The Post-Christmas Lull

Well, hello there! If you celebrate Christmas, like I do, I hope it was good.

My Christmas was, all in all, fairly relaxed this year. In part this was because I had more than a week off leading up to the holiday, since the last day of school was December 16. And in part this was because I had (minor) dental surgery on December 21. It was my third gum graft, and it went well. Since I didn’t want to have to do any shopping after the procedure, though, I did my best to get all of my preparations squared away by December 20.

This level of preparedness is unheard of for me. But I pulled it off. And so, by the time the procedure was finished at noon four days before Christmas, I didn’t have much to do. I went home, laid on my couch, ate pudding, and binged holiday movies on Netflix. My favourite? Love, Actually. It was kind of nice to just relax and enjoy, hanging out with the kids and taking Christmas at a slower pace.

pudding gum graft dental surgery

Once our Christmas celebrations were over (which was at around noon on Christmas day), however, all this downtime started wearing thin.

I started knitting, which has been great. It’s been a while since I took needles to yarn, but I’m back at it. As I noted in my last post I recently ordered some yarn. While I wait for it to arrive, it occurred to me that maybe I should finish that Clapotis I started three(ish) years ago. I’m still not done, but I’m making headway.

My husband has taken advantage of this opportunity to work on a freelance project that he’s got going on.

My daughter has been drawing. Because she is always, always, always making art. Plus, she got a new artist’s tablet for Christmas.

My eight-year-old son, on the other hand, started watching Trollhunters on Netflix. So far, he’s four episodes in. Here’s his review:

I would give it four out of five stars. I like that it has funny things, like Toby. I also liked it when the gnome attacked Jim in the dollhouse. I did not like when Aargh said ‘pacifist’ instead of ‘no fighting’ because then the littler kids wouldn’t know what it means.

So, that’s his take on that. The folks at Netflix also sent me a recipe for an Aargh approved gemstone candy recipe. If you don’t already have too much sugar in your house, give it a try. You can click for a larger image.

rock candy recipe netflix trollhunters

We do have plans to get out of the house, too. Tomorrow my daughter and I are going to see Mary Poppins on stage with my mother-in-law and sister-in-law. Later this week we’re planning on going skiing. But all in all, things are pretty chill.

I hope your post-Christmas lull is going well. What have you been up to?

This is my final post as a member of the Netflix Stream Team. The opinions in the post are my own, but take the fact that I received cool promotional swag from Netflix while I was on the team as you will.

Singing the Dishwasher Blues + Homemade Cleaning Products

Sometimes, in life, you learn things the easy way. Other times, you learn things the hard way. On Thursday night I learned things the hard way.

It all began innocently enough. I had run out of dishwasher detergent – but I remembered that I had an old sample of Sunlight somewhere under my sink. I dug it out, popped the little packet in the soap dispenser, and started the dishwasher while I washed the pots and pans by hand. Normally I prefer to use greener dishwashing products, but when someone sends a free sample my way I’ll use it, especially when I’m out of my regular detergent. No biggie, right?

Once I finished up with the handwashing, I turned around to wash the kitchen counter. That’s when I saw it: a big soapy puddle spreading out beneath the dishwasher. It was huge. Had I accidentally put regular dish soap in the dishwasher? I’d always heard that doing that would lead to a mess like this. But the soap had come in a neat little packet. Dish soap for handwashing doesn’t come in packets. I grabbed the bag the sample had come in, and that’s when I saw the words LAUNDRY DETERGENT in all caps across the top. This is when I learned – the hard way – that you should never put laundry soap in the dishwasher.

I called for my husband, who came running with towels. We sopped up the mess and drained the dishwasher, then ran the rinse cycle. Then I ran a super-hot wash with baking soda, and another rinse cycle with vinegar. At the end, my dishes had never been cleaner. However, they smelled like ‘Spring Splash’, whatever that means. I don’t use artificially-scented laundry soap anymore, and I’d forgotten how strong they smell, and how long that scent lingers.

