Category Archives: Canada

Starting from Scratch

What you see in this picture is not edible.  Well, actually it is, but it isn’t meant to be.  Let me start again…

About a year ago I started removing artificial chemicals from my home and body as I could.  I had finally had enough.  I’m tired of hearing again and again about how a trusted company or product is now found to be not only be unhealthy to use, but in fact might be down right harmful.  Enough.  I’m not going off grid (not exactly sure what that means) or embracing my inner Puritan (I don’t have one), but little by little, where I can, I’m getting rid of the stuff that I can’t pronounce and have no idea what it is or why it’s going on my body.

Frankly this goal was also driven by my budget.  As a Sessional Instructor (aka Adjunct Professor) my employment is not guaranteed, and we need to be careful with spending.  I was having a harder and harder time justifying the crazy cost of multiple moisturizers to be used at different times of day or on different parts of the face all promising different paths to eternal youth.  Fighting free radicals, etc..  The list of things that these facial creams are supposed to do make them sound like members of the Avengers.  If that was true, Little Man would be impressed.  I, however, was not.

So I decided to start someplace simple, my face cream.  The first time I tried this, I simply melted some coconut oil and added a few drops of essential oils.  That was fine, but didn’t have the same pampering feel that my nice, expensive and unpronounceable face cream from the store had.  Then I tried it again with a bit of shea butter added in, and after some internet research found that this concoction could be whipped with a hand blender.  Oh yes, DIY whipped face cream from ingredients that I for the most part I already had in the house.  Sold!

One note about this face/body cream… a little goes a long way.  I use this twice a day on my face, as well as all over my body.  For the face especially you only need a tiny amount.  If you use too much, depending on your skin type, your skin will feel slick.  I like to use it in the morning right after cleaning my face, and I wait a fair bit of time (oftentimes until after I’ve eaten breakfast) before applying my make up.  Another friend of mine found that in the morning her face stayed too slick, so instead uses this as a night cream for her face and as an overall body moisturizer.  It is especially great for dry feet and elbows.

The whipped face cream is incredibly easy to make.  Here is what I do:

Whipped Face/Body Cream
Ingredients
:
½ cup coconut oil (preferably organic)
½ cup shea butter
5-15 drops of essential oils (lavender, cedar wood, and frankincense are my favorites)
1 cup-sized container with tight fitting lid

Directions:

  1. Put the coconut oil and shea butter into a metal bowl, and then set this bowl into a second bowl filled with hot water. Otherwise you can use a standard double-boiler, or use a microwave safe bowl and melt the oil and butter using short, 30 second bursts.
  2. When the oil and butter are almost melted, stir them together until everything is clear. Remove the metal bowl from the hot water and set it aside to cool.  Do not add essential oils to anything hot since that will destroy many of their healthful properties.
  3. Once the oil/butter mixture is cooled (but not set) add your essential oils. I like to do a blend of about 5 drops each of my favorite oils for skin.  My current favorites are Lavender, Frankincense, and Cedar Wood.

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    For this batch in the picture I used Lavender, Frankincense, and a Young Living blend called Progessence.  I often use Cedar Wood instead for my third oil.  I use Young Living oils for their purity and high standards of production and sustainability.  If you are interested in where to purchase Young Living Oils, you can send me a comment through this post.

  4. Depending on the temperature of your room (and the amount of time you have), place the metal bowl into the refrigerator (or freezer for a quicker set) until the oils just start to harden or set.
  5. Remove the bowl from the refrigerator and use an electric hand blender to whip up the oils until light and fluffy. If your oils are still too warm, put them back in the refrigerator or freezer for a couple of minutes then whip them again.  Watch it like a hawk or it can set up too quickly.  If the oils have solidified before you whipped them, try your blender anyway.  You might need to use a spoon to scrape the mixture into smaller bits and then blend away.
  6. Put the finished face/body cream into your container of choice with a tight fitting lid. I keep my face lotion on my bedside table, so I use a small, wide-mouthed mason jar.  For face/body cream that I would travel with or take to the gym, etc., then try a food-safe plastic container with a tight-fitting lid.

* You can double this recipe to make two jars of face/body cream and then save one in the refrigerator.

 

Young Living Essential Oils Distributor: 3025584
Check out Young Living essential oils at youngliving.com

What I like to do now is to make two jars of the cream at a time.  One I use immediately, and the other I keep as a replacement.  That way I didn’t have to rush to make more when one was getting low.  Also, if you are doing this in the summer or live in a perpetually hot area, you might want to store your face cream (at least the replacement one) in the refrigerator.  While our summer here on the island has been a mild one, normally by mid July all of the coconut oil in my house has liquefied in the heat.  I still used my coconut oil face cream when that happened, but I prefer the fluffy, whipped cream.  And frankly, in that type of summer heat to have the face cream cool when I put it on… sounds perfect!

