Category Archives: Ladysmith

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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A Week on Our Own: Days 4-5

I’ve fallen a bit behind due to dealing with a lovely Springtime head cold, but to continue our saga of the Defense Week, Days 4 and 5 were a day of play and then a day of rest.  On Day 4 to celebrate Dave’s passing the Defense, Little Man and I went on a meandering Springtime adventure leading up to a picnic in one of his favorite parks.

We began our trek by stopping at Coco Cafe in Cedar for a picnic lunch.  After securing an amazing Roasted Chicken Club on thick, multigrain bread, a Carrot Muffin (Little Man’s arctic fox teddy apparently loves carrots), and a Mandarin Orange sparkling water for myself we were off again.  Cedar Street is a meandering half-circle, more or less, that goes through the town of Cedar and out towards North Oyster and the airport.  Along the way you also come across Fredrich’s Honey House, one of Little Man’s favorite places.

Today at the Honey House we’d brought along a couple of our empty honey jars to be refilled.  I’ve got plans for a post with the contents of one of the jars soon so keep your eyes peeled.  One of the jars we brought to be filled was Little Man’s own “tiny, tiny, tiny” honey jar that he was given there full of Blackberry Honey last summer when we visited for the first time.  We filled up the jars with their local wild flower honey and a gorgeous dark honey, sampling as we went.  Little Man liked them both, but thought the dark honey was the best.  Then with his little jar clutched tightly in a fist and a wooden tasting stick in Mommy’s bag we were off again.  This time we were heading for the park for our picnic.

Our destination for the day was Transfer Beach Park in Ladysmith.  Ladysmith is about 20 minutes south of Nanaimo, and is the town where we went for the Ladysmith Lights display last November.  It’s a cute town, perched on a San Fransisco-esque hill overlooking the ocean.  At the Transfer Beach light turn toward the ocean and follow the curving road down past an old steam engine, past the amphitheater and turn left into the parking lot by the playground.

An astute viewer might notice that Dave is in this picture while the post is about him being in New York.  These photos were taken just after Dave got back, since I failed to take photos earlier.

An astute viewer might notice that Dave is in this picture while the post is about him being in New York. These photos were taken just after Dave got back, since I failed to take photos earlier.

There are two playgrounds, one shaped like a ship for the little ones and a larger contraption of swinging bridges and slides for the more adventurous kiddos.  We generally only spend a short time on the playgrounds, since Little Man’s favorite thing to do is to go down to the pebble beach and throw rocks into the ocean.  I think soon we’ll come back with a little cork boat on a string and see how that fares in the calm waters.

Skipping rocks is the best thing ever.

Skipping rocks is the best thing ever.

While the playtime was great, the picnic was a little less successful.  It consisted mostly of me chasing my toddler around the playground with the chicken sandwich and him giggling maniacally as he dashed this way and that, clutching the arctic fox under his arm, and sprinting for anything he could run around.  All in all a good time was had by all, including the fox, and we succeeded in a good nap time once home.

Day 5: Face Time

After our shenanigans the day before, we played Day 5 close to home.  Dave spent the day with our dear family friends in New York, and I spent the day wishing desperately that we were there with them.  The highlight was later that afternoon when we got to do some Face Time chatting with Dave and our friends.  Little Man was a bit confused as to why Daddy couldn’t appear at his door immediately after appearing on the computer, but in the end was just happy to get some time to chat with his dad.  The next day was to be an all day travel extravaganza for Dave, and a good bit of cleaning for us.

Operation Daddy Sign: Day 4/5

We finalized the Congratulations, Daddy! sign over these two days.  On Day 4 I took a gigantic Sharpie marker and wrote the words on the sign while Aiden took his nap.  Once the ink was completely dry we added a little more glitter glue to the sign, and I added some glitter glue accents to a few of the letters that were written over dark paint and weren’t showing up as well.

The completed "Congratulations Daddy" sign.

The completed “Congratulations Daddy” sign.

A detail shot of the added glitter glue to make dark letters a bit more legible.

