January Garden – Covered with Snow

This is what our garden looks like today – nothing growing or harvest-able at the moment, but pretty in white.

The ragged yellow plants are our kale plants that I didn’t get around to pulling up because we ate them until early December.  It was great to have fresh greens from the garden so late in the year.

On the lower right side you can also see the straw that I put down to cover the garlic bulbs that I planted in the fall.  I’m excited to see them come up this spring.

In the middle of the picture, you can faintly see another bed of straw. That one is covering up the carrots that grew last summer.  They were pretty taste-less so I thought I would experiment and see if covering them with straw over the winter would allow them to keep in the ground until the spring. I’m hoping a bit of cold will have sweetened them up. Or they could have turned to mush.  Either way, I will have learnt something.

What is your garden looking like this month?

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Gluten-Free Meat Pies

Along with the regular meat pie crusts that we made with my mom we also made some gluten-free pie crusts for the first time.

For the past month Chris has been trying out a gluten-free diet and I’m trying to make it as easy for him as possible.  I’ve been trying to make gluten-free products from scratch instead of buying them pre-made.  I found a great muffin recipe on glutenfreegirl.com  and have been making those. The initial search for 10 different flours (almond, brown rice, corn, oat, quinoa, teff, sorghum, arrowroot, potato starch ) to make the gluten-free flour mix was time consuming, but now that I have it all mixed up  it’s as fast and easy as making regular muffins.

For meat-pie making day we decided to try the glutenfreegirl’s vegan pie crust recipe. (because Chris is also dairy-free –  the meat pie is obviously not vegan 🙂 )

The process was a bit more time consuming than making the regular pie crust as the dough had to sit in the fridge for at least one hour.

Rolling out the first dough was pretty difficult as it kept breaking up. The recipe suggested putting the dough between two sheets of plastic wrap which helped, but it was still a difficult dough to work with. I soon found out why. I had misread the recipe and had not been adding enough water.  That made a difference in the next pie crusts!  It was still breaking up a little bit, but not as much.

We cooked the first pie (with the missing water) for dinner.  I was pretty nervous! We’d made seven pies and  I didn’t want to have to eat seven tasteless or inedible pie crusts.

Thankfully, the crust turned out great.  It was pretty crumbly because of the lack of water, but hopefully the correct ones will be less crumbly. The taste is very different than our normal pie crust, but it’s a good taste.  I was describing it as “rustic” – for some reason it makes me think of a pie crust that would have been made by a farm family in rural France.

Have you tried making a gluten-free pie crust? How did it turn out?

Meat Pie Making with Mom

My mom and step-dad have been making meat pies in November for as long as I can remember.  It’s a three-day affair with the end product being 20 or so meat pies to give out to family and eat throughout the winter.

Chris and I have been helping them for the past four years on ‘assembly day’ and in return for our help we get to take home five meat pies. Chris loves these so much that he says he could eat them every week all year.

That is why this year my mom offered to come up to our house in January and help us make additional meat pies.  It would also be an opportunity for me to learn how to make pie dough.  Usually Mom makes it the day ahead and when I get there all I have to do is roll it out. My stepdad also spend a few days and evenings beforehand cooking and preparing the meat (usually beef, pork, and turkey).

This weekend we realized how much work my parents put into preparing for ‘assembly day’.  We spent two evenings and a full day cooking and preparing the meat and filling,  making the pie dough, and assembling the pies – a lot longer than we had expected!

I’ve always shied away from making my own pie crusts and usually buy pre-prepared ones from the store which never taste as good.  Part of this stemmed from intimidation and part of it probably stemmed from my previously stated reluctance to like anything my parents did and enjoyed.  Thankfully I’ve long grown out of that stage  and loved having Mom come over and show me how to make pie crusts. Mom – who used to be a home economics teacher for years – was great at teaching us the little tricks that turned the dough from OK to awesome with just the right amount of crispiness.

Thanks Mom!

We also madegluten-free meat pies which I’ll talk about later this week.

Do you have a family tradition that involves baking?

Simple Meals – Fried Rice with Eggs (and a search for the perfect baked tofu recipe)

This post was initially going to be about the baked tofu in the picture.  Over the last year, I have been on a quest to find the perfect baked tofu recipe.  I’ve tried various pre-made sauces and home-made marinades, but none of them have that “wow” taste to them.  Chris gifted me a vegan cookbook for my birthday (we’re not vegan, but eat a lot of meatless and dairy-free meals) and it has a tofu marinade recipe in it that’s different than the other ones I’ve tried. It sounded so good.   I thought it was the one.