Click here for a printable version of the Whipped Face Cream.

 

Let the Games Begin…

Buckle up, Buttercup.  It’s time to get started.

The weather is warming.  We have intermittent sunshine and rain with some longer stretches of warm sunshine.  That means garden.  However, I don’t have my garden plot from the last two years.

Our landlord is consolidating her garden plots into one area, so my plot (actually my old plot) is a part of that.  So, this year we needed to find new place for our garden.  It ends up that this will be the rather oddly shaped southern border to the property that runs alongside the driveway.

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For now things look a bit… shall we say… odd.  Last October I already knew that I’d be losing my plot, but needed to be able to plant my garlic.  I was allowed to plant my glorious garlic (I’ll share the garlic story in a future post) in the raspberry patch that will separate the area with my old plot from my new plot.  This is the only time that you will ever (I hope) see me combine garlic with raspberries.  Just the thought gives me chills.

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What you see here is the beginning of the desodding process.  The one good side to the unbroken months of rain that we’ve had (I have to keep reminding myself that we live in a rain forest and therefore that requires copious amounts of rain) is that the sod is really lose and relatively easy to remove (as far as desodding goes).  I did a few rows on my own, but Dave did most of the heavy lifting (literally).  I did do most of the sod cutting, however.

I’ll show more of the changes to this brave new plot as gardening seasons progresses.  For now everything that has been moved from the old plot is in complete shock.  The sad looking limp chives will hopefully rebound soon.  Only one kale plant made the move well, and I’m hoping that the parsley comes along too.

Other than that on the back deck I have two containers struggling through the wetness.  One is my standard bin of mixed lettuces, and the other is half arugula and half of something that I’ve completely forgotten what it is.  It might be chives.  It might be that I actually only put seeds in half of the container with plans on putting something (of indeterminate origins) else in the other half.  Time will tell.  I hope.

In the meantime Dave and I spent a well deserved day post-desodding on the couch.  Little Man didn’t mind too badly since he got more TV than normal, but he did object to the amount of Mommy and Daddy TV rather than cartoons.  Such is life.  🙂
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Rainy Day Cookie Picnic

Last week, as we got closer to the end of January, it felt like Little Man and I hadn’t been outside for any run around time in forever.  Having grown up in a semi-arid desert, I still tend to be a bit cat-like going outside in the rain.  Meaning it’s not my favorite thing.  This day, however, I had had enough.  It wasn’t raining (yet) so I bundled Little Man and myself up, grabbed his scooter and my bag full of empty egg cartons and headed off into the drizzle.

As we started off down the road, Little Man scooted alongside of me and commented that there was an awful lot of drizzle.  It had, in fact, turned from drizzle into a light rain.  By the time we’d made it up the hill to the house with the egg stand outside their fence, the light rain was a little less light.

Around this time Little Man started asking for a snack and I told him that we could have the cookies I’d brought with me for a snack when we got down the other side of the hill to the little lake.  He thought that was a great idea and declared that we would have a cookie picnic in the rain.  So empty egg cartons deposited, and new full egg cartons retrieved ($3/dozen for local farm fresh eggs… yup!  No need for eggs from the more… questionable sources of the mega stores for us), we were off down the road again.

Little Man imagined that we were going over a waterfall as we walked downhill, tracking whatever villain was supposedly rampant that day.  We had also picked up our neighbor’s friendly dog for the walk.  She often chaperoned us on our walks in the neighborhood, and Little Man considers her to be his dog.  Or at least a dog on loan when we go for walks.

Finally at the little lake, we sat down on a tree trunk bent into a perfect bench for the two of us, water soaking into our pants but neither of us cared.  Then cookies in hand, we sat on our sodden tree, gazed at the water falling into the lake, and chatted about camping thoughts for when the weather warms up a bit.  For this mom, it was a perfect rainy day cookie picnic.

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Our selfie reflection in the lake.  I love seeing Little Man’s Pooh Bear head and the dog paws on the dock as well.

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Our Rainy Day Cookie picnic.  A toque goes a long way to making it OK to sit out in the rain.  🙂

On the Momentous Occasion of My First Use of a Grill

OK, so maybe for most of you this isn’t so momentous, but for me it was.  I’ve prepped things for the grill, read numerous recipes for grilling, and watched it done ad nauseum on television and on my own back deck.  I had not, however, actually used a grill.