A detail shot of the added glitter glue to make dark letters a bit more legible.

Now the stage was set, all we needed was for Dave to make it home.

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Ladysmith Lights

Now that we’re into December and the Christmas season, our American and Canadian holiday schedules are finally coming together… but they got there in a very odd way.  Christmas is Christmas, whether celebrated in the States or in Canada.  Our dates and traditions are mostly the same, and it’s nice to feel a part of something that the people around you are gearing up for too.  To start our Christmas season here on the island, our little family went to a local holiday light festival.  This festival just happened to fall on the same date as American Thanksgiving, so our two holiday schedules collided in an odd mash up of Thanksgiving thoughts and Christmas imagery.

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Since I’m still getting to know the area, I admittedly knew little about the town of Ladysmith where the Light Up festival was held other than the fact that it is mainly perched on the side of a mountain with painfully steep inclines that rival those of San Francisco.  When we got to the festival, the early winter night was in full swing and the streets were packed with people eager to see the lights and the parade, and we slolumed down the hill with Little Man’s jogging stroller to be greeted by a fire juggler.  The flames were the only special lights to be seen, since the special tree lighting ceremony had not yet been held and the copious holiday lights lining and crisscrossing the street had not yet been lit.

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Our arrival coincided with dinner time, and both Little Man and I started to fade fast.  So the three of us scouted up one hill and down the other, looking for a good place for dinner.  There were some street food vendors that looked interesting, but with Little Man and all of our stuff (jogging stroller that we would not have survived without on those hills, potty seat and all assorted clothing changes in case potty was not achieved, etc.) we needed a place to sit indoors where it was warm.

What we found was a little Chinese/Vietnamese restaurant called The Wigwam (I have no idea why it has that name), which based on the stories we overheard during dinner sounds like it has been around for decades.  I was a bit leery of eating in a Chinese restaurant with that name, but it seemed the best of our options and a booth opened up just as we got there.  Because of the special parade night and the extra influx of diners they were only offering buffet (or smorgasbord as they say here north of the border… “smorg” for short), and it was pretty good.  There were lots of good vegetables, sauces that tasted “real” not from weird packets, and copious amounts of Chinese tea to warm us from fingers to toes before going outside again.  So while dinner was good, it was arguable the strangest Thanksgiving meal I’ve ever had… ever…

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While we were inside toasty warm having dinner, we missed the lighting of the tree and the start of the parade.  Then suddenly, from our booth in the Wigwam restaurant, we started to see the most massive semis going down the street, festooned with hundreds of lights and blaring their horns.  Thus was answered the question of how on earth they were going to get dozens of parade floats up and down those near vertical hills… with large trucks.  It was stunning, both visually and audibly.  We quickly finished our meal and headed outside to see things better.  Soon Little Man, who was on his dad’s shoulders for a better view of the floats, had Pooh Bear and his hands clamped over his ears.  When his looks of wide eyed wonder turned to fear at the thought of one more truck horn, we decided it was time to go.

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Before we could go far, we passed a store front where the wafting smell of cinnamon and sugar stopped us in our tracks.  Dave and Little Man stayed outside to watch a few more floats, and I got in line at the awesome Old Town Bakery.  The display cases were full of pies, cookies and the most amazing array of cinnamon and caramel rolls I’ve seen in a long time.  Since it was American Thanksgiving, I kept myself focused on the task and limited myself to one apple pie and three small ginger cookies.  Then back out into the cold to rescue my boys.

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We tromped up yet another hill to catch a shuttle trolley ride back to our car.  Had to stop only once for an impromptu use of the potty seat in someone’s driveway, and then finally made it up to the shuttle stop.  After a short wait we all loaded on, and shortly after the shuttle started moving the fireworks started.  We finished the fireworks display in our car in the parking lot, and then all three exhausted holidayers headed home.  Next year we will plan things differently.  Probably a light dinner in advance so we can have a street food treat at the festival.  Definitely warmer clothes complete with hats and gloves so we can stomp around outside while waiting to see the official lighting of the tree.  And most importantly, Little Man will get to join me in the Old Town Bakery to make his own selection from their amazing cases.  It will feel just like Christmas.