I recently attended a local blogger event put on by Aspen Clean. Aspen Clean is a Vancouver company that sells green cleaning products and offers green home cleaning services. The evening featured yoga, food and the chance to try making our own homemade cleaning products. We made all purpose cleaner, glass cleaner and tub and tile cleaner. I don’t love the all purpose cleaner – for most of my cleaning around the house I just use castile soap, and I found that it works just as well or better than my homemade spray. The glass cleaner was good, and I’ll likely keep using it. However, the tub and tile cleaner really knocked my socks off. I normally just use baking soda for any scouring I do, but this worked much better. I am sort of smitten.

green living homemade cleaning products tub and tile cleaner

Here’s the recipe for the tub and tile cleaner:

Tub & Tile Cleaner

2 cups baking soda
1.5 Tbsp castile soap
20 drops essential oil (I used lavender, but you could choose whatever you enjoy)

Mix the ingredients well and store in a reusable container. Aspen Clean was kind enough to provide me with a shaker bottle, and I find that it works very well, but failing that I’m sure a glass jar or even an old yogurt tub would work well.

After my dishwasher fiasco, I’m considering making my own dishwasher detergent. I found some recipes online, but I’m still debating which one to go with. This is where you come in. Have you ever made your own dishwasher soap? I’d love to hear what worked. Or I’d be happy to hear your stories of dishwasher disaster. I can’t be the only one who’s managed to flood their kitchen floor with soapy water, can I?

Ode to my Cherry Pitter

I have a serious thing for kitchen gadgets. There’s just something so compelling to me about these tools that were specifically created to help with food preparation. Egg beaters, pastry blenders, melon ballers, rolling pins, spice grinders, milk frothers, spoons and spatulas of all shapes and sizes – they combine form with function in a unique way, and call to mind timeless pictures of people preparing food of all different kinds.

It’s true that there are some kitchen gadgets that really aren’t all that useful. Some of them are cheaply made. Others have functionality that could be easily duplicated with more common tools. Other kitchen gadgets are so perfectly suited to their single purpose that you wonder how you ever cooked without them. I feel that way about my cherry pitter.

cherry pitter

Cherries are one of my favourite fruits, but preparing them can be a serious pain in the neck, thanks to all those pits. After toying with the idea of buying a cherry pitter for years, I finally took the plunge and got one of my own two years ago, specifically to make cherry ice cream. The cherry pitter made the task of removing cherry pits so much easier. I now make cherry ice cream as an annual treat, eagerly awaiting cherry season.

Recently, the folks at Whole Foods Market got in touch with me and offered to send me some cherries to celebrate the arrival of cherry season. How could I say no to free cherries? When the box arrived at my doorstep, my kids and I immediately dove right in, eating them fresh. Now that we’ve had our fill, though, I’ve been left to decide what to do with the rest. I know that I will make some cherry ice cream at some point, but right now I’d like to branch out a little. I’ve decided to try this recipe that Whole Foods passed along, for goat cheese bruschetta with cherries and mint. If you don’t eat gluten, you can substitute a gluten-free bread or cracker for the whole wheat if you whip up some of your own.

Goat Cheese Bruschetta with Cherries and Mint Whole Foods

Image courtesy of Whole Foods Market

Goat Cheese Bruschetta with Cherries and Mint

1/2 pound (about 2 cups) cherries, pitted and halved
1/4 cup lightly packed mint leaves, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp orange juice
4 slices rustic whole wheat bread, toasted
4 ounces fresh goat cheese

In a medium bowl, toss together cherries, mint and orange juice. Spread bread with goat cheese, spoon cherry mixture over the top and serve.

What about you – what’s your favourite way to use cherries? And what’s your favourite kitchen gadget? I’d love to hear!

Creating Routines: Handcrafts

Crafting my Life Creating RoutinesBefore I decided to close Crafting my Life, I was running a monthly series on the site that was all about creating positive routines. I was enjoying it quite a lot, so I decided to move it over here and re-jig it a little. Each month I’m setting one goal towards creating a more purpose-filled life. If you’d like to join in and take some steps to create better rhythms and routines in your own life, I’d love to hear how you’re doing it.