After Dave’s brief description of where to turn on the propane, which burner to light first, how to stand back to preserve one’s eyebrows, and a few other tips that I’m sure were important but that I cannot for the life of me remember, it was time to use the grill.

So far both eyebrows are accounted for.

So far both eyebrows are accounted for.

The occasion for this momentous occurrence was the simple fact that it’s hot.  Beastly hot.  So hot that my jar of coconut oil that I’d left out on my counter liquified.  I don’t know if it’s quite “fry an egg on the side walk hot,” but that’s only because I refuse to sacrifice one of our awesome farm fresh eggs to such an experiment.  It’s so hot that the very thought of turning on my stove or (please forbid it) my oven made me cross and snappish.  So to the deck we went.

Little Man was highly amused and wanted to be sure that Daddy had given me permission to play with his grill.  Then he stood back, keeping his eyebrows at a safe distance, leaned onto the deck table crossing his ankles in the appearance of nonchalance (which in a four year old means that he was preparing to gather information in order to tattle on me to Daddy) and watched.

I wasn’t sure at first what I was going to grill, but then I remembered that I had some boneless pork chops defrosted in the fridge that needed to be used.  So after a few quick moments of internet searching for easy recipes, I stumbled on a Lemon Basil Marinated Pork Chop recipe that fit the bill.  It had only a couple ingredients, all of which I had at hand (the basil in my garden is trying to take over the world), and it seemed pretty forgiving to me.  Meaning that it hopefully would be very hard for me to really mess things up.

Then I opened the pack of pork chops and saw what I was faced with.  They had been hack sawed.  I don’t remember which store they came from, but as you can see in the accompanying pictures each chop was vastly different in size and thickness.  In short, they were a mess, but they were also destined to be dinner so on we went.  Marinade done.  Pork in marinade.  Rice on the stove.  Massive bowl of uneaten kale salad from a potluck bbq where everyone was too hot to cook so we all brought salads… on the table.  The moment had come.

Sorry for the blur.  Apparently I was excited when I was taking the picture with my phone.

Sorry for the blur. Apparently I was excited when I was taking the picture with my phone.

I successfully navigated the propane (after a few fruitless attempts to light the burner before I realized there was no gas) and burners, getting a good fire going and letting the grill heat.  Then on the chops went.  Nothing burst into flames, and I laughed at myself for how nerve wracking that one moment was.  In my head as I hovered with the pork in tongs over the grill I could hear my upstate New York friends saying to get on with it.  So on they went.  I had the best of intentions to take the smaller pieces off first but then just decided to give myself a pass and get the pork cooked.  Sorry, Dave.  I hope I didn’t let you down there, but a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

I tried to remember the trick for perfect grill marks from when I worked at the Blue Bayou, but no dice.  I'll keep practicing.

I tried to remember the trick for perfect grill marks from when I worked at the Blue Bayou, but no dice. I’ll keep practicing.

I did, at least, remember to let my greatly disparately sized chops rest before diving in.

I did, at least, remember to let my greatly disparately sized chops rest before diving in.

In the end, the pork was delicious.  And, yes, the smaller piece was over done, but Little Man didn’t mind and nothing was overly caramelized (aka burnt).  My kitchen stayed cool-ish, at least in the fact that I didn’t add much more heat to it with my cooking, and I’d gotten over the first fear of using the grill.  Now my summer dinner plans have opened up with the new addition of grilling to my repertoire.  I’m thinking of some grilled tandoori chicken soon perhaps.  We’ll see.

Ta da...

Ta da…

Some day I’ll have to tackle the charcoal bbq beast, but for now the quickness of propane is my new “go to” for the days when I just can’t face the stove.  I’ll just need a nice icy beverage in my hand next time.

Little Man and Pooh Bear decide that the pork was pretty good and that Mommy is allowed to grill again sometime.

Little Man and Pooh Bear decide that the pork was pretty good and that Mommy is allowed to grill again sometime.

The Sheep Are Out Again… Wait, What?

The very first meal that we ate in this house inspired the name of this blog, the sheep are out.  I won’t retell the story here, but you can read about it in the first post that is linked here.

Whadda ya lookin' at?  Can we get back to our snack now?

Whadda ya lookin’ at? Can we get back to our snack now?

Since that time the sheep have gotten out a couple more times, generally their short-lived freedom being spent nibbling and pooping (lots of pooping) in the garden.  There’s also been a loose horse in the front yard, munching by the basketball hoop, as well as various and a sundry other wildlife.