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A Corn Maze and the Making of Fall Traditions

When Dave and I first started dating I was surprised to learn that Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving also; though their holiday is a month earlier (on the second Monday in October).  I’d always thought of Thanksgiving as a uniquely American holiday, but in fact it is not.  The importance of the Thanksgiving meal, however, does vary greatly between the two nations.  In Canada, or at least on Vancouver Island, there no displays in stores, no Thanksgiving-themed commercials, no chatter about getting together with family, or trying to figure out long distance travel to get home for this one evening.  Instead, all the focus seems to be on Halloween, complete with fireworks.  Our cats will not be amused…

With this difference in Autumn celebrations, I feel out of sync with the season.  Halloween seems on time, but the fact that Thanksgiving is already over leaves me feeling like I’ve missed out on something important.  We had a great Canadian Thanksgiving, and we will be celebrating American Thanksgiving come the end of November, but in the meantime we’re trying to carve out some new Fall traditions and get into sync with our new community.  In Nanaimo that means a trip to McNab’s Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch.

A perfectly foggy day for the corn maze and pumpkin patch.

A perfectly foggy day for the corn maze and pumpkin patch.

The day we went was a little late in the season, since it was after Thanksgiving (Canadian) and most of the really big pumpkins were gone.  However, they had tons of small to medium pumpkins, a local school fundraiser with all the homemade baked goods my heart could ask for, and the corn maze was still in full swing.  I was already feeling nostalgic for Iowa since a much-missed friend was throwing a fall celebration party with all of our friends, and we had just passed the dates for two of our favorite things to do in Iowa; the Farm Crawl and the Brews and Muse Festival at Peacetree Brewery.  Oh, friends, we were sure missing you on those weekends (especially those friends who shall remain nameless but kept sending emails and Facebook comments about the delicious new brews from Peacetree that we were missing out on… trisky hobbits that you are).

So with homesick hearts we went looking for new traditions at the pumpkin patch.  I assure you I never thought in my life that I’d say I was homesick for Iowa, but I’m getting sincerely tired of leaving places behind that have become home.  In our quest for new traditions to make this place home, McNabb’s did not disappoint.

Even after living in the American Midwest for five years, I had never been to a corn maze.  At Farm Crawl there was a corn maze, but I was always more interested in Pierce’s Pumpkin Patch, the borscht served at Coyote Run Farm, and the amazing preserves, people and brew (Peacetree again…) at Blue Gate Farm.  So McNab’s was my first time to be in and amongst the corn.

Dave and Little Man heading towards the corn maze.

Dave and Little Man heading towards the corn maze.

Surrounded by corn... like being back in Iowa.

Surrounded by corn… like being back in Iowa.

The day was perfectly foggy for an Autumn trip to the pumpkin patch, and we headed off to the maze first.  We had a great time trying to get lost, and searching (often fruitlessly) for the little markers hidden in the paths.  Apparently the markers haven’t been moved in years so the locals all know where they are, but since we’re new the hunt was still fun.  Once the chill of the maze started to get to us, and the enclosed space of the corn from Little Man’s viewpoint started to wear on him, we took the Hay Ride tractor to the pumpkin patch.  Here we selected a couple of pumpkins, had them measured and then heaved them back to the tractor, wishing we had brought the stroller to carry our pumpkin booty.

Hmmm... Which one can I carry all the way to the front?

Hmmm… Which one can I carry all the way to the front?

As we got off the tractor at the front of the farm, we ran into some friends from town, and hung around the fire pits chatting.  That is the sort of thing you miss when you move often; the regular meeting of friends in public places.  Little Man ran around with their kids, visiting the piglets and goats, and climbing massive downed stumps.