Last Month’s Recap

In March, I committed to taking time every day to list five things I love about my husband. And, I’m sad to say, I didn’t even come close to doing it every day. Between a trip to Disneyland and my own forgetfulness, I hit more like 12 days out of the 31 days in March. Even so, I feel that I noticed a difference. I’m keeping the spreadsheet, and when I’m feeling annoyed at my husband or just kind of down in the dumps I open it up, add five things, and start to feel better. So, I could be more disciplined, but on the whole it had the desired effect.

creating new routines handcrafts sewing

Creating a Routine for April

For April, I want to get back in touch with my crafty side. I put together a baby blanket for my new nephew last month, which I enjoyed immensely. It reminded me how much I like sewing. There’s something very satisfying, and even empowering, about creating something useful with your own two hands. Also, I find that when I’m watching TV I like to have something to do with my hands, and since I don’t have any knitting projects on the go, I often play iPhone games instead. (Bejeweled, anyone?) The result is way too much electronic stimulation. Plus, I often miss key points in the show since I’m distracted. I’d like to stop that, so this month I’m setting two goals:

  1. Start a new knitting project, and work on it while I’m watching TV. I’m thinking maybe a simple shawl. If you have any pattern suggestions, I’m all ears.
  2. Sew myself a new tunic. I already have the pattern (Amy Butler’s Anna Tunic) and the fabric (Valori Wells’ Mamma Birds – Gypsy), so I just need to make the time. I’m thinking playing fewer video games would be a good place to start.

Start With Small Changes

One thing I’ve learned on my journey towards a more purpose-driven life is that change happens best in small, bite-sized pieces. That’s why I’m once again choosing smaller projects. The knitting has no time frame, and the sewing project should take me a few hours, at most, if things go well. I invite you to take on some small changes as well. What could you do to improve your daily rhythm or overall mood? And, what’s holding you back from doing it? Create a new routine, and leave a comment so that we can cheer each other on!

Adventures in Homemade Deodorant

My One Green Thing for February is trying homemade deodorant. Never one to do today what I can put off ’til tomorrow, I just mixed up my first batch last night. While I experiment with it, I thought I’d share the process with you.

I did my research a few weeks ago, and found two recipes that looked promising: this one and this one. Because I like to complicate things, I combined them and improvised a little bit to create my own recipe. Here’s what I used:

  • 4 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 Tbsp beeswax
  • 4 Tbsp arrowroot flour
  • 2 Tbsp baking soda
  • 10 drops tea tree oil
  • 10 drops grapefruit seed extract
  • 10 drops lavender essential oil
  • 5 drops peppermint essential oil
  • 1 old, clean deodorant tube

homemade deodorant diy ingredients

First, I put the coconut oil and beeswax in a small saucepan over low heat to melt. While that did its thing, I combined the arrowroot and baking soda in a glass bowl.

homemade deodorant diy melting

Once the oils were melted and combined, I mixed the whole thing together and added the oils and grapefruit seed extract. Then I mixed it together as well as I could, because lumpy deodorant does not seem like a good thing. Finally, I poured as much as I could into the deodorant tube, which is sitting in my fridge hardening right now. The rest went into a glass jar, that I put upstairs in my room. The theory is that the beeswax should make it hard at room temperature, but we’ll have to see.

homemade deodorant diy results

The whole process took about 10 minutes or so, and the cost of the materials was pretty small. I bought my stick of beeswax at the farmers’ market for $2. I already had the tea tree oil, arrowroot, coconut oil, and baking soda on hand. I bought the grapefruit seed extract and essential oils, and they weren’t cheap, but I used a really small amount. I would say that my DIY deodorant is quite a lot cheaper than the real thing. Now, the only question is: will it work? I’ll report back next week and let you know.

Candy Cane Ice Cream

I am someone who believes that ice cream is a year-round food. While other people opt for something slightly less frozen in the dead of winter, I just put on another sweater. However, I do make seasonal adjustments when it comes to my ice cream consumption. Fresh raspberry ice cream, for instance, is for the summer. Pumpkin ice cream is for the fall. And when Christmas rolls around, that can mean only one thing: candy cane ice cream.

I adapted this recipe from my vanilla ice cream recipe, which I adapted from the vanilla ice cream recipe that came with my ice cream maker. I’ve made adjustments to suit my personal taste – adding slightly more vanilla, throwing in some peppermint extract for the candy cane flavour, and changing the milk-to-cream ratio. This ice cream doesn’t just contain bits of candy cane, it also contains chocolate chips. My daughter refers to it as “peppermint bark ice cream”, and I can see where she’s coming from. I use mini chocolate chips because I find the regular ones get a little too hard when they’re frozen. Breaking a tooth is not festive.

candy cane ice cream

Amber’s Candy Cane Ice Cream

* This recipe is always gluten-free!