Running with the bulls… I mean the sheep…

So when Dave came bursting into the living room last night after just having put Little Man to bed and said that I needed to look outside, I flew to the front door.  Outside I was greeted by a group of sheep munching away around Little Man’s sand box.  They looked a bit chagrined that their late night snack was being interrupted.  Luckily Dave was doing the sheep herding and steered them down the driveway rather than the shorter distance through the garden (which I likely would have done without thinking about the consequences) since it would have been destroyed.

Wait for me!

I have to say that Dave is becoming a quite proficient with his sheep herding, much better than our first night here back in 2013.  Hopefully the sheep don’t take this as a challenge to up their game.  Until then, the sheep were out, but are now… noisily… back in their pens.

A Red Wheel Barrow

So much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.
-Poem by William Carlos Williams

I first read that poem in high school and promptly forgot it.  It was nearly 10 years later, after university as I worked in the “real world” that I decided I liked the ivory tower better and wanted to go back to graduate school.  Only after starting graduate school would I remember the rainwater glazed wheel barrow.

I was in Turkey for my first archaeology field season when Williams’ wheel barrow came to mind.  Maybe it was the pastoral setting with sheep, goats and turkeys rampaging across the golden countryside.  Maybe it was the horizon dotted by slow moving tractors harvesting grain that would feed most of the country.  Or maybe it was the fact that I’d discovered how intensely, mind numbingly boring archaeology can be at times.  I’m not sure what the impetus was, but I was in immediate need of poetry.

Don’t get me wrong, I love archaeology, but there are days when you’ve come across nothing, nothing, nothing, but more dirt, nothing to get your mind working on anything.  It was one of those mornings where I’d found nothing but more dirt… again… that I found myself quoting poems memorized in high school.  Emily Dickenson’s “Because I Could Not Stop for Death.”  Random Shakespearean sonnets.  And what bugged me was that I couldn’t remember the one about the wheel barrow and the chickens. It just seemed to fit somehow, but I couldn’t remember the words and there was no wifi for miles and miles.

In fact, not only was there no wifi, but there was no electricity, no running water, no cars at the village across from our excavation site.  My favorite thing was to watch as the donkey drawn cart come trundling over the hill, dangling with plastic bowls, metal pots, children’s toys, and other paraphernalia that the local villagers might want to purchase.  Often on those same days we would see the ice cream donkey hoofing it over the hill.  The donkey was led by a young boy and had two large, orange, insulated drink containers strapped to his sides, both filled with the local ice cream that is blended with pounded orchids giving it a distinctively gummy texture.  It’s an acquired taste.  At the time I didn’t know that this was not the glorious rainbow sherbet that just the mention of caused my parched mouth to water.  When I finally gathered up the courage after weeks of excavation to get some ice cream from the lad… I ended up burying it in my back dirt pile the minute he was over the hill again.  Maybe it was just his local batch, but it had the overall flavor of what I can only imagine old tires must taste like.

My garden plot needed a bit of elbow grease, especially with the amazing kale finally going to seed after a mild winter.

My garden plot needed a bit of elbow grease, especially with the amazing kale finally going to seed after a mild winter.

What brought all of this to mind was me digging in the dirt of my garden patch.  After our relatively warm winter, my plot had begun to look rather… what’s a polite word for it… scruffy… unkempt… bordering on embarrassing.  I hacked away at the clumps of stubborn grass and filled my borrowed red wheel barrow to the rim twice with fluffy, green toupees to dump in the pig pen.  The pigs seemed to have fun tossing them in the air.  Or at least I think they are having fun.  They might have been vehemently stating that fluffy, green toupees of grass are not delightful pig snacks.  Just to be sure I brought them some wonderfully wilted vegetable scraps later.  Those pigs have long memories.

Getting the kale out was the easy part.  That grass toupee was obnoxious.

Getting the kale out was the easy part. That grass toupee was obnoxious.

But that brings me back to the wheel barrow, glazing rain water and chickens.  So much depends upon…  Still makes me smile.  As I swung my scythe of doom for weeds (aka a borrowed hoe that I likely should not be swinging like a scythe) poems from high school streamed through my mind.  Foremost has been the white chickens by the red wheel barrow.  Though in my mind this is followed by a curly haired little boy chasing the said chickens amid much cackling from boy and chickens.

The grass toupees are gone, and I've moved the parsley and chives to their

The grass toupees are gone, and I’ve moved the parsley and chives to their “new” garden plan locations.

