crystals moving up the string where it was submerged.  The other planets look similar, and the crystals really catch the light on a sunny day.  Alas this photo day was a bit dreary, but even with a rainy day you can still see their sparkle.

This is the full view of Mars, showing the sugar crystals moving up the string where it was submerged. The other planets look similar, and the crystals really catch the light on a sunny day. Alas this photo day was a bit dreary, but even with a rainy day you can still see their sparkle.

Click here for a printable version of the Crystal Planets craft.

Our little solar system of sugar crystal planets and the comet hung above Jupiter.

Our little solar system of sugar crystal planets and the comet hung above Jupiter.

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Making Breakfast with No Electricity

There are many pluses for living outside the city.  We don’t suffer through the water bans since we are on well-water, not city.  We don’t get (as much) of the odoriferous down draft from the water treatment plant.  We get to be surrounded by forest, and wake up to the sounds of chicken and sheep, with a view of the horses in the pasture through our kitchen window.  We can tromp through our neighbors Enchanted Forest whenever we want, and rarely need to worry about Little Man walking/playing in the road since there are nearly no cars that come our way.  Plus, plus, plus…

However, every now and then, particularly in the winter, we can lose power for a couple of hours at a time.  When that happens it’s means more than simply the inconvenience of blinking clocks and a lack of television.  For us it means no running water since the pump that brings our water from the well is electric.  No showers, no washing, no water for tea or coffee unless we’ve been wise (and sometimes we are) and kept our emergency supplies of water filled along with the large jugs in the refrigerator… which shouldn’t be opened much during these times so it doesn’t “lose its cool.”

Then one morning right at the beginning of winter we woke up to the sound of disconcerting silence (no hum of the old refrigerator) punctuated by the panic inducing beeps of Little Man’s bedroom monitor losing power.  Dave and I stumbled around for a bit, trying to wrap our sleep addled brains around the fact that we had no electricity and what that actually meant for our morning.  I tried to turn on a sink tap to brush my teeth… and nothing happened.  I stood there, staring at the tap, trying to figure out what I was doing wrong.  Apparently Dave was dong something similar in the kitchen since I heard him utter a low moan as realization settled in as to the extent of our dilemma.  No showers… argh!  How to brush our teeth?  My water bottle was still mostly full from yoga the night before.  What about cooking breakfast with our electric stove (or microwave) without electricity?  Doh!

At that point Little Man woke up and I went downstairs to light the wood burning stove (aka our house heater) while Dave went into our son’s room with a flashlight.  I tried to get my brain to function and to think about the breakfast predicament as I knelt by the stove balancing my flashlight beam on the things I needed, but I couldn’t quite get out of autopilot mode.  I arranged the wood, kindling and wadded up burnables in the stove and then lit the whole thing.  Closing the stove door, I waited to make sure that the fire had caught and listened to the comforting clicking of the warming stove.  Then it finally hit me.  I didn’t need electricity to cook our breakfast, I had a wood burning stove right in front of me.  My city-girl mind had only thought of the stove as a heat source for our home.  A smile stretched across my cheeks as I quickly planned our breakfast adventure.

Upstairs Dave was hurriedly getting ready since he had to teach, while also explaining to an unimpressed Little Man why there was no TV for morning cartoons.  For sanity’s sake I whipped out the ipad hoping that it had a charge, and turned on a quick Little Einsteins episode, buying Dave and I a little respite while he got out of the house and I collected my breakfast supplies.

On a large tray I piled a shallow cast iron skillet, a full tea kettle, a hot pad, plates, cutlery, a bowl with two eggs, a couple slices of bread, a mug and tea bag, a filled sippy cup, honey, jam and a few other tools.  I waved Dave out the door, put slippers on Little Man’s feet and was just leading him downstairs while balancing my tray of awesomeness… when with a pop the electricity came back on.  The TV was blaring in the front room since apparently Little Man had pushed in the power button during his desperation to show Dave that the TV worked without electricity.

With the jubilant sounds of a little boy who has found treasure, Little Man dashed back into the living room with Pooh Bear flapping behind him for his morning cartoons.  I looked at my tray, placed it down on the dining room table, snapped a picture for future sleep addled reference, and went back to our now working electric stove to make breakfast.  Next time I’ll be ready when the power is out and we get to have a picnic breakfast downstairs with our wood burning stove.  And I’ll make sure the TV stays off and doesn’t wreck our adventure.

I like the "rustic" look of the black and white photo here.  I felt all "pioneery" as I balanced by tray of modernity to cook on a hot stove.

I like the “rustic” look of the black and white photo here. I felt all “pioneery” as I balanced by tray of modernity to cook on a hot stove.