2 1/2 cups cream
2 cups milk
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp vanilla
1 Tbsp peppermint extract
4 standard size candy canes
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

candy cane ice cream recipeMix the cream, milk, sugar, vanilla and peppermint extract together. Whisk for two or three minutes, until the sugar is dissolved. This keeps your ice cream from being gritty.

Prepare the ice cream following the directions on your ice cream maker. In mine, which is a counter top electrical machine with a freezer bowl, it takes about 25 minutes. While that’s happening, crush the candy canes by bashing them with a rolling pin. This is a great way to work out any holiday stress you’re experiencing.

When the ice cream is starting to gel nicely, and it’s within a few minutes of being finished, add the crushed candy canes and mini chocolate chips. Let it go for a few minutes longer until it’s the desired consistency. Serve it up and freeze the rest.

Yield: Approximately 2 quarts of ice cream.

Happy holidays, and happy ice cream making!

Experimenting with Homemade Sushi

When I was doing my regular weekly grocery shop on Tuesday, I had a flash of brilliance. Why not try to make sushi myself? It would be cheaper, possibly healthier, and I wouldn’t have to feel guilty about all of those styrofoam takeout containers that normally come with my sushi. What’s not to love?

Now, I have fallen victim to my own brilliant ideas before, so before I dove in headfirst I took to Twitter to ask my friends. Several of them confirmed that preparing homemade sushi was surprisingly easy. Buoyed by their reassurance, and all stocked-up with ingredients, on Thursday evening I Googled how to make sushi rice and got started. Here’s how it went:

Making Homemade Sushi: The Rice

1. I cooked the rice, being careful to rinse it thoroughly and following the instructions as well as I could. While the rice cooked, I also heated the rice vinegar, sugar and salt together. As often happens to me, I tried really hard not to let it boil as instructed, but it might have boiled a little. Or a lot. I was doing my best here, people.

Making Homemade Sushi: The Vegetables

2. While the rice cooled, my daughter and I chopped the veggies. This part was easy. I rocked it.

Making Homemade Sushi: The Wasabi

3. Still waiting for the rice to cool, I mixed up the wasabi. It smelled wasabi-like. I was feeling confident. I should not have, because like they say, pride cometh before the fall.

Making Homemade Sushi: Putting it Together

4. I didn’t take many pictures of spreading out the sushi rice. This is because I was too busy swearing. They call it sticky rice for a reason. However, some cool water on my hands did help, and I mostly managed to get the rice laid out. When I tasted a few errant grains, it didn’t exactly taste exactly like I thought it should. It may have been slightly undercooked. However, at that point, there wasn’t much I could do about it, so I rolled with it. (Get it? Rolled with it. Sushi. Sushi rolls. I slay me.)

Making Homemade Sushi: The Roll

5. Rolling was the part I was most worried about, but it turned out not to be that bad. I had a vague memory of one of my university roommates making sushi, and I recalled that she had dabbed water on the edge of the nori to hold it together, and that worked well. The finished roll was fine. However, you can’t eat a finished roll.

Making Homemade Sushi: The Slicing

6. Slicing the sushi was the hard part for me. It’s probably a sign I need a better knife, but I had a hard time cutting through the nori on the bottom, which made the rolls fall apart a little. Still, not bad for a first effort, I say.

Making Homemade Sushi: The Results

7. Finally, it was time for the verdict. My children, who adore sushi, were excited. But upon taking his first taste, my son promptly spat it out. The canned crab I used tasted different than the crab we normally get from a sushi restaurant. The rice, like I said, was slightly undercooked, and my seasoning sauce wasn’t exactly the same as the sushi restaurant’s seasoning. Jacob skipped the sushi and ate all the leftover nori, which is one of his favourite treats. My daughter bravely ate a few pieces, because she wanted dessert and she knew she couldn’t have it if she hadn’t had any healthy food. And then, when my husband got home late, he announced that he’d had sushi for lunch. All in all, it was a bust.

Would I make sushi again? The answer is definitely a no. It wasn’t super-hard, but it wasn’t all that easy, either. It requires planning and prep work, and while I’m sure that I could get better at it, I’m not sure it’s worth it. The truth is that sushi is what we eat when we don’t feel like cooking, and the people who make it professionally are much better at it than I am. I think I’ll leave it to them, and use my leftover wasabi and rice vinegar in other recipes.

Have you ever made your own sushi? How did it go? Do you have any tips that I should use if I forget how annoyed I was to be composting all my sushi and dare to try it again? I’d love to hear!

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