Let the gardening games begin...

Let the gardening games begin…

Strawberry Trees

When we moved to Vancouver Island from the American Midwest it was amazing to be living next to the sea with the cedar forests literally reaching to the shore.  These were also some of the oddest shores that I’d ever seen.  Being on the sheltered, eastern side of the island there is no surf pounding the shore, just gentle lapping ripples so there is sound that I generally associate with being at the beach.  Since there are no waves, there are also no surfers or even sponges (aka body boarders… sorry…).  In fact, there is no sand.  Instead we have pebble beaches, save for a few places to the north.  That said, with the occasional eagle soaring overhead, the sun sparkling off of the sapphire waters, and the forests extending right down to the water the views are stunning.

Little Man exploring the shore at Transfer Beach.

Pooh Bear… I mean Little Man… exploring the shore at Transfer Beach.

Nope, that's not a lake. That's the calm Pacific Ocean on the east side of Vancouver Island at Transfer Beach.

Nope, that’s not a lake. That’s the calm Pacific Ocean on the east side of Vancouver Island at Transfer Beach.

The forests are also unique to the island, at least in my experience.  In my defense before moving here I had been living in the corn belt for 5 years, where the land is so flat it seems as if you can actually see the horizon bend in the distance.  When we first moved here there was a certain type of tree that kept catching my eye.  Interspersed throughout the cedar, fir and alder, were smooth barked, rust colored trees that I’d never seen before.  They looked vaguely like the eucalyptus that I’m familiar with from California with their smooth barked trunks, but eucalyptus grow ramrod straight and these are curved and bent into Seussian shapes.  Eventually when exploring various parks with Little Man we came across one of those helpful informational signs informing us that these are arbutus tress.  Apparently one of the original Spanish explorers saw these gorgeous trees and was reminded of the strawberry trees from his homeland.  Or at least that’s what I remember from the sign at Neck Point.  Little Man insists the sign states that we should turn left on the trail and head for China.  One of us must be closer to correct than the other.

My intrepid navigators debate the B.C. Strawberry Tree sign at Neck Point.

My intrepid navigators debate the B.C. Strawberry Tree sign at Neck Point.

One of my favorite views of spring on the island is that of the blooming arbutus trees.  They are covered with large, creamy, star shaped flowers that look vaguely elvish.  It was a lovely spring morning so Little Man and I went tromping outside, me with my camera and he with his “kung fu sticks” (aka a long skinny branch and a green plastic tomato pole from my garden).  In the picture with Little Man blasting past an arbutus, he’s heading to the metal gate of the sheep enclosure to drum for the sheep.  The long suffering animals took off down to the lower meadow where Little Man’s musical offering wasn’t quite so loud.  He insisted that the sheep liked his music and was quite chagrined when I suggested we move on to give the sheep a bit of peace and quiet. Apparently I am not as well attuned to the musical tastes of sheep as he is.

An arbutus tree behind the barn.

An arbutus tree behind the barn.

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The sheep have fled the music.

Arbutus blossoms

Arbutus blossoms

With the warm spring sunshine, an amazing amount of blue sky, and the ground drying out from our deluge, it’s time to start thinking garden thoughts… or at least to start wresting my garden from the embrace of the mass of crab grass that sits like a jaunty toupee on my lovely plot.  But that is for a later post.

A crab grass toupee.

A crab grass toupee.

Morning light from under an arbutus tree.

Morning light from under an arbutus tree.

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Friendship Cookies and Good Bye Tears

Sometimes there are things that I want to write about, but the moment is a bit too close at hand.  I started to write this post last August after a dear friend from Pella and her family visited us for a couple of days in the middle of their epic road trip from Iowa to British Columbia and then back down to the Oregon coast.

Dinner on the Deck

Dinner on the Deck

Visiting the fairy doors at Neck Point.

Visiting the fairy doors at Neck Point.

We’ve done a lot of moving around, Dave and I.  From various apartments in upstate New York during graduate school through our impromptu academic tour of the American Midwest and now to Vancouver Island.  Most of these “homes” have not lasted for more than two years before we move again following the job market.  In each of these places we have been blessed with some amazing friends.  The kind who we may not see for a year (or more), but the minute you are back in contact it’s as if you were never apart.  Conversations pick up as if we had just been chatting yesterday, and it is this effortlessness that makes it all the more gut wrenching when you have to leave them again.

Learning to skip stones at Neck Point.

Learning to skip stones at Neck Point.

Also checking out the gorgeous sea life in the shallow waters.  Can you see all the tiny crabs?

