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.

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

Ingredients:
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

Method:
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!

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!

Ingredients:
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

Preparation:
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!

Ice Cream: The Pinnacle of Food Preservation

I am far from a strict locavore, but I do a lot of local eating, especially at this time of year. In fact, doing more local eating is my One Green Thing for July. In my quest to reduce my food miles I grow a garden, I belong to a local CSA program, I shop at my farmers’ market and I eat seasonally. I also preserve the harvest when it comes in. Each year I freeze, can and dry food to eat all year long.

While I enjoy all of the foods that I preserve, there’s one item that trumps them all, and that’s ice cream. In my mind homemade ice cream using local milk, cream and fruit is the height of local eating. If you ignore the sugar, it’s pretty much a health food, packed full of fresh berries (antioxidants!) and dairy (calcium!). While strawberry ice cream is probably the most classic flavour involving fruit I’ve also made raspberry, cherry (tip: get a cherry pitter) and blackberry ice cream with great results.

Homemade raspberry ice cream

To make my own homemade fruit ice cream I started with a generic strawberry ice cream recipe and tweaked it to suit my tastes. The result is an all-purpose formula that you can use with pretty much any kind of fruit. Once you’ve got it in your freezer it should last you for several months. So if you have a bumper crop of strawberries, make a couple of batches of ice cream and enjoy it all summer long. And if you need something to bring to a summer BBQ or pot luck, you can’t go wrong with a frozen dessert.

If you’d like to make your own ice cream this summer, I’m sharing my all-purpose recipe.

Blackberry ice cream

Amber’s All Purpose Fruit Ice Cream Recipe

* This recipe is always gluten-free!

Ingredients:
3 cups fruit
1 1/4 – 1 3/4 cups sugar, to taste (the more tart the fruit, the more sugar I use)
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups milk
1 tablespoon vanilla

Preparation:
Wash your fruit, and slice it if required (I don’t slice raspberries or blackberries, I do slice cherries and strawberries). Add the sugar and stir well, then let it sit for 20 minutes. This will draw out the juices, and allow the sugar to dissolve nicely. Once the fruit and sugar have had a chance to sit together and make friends, mash it or run it quickly through a blender or food processor. Add the milk, cream and vanilla, stir well, and freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Yield: Approximately 2 quarts of ice cream.

Do you preserve any food? What’s your favourite method?

I was inspired to write this post by Abbie of Farmer’s Daughter, who is hosting this month’s Green Moms Carnival on food independence. If you want lots of other ideas for local eating, visit her site on July 17.

Cinnamon Ice Cream

When I was in Victoria for my weekend escape with Amanda, I sampled some cinnamon ice cream. It was delicious, and I wanted more. This is when it occurred to me that I own an ice cream maker. I decided that it couldn’t be that hard to make cinnamon ice cream, so I set about searching for a recipe. I found turned several, but they all contained eggs. I have this thing against custard ice creams. They require planning, because you need to cook up the recipe in advance, and let it cool. Plus, I prefer the cleaner taste that you get without eggs. So I decided to improvise a little bit, and create my own recipe.

Cinnamon ice cream close-up

I have a standard ice cream base recipe that I use, so I prepared that then reverted to the tried-and-true method of adding a little bit of cinnamon and tasting it, then adding a little more and tasting it again. My result has a hint of heat, but not too much. Both of my kids refuse to eat anything spicy, and they enjoyed it. The creamy coolness of the ice cream creates a nice juxtaposition. I’m a fan, and this is my new favourite flavour. Plus, it’s totally gluten-free, so there’s that.

Cinnamon ice cream

Amber’s Cinnamon Ice Cream

* This recipe is always gluten-free!

Ingredients:
2 1/2 c cream
2 c milk
1 c sugar
3 t cinnamon, or to taste
1 t vanilla

Preparation:
Mix all ingredients together in a big bowl, and stir with a 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 took about 25 minutes. Once it’s reached the desired consistency, serve it up and freeze the rest.

Yield: Approximately 2 quarts of ice cream.

This past weekend I updated my recipes, which you can find on my Making Stuff page. I added gluten-free adaptions for most of the recipes listed there. If you have a hankering for some homemade chocolate chip cookies or macaroni and cheese, gluten-free or not, I’ve hooked you up. It’s comfort food for the masses, whatever your stance on wheat.

Have you ever sampled a food on vacation that was so good you had to try to make it yourself at home? How did it go? Tell me all about it!

Dandelion Blossom Fritters

Please allow me to engage in a little plug up front. Today is the last day for the early bird discount on Crafting my Life. If you’d like to live with more authenticity and passion, head on over and sign up now!

Last year I decided to try making dandelion blossom fritters. They were really good. Although I suspect most anything would be really good when fried in dough and drenched in maple syrup. Perhaps even dryer lint.