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When Little Man finally started showing signs of wearing down and needing lunch, we headed off for lunch.  We could have stayed there for hot dogs, but the morning was cold and we all wanted some warm, inside rest.  So we headed for Coco Café in Cedar.  The café’s name is an acronym for the Cedar Opportunities Co-Operative, whose mission is to provide developmentally disabled adults with employment opportunities within their community.  This year the maze was dedicated to Coco’s, and I had heard of it before as well.  It has the reputation of being a nice little café with cozy atmosphere and good, local food, for good prices.  Perfect.

Walking into Coco Café I caught a glimpse of our little family in the glass door; all looking cold, dazed, hungry, and distinctively muddy.  Inside I ordered a hot cocoa, and Dave got coffee.  Little Man was very pleased with my drink choice, and did his best to polish off my whipped cream before I could get to it myself.  Dave had a Thai Curried Chicken Panini with a green side salad.  Little Man had the grilled cheese on an awesome whole wheat bread; and I had a massive bowl of Beef and Barley soup complete with a good-sized hunk of warm Pumpernickel, rich with molasses.  Dave’s Panini was great, and we were both impressed with the salad.  After our time in the Midwest we had come to loath side salads since inevitably they were tasteless piles of wilted, ice berg lettuce buried under a mound of not-cheese.  At Coco Cafe even the side salads were great.  Not a hint of iceberg lettuce to be seen, but only dark, lovely salad greens with a homemade vinaigrette.  Little Man liked his sandwich, but preferred my cocoa; and my soup was divine.  It was full of great vegetables, barley and beef, the broth was rich and stew-like with a good amount of black pepper.  This soup was a perfect example of why homemade soup is so much better than the stuff from a can.  All in all we had a great, home style lunch that did not break the bank, and which warmed us up from our stomachs to our fingers and toes.

On the way back home, Dave struggled to keep Little Man awake so that he could take a nice long nap at home.  Little Man, for his part, did his best to hide behind his Pooh Bear and fall asleep.  In the end we all had great naps, and ever since I’ve been fixated on hot beverages.  I want drinks that I can hold in a real mug, not paper or factory made, but something made by real hands, something that fits nicely between my palms, and warms me from the fingers on out.  And that brings me to my family’s Wassle; a hot mulled cider that fills the home and the heart with the aroma of the holidays.

This recipe for wassle comes from my dad’s side of the family, and just a whiff of this simmering away in the slow cooker makes me think of “family.”  I don’t mean “family” in the sense of just the three of us, but of gatherings of loved ones, whether or not you are biologically related, where you can just relax and be at home.  In fact, it’s worth making this wassle just for the aroma.

When Dave and I first made this wassle for our friends-who-became-family in upstate New York, their first comment was “mmmm… this is good…” followed quickly by asking if we’d ever tried this with rum.  We hadn’t.  We did.  It was delicious.  But I have to say, this wassle is amazing on its own and doesn’t need any accoutrement.  What sets it apart from other mulled ciders I’ve tried is the mixture of apple cider with pineapple, orange and apricot nectars.  Cardamom and cinnamon round out the spiciness of the hot, hot drink, and are key to its aroma.  There is no added sugar, the juices are sweet enough as it is.  So if you’re having friends/family over and want that scent of the holidays that will stop them in their tracks the minute they set foot in your home, this is the wassle for you.  The only problem will be getting them to leave later, since it’s so nice to just sit with loved ones while cradling a mug of this wassle in your hands.

Wassle (A Hot Mulled Cider)

Ingredients

4 cups apple cider

4 cups unsweetened pineapple juice

1 ½ cup apricot nectar

1 cup orange juice

6 cinnamon sticks

1 tsp. whole green cardamom

Directions:

  1. Pour all juices into your slow cooker and turn it on to high.
  2. Place the cardamom pods on your cutting board and crush them with the back of a spoon or flat of a knife.  Alternatively, crush the pods in a mortar and pestle (I just can’t find mine since the move…)
  3. Add the cinnamon and crushed cardamom to the slow cooker.
  4. Cover and heat until pipping hot, then turn the slow cooker down to low and simmer the wassle for 25 minutes.  Enjoy!
  5. Optional: float a new cinnamon stick in each mug.

Click here for a printable version of the Wassle recipe.

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