Also checking out the gorgeous sea life in the shallow waters. Can you see all the tiny crabs?

Sailing cork boats at Transfer Beach, Ladysmith.

Sailing cork boats at Transfer Beach, Ladysmith.

Which brings us back to the post that I started last August.  Little Man still talks about Iowa as a place that he wants to go back and visit.  In fact, he consistently talks about how “tomorrow” we need to catch a plane and go to Iowa then to China to visit his Kung Fu Panda friends.  At first I thought he assumed that all travel must go through Iowa since that is the last place that he traveled from on our move here.  So we pulled out the globe and his map and I showed him how Iowa is in no way closer to China than we are here.  Then Little Man explained to me that the goal was to visit Iowa and his blue home (our house there was painted blue with a scarlet front door), then to travel on to the Jade Palace in China.  Ah…

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When our friends came out to visit from Iowa, it was as if we’d just parted company the day before, not the year it was in real time.  We played, the kids played, and we ate, drank and talked for hours.  It was fantastic.  And as is often the case, the better the visit is, the sadder the departure.  We had already taught Little Man the Turkish tradition of throwing water on the vehicle of loved ones who are leaving to ensure that they must come back soon.  So as they were getting into their car, Little Man was urging me on quickly to grab a container of water to make sure they came back.  We dowsed the car, and are still waiting with baited breath for them to return.

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He was quiet as we went back inside after their departure.  We closed the front door and Little Man looked out the window watching their car disappear around the corner into the woods.  Dave scooped Little Man up and took him to the couch in his arms.
“Daddy, what does ‘sad’ mean?”
Little Man’s head was bowed so all I could see were his golden curls, not his face.
“Sad is something we feel when we are upset.  Are you sad that your friends are leaving?”
A nod of curls followed by, “Do you cry when you feel sad?”
“Yes, some times we cry when we feel sad,”  Daddy said.  “It’s OK to cry when we feel sad.  It’s OK to cry.”  Daddy folded him in his arms as Little Man’s face crumpled into tears.

Paparazzi taking photos of dinner.

Paparazzi taking photos of dinner.

We had to treat our Iowa friends to some locally caught salmon.  This time packet grilled and seasoned with ginger, garlic, chives and soy.

We had to treat our Iowa friends to some locally caught wild salmon. The salmon was packet grilled and seasoned with ginger, garlic, chives and soy.

Dave's famous... I mean, Joe's famous potatoes.

Dave’s famous… I mean, Joe’s famous potatoes (Cabin Grilled Potatoes)

This much sauteed kale with garlic, came from...

This much sauteed kale with garlic, came from…

this much rainbow chard that came from...

this much rainbow chard that came from…

my glorious garden.  I can't wait to see it lush like this again!

my glorious garden. I can’t wait to see it lush like this again!

I stood in the kitchen, “good bye” tears in my eyes, and tried to gain control.  My “plan” had been to hold it together for Little Man’s sake, so I could comfort myself with tears later after he was asleep.  No such luck.  So instead I baked.  The known movements of measuring, portioning and stirring were comforting, as was the aroma from the oven.  For this moment, for me at least, the main point wasn’t the special treat to eat afterwards, but the actions and senses leading up to it.

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That visit spurred me on to try to find Little Man more friends here on our island.  He was only 2 1/2 when we left Iowa, but all of his little friends that he’d known since birth were now far away and it’s hard (even for a little guy) to break into a community like Nanaimo where many people have lived for generations and don’t know what it’s like to be new in a place and friendless.  Now, to celebrate when we make new friends or for special play dates (generally outside ones where errant chocolate chips won’t ruin someone’s couch), I like to make a baked treat to bring along.  Sometimes this means mini-muffins or scones, but what we’ve started thinking of as special treats with friends are cookies.

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One of my favorite comfort foods is an old fashioned chocolate chip cookie.  However, the “old fashioned” part has had to be updated a bit for our current dietary requirements.  My goal here was to take that standard recipe for a delicious chocolate chip cookie with crispy edges and a chewy center loaded with chocolate chips, and make it into something that while it would be a stretch to call it “healthy” I could feel good about feeding my child and offering to other children (and parents, of course).  So in my case that meant getting rid of the wheat and using spelt flour, which still has some gluten for texture but has less of the gastro-issues than wheat has, and sneaking in some chia meal to up the “goodness” value.