Anyways, it’s dandelion time again here in Metro Vancouver, and I am a pro at growing dandelions. Seriously, it’s like I’m not even trying, I’m so good at growing dandelions. So I decided to give the fritters another go. I got my recipe and instructions here and here. Here’s what the process looks like:

1. Go out on a sunny day and find some dandelions. Ideally, your collection spot should be someplace where there’s no chance the flowers were exposed to chemicals, and you may want to avoid parks where a lot of dogs hang out, too. I picked my own dandelions in my back yard.

Dandelion

2. Pluck off the blossoms.

3. Wash them thoroughly. I used a salad spinner to dry mine, and it worked well.

Clean dandelions in the salad spinner

4. Pick off the tiny little leaves at the base of the flower, and any remnants of stem. Here are before and after shots of what I’m talking about:

Dandelion blossom
Before

Blossom with little leaves and stem removed
After

5. Put about 1/4″ of oil in a pan, and place over medium heat to warm.

6. Mix up your batter. I used 1 cup of whole wheat flour, 1 cup of milk and 1 egg. But if you have a standard batter recipe you use, it would probably work, too. You can also use your favourite gluten-free flour blend in place of wheat flour.

7. Once the oil is hot enough that it sizzles nicely when a few drops of batter are placed in it, it’s ready to go.

Fritter assembly line
My fritter assembly line

8. Coat your blossoms in batter and fry them for a couple of minutes on each side, or until nice and golden brown.

9. Remove the fritters from the pan and place on a towel to remove excess oil.

Dandelion blossom fritters

10. Drizzle with maple syrup or honey, or cover with icing sugar. Then eat them while they’re still warm.

If you’re into local eating like I am, you can’t do any better than picking some dandelions in your back yard to have for a snack. If you’re similarly blessed with yellow flowers, why not give it a try? Eating flowers sounds a little weird, I’ll admit it, but you just might be pleasantly surprised.

What’s the weirdest fried food you’ve ever eaten? Have you sampled a deep fried Mars bar or Twinkie? Or have you fried your Thanksgiving turkey? Do share!

Cinnamon Heart Bark

Valentine’s Day is almost here! It’s a time for Hallmark-card-inspired declarations of love. It’s a time for high expectations that are quite likely to be dashed. And it’s a time for candy. In fact, it’s time for one of my most favourite of all candies, the cinnamon heart. They’re probably chock full of high-fructose corn syrup and artificial colouring, but man alive they’re delicious. I could eat bowls full of cinnamon hearts.

If there’s anything that’s better than cinnamon hearts, though, it’s got to be chocolate and cinnamon hearts. And so, at this time of year, I make a lot of cinnamon heart bark. I’ve honed my recipe, drawing inspiration from the fabulous Canadian Living Two-Tone Peppermint Bark recipe and the equally fabulous No Time for Flash Cards Cinnamon Heart Bark recipe.

Ingredients
Gathering my ingredients

(While I’m talking about Canadian Living, did you know that Strocel.com was named their March blog of the month? I am so immensely flattered. You can see it for yourself on page 22.)

The only downside to making bark, whether peppermint or cinnamon heart, is that it’s impossible to keep your kids from rushing in to “help” you if they’re awake and present. Just try pulling out two kinds of chocolate chips and a bag of candy and see for yourself. So if you don’t relish the idea of little hands sneaking hearts from under your nose, make sure they’re suitably slumbering.

Jacob really gets into "helping"
Jacob “helps”

Cinnamon Heart Bark

* This recipe has always been gluten-free!

Ingredients:
2 cups chocolate chips OR 12oz semi-sweet chocolate
2 cups white chocolate chips OR 12oz white chocolate
1/2 cup cinnamon hearts
1/2 tsp cinnamon extract

Finished bark

Preparation:
Spread foil on a cookie sheet and lightly butter the surface.

Melt the semi-sweet chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave. I use the microwave, but word to the wise, only run it for 45 seconds or so at a time and then stir. If you run it for too long, you can actually burn your chocolate, which is really tremendously tragic.

Once your chocolate is melted, add the cinnamon extract and stir. Then spread a thin layer of chocolate on your greased foil. Put this in the freezer to harden.

Crush your cinnamon hearts. Because they’re a little bit chewy, they don’t crush quite as well as peppermint candy does. But still, breaking down the pieces into slightly more manageable sizes makes the bark easier to eat, so give it your best shot within reason.

Melt the white chocolate the same way that you melted the other chocolate. Remove your cookie sheet from the freezer, and spread a layer of white chocolate over the semi-sweet chocolate.

Hannah chooses her piece carefully
Hannah searches for the perfect piece

Sprinkle your crushed hearts on top. Pat the hearts lightly with your hands to make sure they stick and put it all in the fridge or freezer to harden. Then break into pieces and enjoy!

Yield: Sadly, never quite enough. You’ll always need to make more.

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