I marinated the tofu the night before and thought about it all day, looking forward to its ginger-garlic-sesame oil-tamari goodness.  Sadly, it didn’t taste as good in real life as it sounded. It wasn’t tasteless, but it wasn’t what I’m looking for.  So the search is still on.

While I was baking the tofu, I decided to look for a fried rice recipe to go with it as a side.  I opened one of my favorite cookbooks – How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman.  I love this cookbook for its simple recipes on pretty much anything I can think of.  And everything turns out so good. My cookbook is filled with notes in the margins: “great!” “make again” “so tasty”.

This rice is simple, but oh so tasty, and it more than made up for the disappointing tofu.

Fried Rice with Eggs (from How to Cook Everything – Mark Bittman)

4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 3 Tbsp peanut oil (or canola or other oil)
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp peeled and minced fresh ginger
  • 3 to 4 cups leftover or cooked rice, cooled
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions: 

  1. Heat oil in a wok or large skillet over high heat for one minute.
  2. Add garlic, ginger and cook, stirring constantly, for one minute
  3. Turn heat down to med-high and add the rice, stir frequently for three minutes.
  4. Make a little hole in the centre of the rice and pour in the eggs.  Gently scramble eggs with rice.
  5. Once eggs are cooked, add soy sauce and stir.  Let cook for a few minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Enjoy!

If anyone has a “wow” baked tofu recipe, I’d love to try it out!

(ps. I’m not being compensated for the cookbook review, but I do think it’s an amazing cookbook. I use it at least once a week for easy last minute side dishes and more involved main dishes). 

Heating with wood

When we were looking for a house to buy, a house with a spot to put a woodstove was high on our wish list.  We had both grown up with wood heat and love the feeling of a wood-heated house.  There’s something about sitting in front of the fire and looking at the flames dancing while drinking tea.  It’s also a lot of work and can get messy, but for us the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

We were lucky that the house that we liked the most also had an existing woodstove in it.

Our house is a split-level with about 1800 square feet of living space.  The woodstove is downstairs and last year we cut a hole in the floor of the living room to allow the heat to rise upstairs more easily.  We heat almost 100% with wood, keeping our electric baseboard heaters on in a few rooms at 10 degrees Celsius (50 F) so the pipes don’t freeze if we’re away for a few days.  We close off the rooms that we are not using and wear sweaters and slippers in the house during most of the winter.

I’m lucky that Chris loves working with a chainsaw and enjoys going out at night cutting and splitting wood. This saves us a lot of money as we can buy logs in 12 foot lengths and cut them down to size.  A cord of firewood cut and split costs $250 while a cord of 12-foot length logs only costs $125.

The difficult part about this is finding a good supplier.  There are many operations that will deliver cut and split firewood, but not so many that will deliver long logs.  This summer we ended up having 13 cords delivered to our house because that was the minimum order we could put in.  We burn about 4 1/2 cords per winter so we should be good for a few years!

Chris then spent a month of evenings cutting the logs into woodstove sized chunks. The next step will be to rent a splitter in the spring.  With the help of a few friends we should be able to split the 13 cords in three or four days of good work.  Last winter Chris split 5 cords by hand which was a lot of work.  Renting a splitter for a few days will be worth the cost

Friends helping us split wood a few years ago

Do you heat with wood? Do you want to come help us split and stack wood this spring? 🙂

Winter Wonderland – Cross Country Skiing

This past weekend we drove four hours north to meet another couple at the Aventurier Ski Club in Charlo, New Brunswick.  Normally we would ski in our hometown, but we have not yet received much snow this winter. We jumped at the invitation to share a cabin and meals for the weekend.   Charlo was a winter wonderland – lots of snow on the trails and in the trees.

We both skate ski, which is the type of skiing you see biathlon athletes doing.  Unlike classic cross-country skiing where you ski in set tracks, skate skiing is done on a wide groomed trail and is – as the name implies – a bit like skating on skis.  It’s very fast and involves a lot of balance.  It’s becoming one of my favorite sports.

The conditions were perfect on Saturday – temperatures between -10 and -15 Celsius ( 14 to 5 F) and snow that felt like icing on a cake. I stayed on the flatter moderate trails and ended the day having skied 25 kilometers. Sunday was another story, with temperatures as low as -20 Celsius (-4 F) and icy snow. I skied 10 kilometers and decided it was much nicer sitting in the lodge by the fireplace playing cards. All in all a great road trip vacation.

If you have not tried cross-country skiing before, I recommend trying it out if you live in or near an area with snow.  Many ski clubs offer introductory day clinics. I took a weekend long clinic last winter in Charlo and it was very helpful.

Do you cross-country ski? Is there enough snow where you live to go skiing yet?