As I’ve written before, there’s no need to go out and buy a special bag of chia meal.  If you have chia seeds at home, all you need to do is pour some of the seeds into a coffee grinder or food processor and blitz them up.  Creating your own chia meal has the added benefits of making all the great nutrients of chia more easily accessible to your body, and there is less chance of a stray whole chia seed getting into your dishwasher and growing like a chia pet.  If you don’t have chia, but do have flax seeds feel free to use them the same way.  If you have neither, then you can simply replace the amount of chia meal for a flour of your choice, or even oats.

Enough talking, let’s make some cookies…

Not So Traditional Chocolate Chip Cookies

Not So Traditional Chocolate Chip Cookies
Ingredients
:
2 cups spelt flour (or whole wheat)
¼ cup chia meal (see note)
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) good quality dairy free margarine (or butter), softened
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup white sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 375°. Set aside an ungreased baking sheet.
  2. Combine the spelt flour, chia meal, baking soda and salt in a small bowl. Set this aside.
    I was making these cookies more or less in the dark since Little Man was having a hard time nodding off that night.  So if the flash seems a bit harsh, that's because it was the only light source.

    I love how the chia meal always looks like I’ve just dumped a ton of black pepper into a recipe. Trust me, it will work its way in unobtrusively soon.

    See, the chia meal is whisked into the rest of the dry ingredients and away it goes.

    See, the chia meal is whisked into the rest of the dry ingredients and away it goes.

  3. Combine the softened margarine (or butter), sugars and vanilla in a large bowl either by hand or with an electric beater or stand mixer. Make sure the mixture is smooth and creamy.

    There's no need to use any other tool than a large spoon and a little elbow grease to combine the wet ingredients here.

    There’s no need to use any other tool than a large spoon and a little elbow grease to combine the wet ingredients here.

  4. Add the eggs, one at a time, to the butter mixture, combining well.

    Adding the eggs, one at a time.

    Adding the eggs, one at a time.

  5. Carefully add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, stirring slowly at first so that you don’t create a flour cloud by beating your ingredients too enthusiastically. Make sure that the dough is smooth and thoroughly combined.

    I did the sizing of the bowls backwards in this picture, so this step might look a little different for you.  It will still taste amazing in the end.

    I did the sizing of the bowls backwards in this picture, so this step might look a little different for you. It will still taste amazing in the end.

  6. Add the chocolate chips, stirring just to distribute them throughout.

    I'm surprised that Little Man didn't sense the chocolate being added to the bowl and run out in his pjs requesting a sample.

    I’m surprised that Little Man didn’t sense the chocolate being added to the bowl and run out in his pjs requesting a sample.

  7. Using two spoons (or a small scoop if you are feeling fancy) scoop out and drop tablespoon-sized portions of dough onto the baking sheet, spacing them a few inches apart since the dough will spread while baking.

    The dough is a little glossy here since the cookies had been in the oven for a minute or so before I remembered to take the photo.

    The dough is a little glossy here since the cookies had been in the oven for a minute or so before I remembered to take the photo.

  8. Bake the cookies for 9-11 minutes or until nice and golden brown. The cookies should not look wet in the middle, but will be soft when you take them off of the tray.  Don’t worry, they will firm up as they cool. Remove the tray from the oven and let the cookies sit for about 5 minutes before moving them to a cooling rack. They can be cooled completely or served immediately. Just warn little mouths about the potential for hot, melted chocolate chips.
    Perfectly golden.

    Perfectly golden.

    Dangerously ready to eat.

    Dangerously ready to eat.

  9. You can continue baking the cookies until the dough is done, or take any dough that you don’t wish to bake now, form it into a log on plastic wrap, cover it securely and keep it in the freezer until you are ready to slice and bake the cookies. You may need to increase the baking time by a few minutes, so watch them carefully towards the end. The dough can be frozen for up to a few weeks.  Enjoy!
    You can freeze cookie dough to make your own slice and bake cookies, ready whenever you want them to be.

    You can freeze cookie dough to make your own slice and bake cookies, ready whenever you want them to be.

    No, the cookie log does not need to be perfect.  You are just going to slice and bake it so don't waste too much time making the perfect cylinder, unless you have a food stylist snooping around in your freezer.

    No, the cookie log does not need to be perfect. You are just going to slice and bake it so don’t waste too much time making the perfect cylinder, unless you have a food stylist snooping around in your freezer.

Note: Make your own chia meal by blitzing up chia seeds in a coffee grinder or food processor. You can also do the same with flax seeds, or make oat flour by blitzing up whole oats (not instant, please). Store any extra chia meal in the freezer to keep it fresh.

Click here for a printable version of the Not So Traditional Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe.

All these need is a glass of milk.

All these need is a glass of milk.

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And a friend.

Walking at Neck Point.

Walking at Neck Point.

A Moment of Glamour

“Mommy, why do you have fuzzy blue cow ears on your eyes?”

Let me back up and set the stage for my astounding moment of glamour, which unfortunately spanned the week that I was at Dave’s family cabin last August.

Perhaps you have found yourself in a similar situation.  You run into the store, grabbing things off of your list with reckless abandon.  In my particular case, we were leaving for a week of vacation at Dave’s family’s cabin in the British Columbia interior that would include a family reunion with Ruth’s lady cousins from Campbell River.  There were just a few things I needed: sunscreen, toothpaste and mascara.  Everything else was packed and in the car, as were Dave and Little Man.  The ferry was waiting.  I kept mumbling to myself our archaeology field saying “don’t panic, be quick.”

The view of the lake from the cabin's deck.

The view of the lake from the cabin’s deck.

It was only after I’d gotten back into the car, we’d driven to the ferry terminal and gotten in line to drive on board that I flipped open the car’s vanity mirror and pulled out my purchases.  I wanted to finish putting on my mascara since the tube I had at home was mummy dry.  I opened the mascara package, unskrewed the lid, pulled out the brush… and stared dumbstruck at the mascara wand.  It was dry.  More than dry, it was empty.  So I put the wand back in, swirled it around and pulled it out again just to have the same view.  But now my travel rushed brain was picking up on my visual cues.  The mascara wand was not dry, but was in fact heavily coated with blue mascara.  And not just any blue, but indigo blue.  Bright, 1980s, nearly fluorescent, indigo blue.  Doh!  But at this point I had no other options.  They don’t sell mascara on the ferry.  I’d just have to wear this gloriously indigo blue mascara for the day, and we’d stop at a store in Kamloops or somewhere to buy some normal black mascara on the way.  That was a good plan, and as with all good plans…

Little Man and Papa taking a tour of the lake.

Little Man and Papa taking a tour of the lake.

So I showed Dave what I’d done, applied the mascara, and gamely kept on going as if I didn’t look completely ridiculous.  Once we were parked on the ferry, had ferried Little Man and his accoutrement to the passenger deck, and found seats, I turned to Dave and asked him to truthfully tell me how ridiculous I looked.  It’s just mascara, right?  How bad could it be?  Dave blinked and stated that it didn’t look too bad.  No one would notice.  Just then Little Man tugged on my arm and asked for one of his traveling toys.  I turned to him and handed him what he had asked for.  My darling three year old boy glanced at me, did a complete double take, stared with squinting attention at the upper part of my face and asked, “Mommy, why do you have fuzzy blue cow ears on your eyes?”  I said nothing, just turned to look at Dave, who at this point had burst into hysterical laughter and was close to falling out of his chair.  I still owe him for that.

Papa showing Little Man the finer points of battling with water noodles.  I'm not sure who instigated things...

Papa showing Little Man the finer points of battling with water noodles. I’m not sure who instigated things…

As it ended up, somewhere in the joys of the six hour car trip with a three year old, we both completely forgot to stop at a store for mascara.  The family cabin is indeed in the interior, and it is a 45 minute trip one way just to get down to the local store.  I couldn’t justify making the drive solely for my vanity, and decided to wear my “fuzzy blue cow ear” eyes with pride.  My lovely sister-in-law took my “new look” in stride, thinking that I was just trying something different.  This makes me wonder what she thinks of my normal look…  Lest the lady cousins thought that I was truly trying to pull off a fluorescent blue mascara “look,” I shared the story of my moment of glamour… that would end up spanning the week… with them.  They took it in stride and filled my glass.  The mascara was a stunner.

This is me borrowing Little Man's lion floaty at the lake.  It makes one feel more secure when swimming to have a lion at one's side.

This is me borrowing Little Man’s lion floaty at the lake. It makes one feel more secure when swimming to have a lion at one’s side.

Once back home the tube of indigo blue mascara would live for a few months at the back of my bathroom drawer, with the thought that maybe for Halloween…  Then once that holiday passed, it went into the land of no return, aka the trash bin.  And while that particular fashion moment will hopefully not be repeated by me, it does still live in infamy as recorded in every picture of me from that week, especially in those that focus on my face like those when I am holding my then months old niece.  Ah, the glamour…

Even my baby niece is amused by the blue mascara.

Even my baby niece is amused by the blue mascara.

Always a stunner, the view of the lake changes from one moment to the next.

Always a stunner, the view of the lake changes from one moment to the next.

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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