Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Do You Like Chocolate Cake?!! Organic Dark Chocolate Cake To Die For...

I can't see chocolate cake without thinking about the "Chocolate Cake for Breakfast" comedy routine by Bill Cosby. If you have never seen this, please check out the video above. Whenever I see chocolate cake, I exclaim "Chocolate Cake" just like the 4 year old he is talking about...

When I got the recipe for the chocolate cake above, I was super excited to try it, since I had not made a chocolate cake in awhile, since it is organic, and since it is pretty straight forward so I can make it without a lot of planning ahead. I always have the ingredients on hand. Plus, my three year old can help me. We made this for our friend Kim's birthday last week, and again today for my mother in law's birthday. When I asked her what her favorite kind of cake is she told me that "all cakes are my favorite, but if I had to pick one it would be chocolate". ME, TOO! We are so excited to have them visiting us from Ottawa... being able to make her this cake was, well, the icing on the cake.

PS She LOVED it!

Organic Dark Chocolate Cake

1/2 cup organic, fair trade cocoa (I used Cocoa Camino)
hot water and organic milk (see below)
1 cup unbleached organic flour
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp baking soda
4 tbsp organic butter
1 cup organic sugar
1 free range egg yolk
1 tsp real vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a 1 cup measuring cup, put the cocoa powder and add enough hot water for the powder to dissolve while mixing it with a fork. Then fill the rest of the cup up with milk.

2. Combine flour, salt, and baking soda, mixing well.

3. Cream butter and sugar together using an egg beater, adding egg yolk and continuing to beat for one minute. Stir in vanilla and cocoa milk, then combine with the dry ingredients. Mix for one minute. Turn batter into a buttered 8 x 8 pan.

4. Bake for about 35 minutes or until cake tests done. Place on a cooling rack in pan. Once the cake has cooled completely, turn it out onto a plate.

Just FYI, both times I baked this cake the middle sunk lower than the sides...

Chocolate Icing
1/4 cup organic butter
1/4 cup organic, fair trade cocoa (I used Cocoa Camino)
1/4 cup organic milk
1 cup icing sugar
1 tsp espresso, ground
1 tsp real vanilla extract

Melt butter; add cocoa, milk, sugar, and espresso. Bring to a boil and cook for 3 minutes. Add vanilla. Stir rapidly for about 2 to 3 minutes. Spread over cake.

These recipes were adapted from Planet Green.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Visit to the (Stuffed) Animal Hospital

There was a time, before I cared so much for our environment, before I had the skills I do, and before children, that I threw away anything broken or that threatened to be becoming worn. I hate to say it, but I was raised that way. My Baby Boomer parents who were able to provide very well for us in a disposable society. I am happy to say that I can hardly remember my wasteful days. I am now happy to repair the things I own and look for challenging situations to try to solve. The way I see it, if I can fix it, wonderful, and if not, well then I can take the parts and create something or as a last resort, I can throw it away. It is important for me to teach my kids to be resourceful and to use their imaginations to come up with solutions. It is the way my grandparents were brought up to think. It is fun to use your brain and even more fun to fix something! The one drawback I find to all of this can be finding the time. I tend to throw fix-it projects into a bag or pile, especially anything that needs a needle and thread, and to fix it all at once.

This brings me to a recent challenge, the likes of which I had never tackled. Quin's ballerina angel bunny lost her head. Frankly, if you could see the plethora of stuffies in my house, you would think I would thank my lucky stars to have a reason to chuck one on the garbage. You are right, THEY ARE EVERYWHERE in my house, but there is this thing that happens when your kid comes to you with something they love, something that is broken, and they look at you with tears in their eyes, and they expect you to be able to fix it. This bunny was one of the first things my mom gave Quin, she has always had this bunny. I must admit even I am quite fond of her creamy fur, her sage satin leotard, and glitter covered wings. Yes, I had to perform surgery on this headless bunny, STAT! The hope and faith in Quin's eyes made me contemplate completing a task that until this day I had never considered starting.

How to Repair a Headless Stuffed Bunny

What you will need:
- Embroidery floss (6 strands) in a color similar to the animal's fur
- A curved tapestry needle
- Scissors

1) Start with less thread than you think you might need. You can always use more, and if you use too much at once it may get knotted while you are sewing. Thread your needle. Knot the end.

2) There is no need to hid the knot on your first stitch, but if you want to, start with your needle inside the "neck" of the animal, coming out.

3) Make a "normal" hand sewing stitch, I guess it would be a running stitch, start stitching. If you think you will need the strength you can use a back stitch. Pull each stitch tight, then keep on stitching the head to the neck all the way around. Do not worry much about whether or not the stitches will show because as you pull down tightly on each stitch you will see that the fur is going to nicely cover your stitches and that the floss will blend in.

4) Once you are all the way around, tie off your thread in a knot. Once again, you don't need to worry too much about hiding the knot.

5) Survey your work and pat yourself on the back. Hand to bunny to your child and wait for them to smile and hug you (my favorite part!).

I felt really good when Bunny had her head back and Quinny had her smile back. One of the things I like best about being a mother is the challenges that I can face and concur, and how that helps me to learn and grow. And that allows me to be able to teach my daughter. I also like that my daughter thinks I can do anything, so it inspires me to try. And come on, just look at that smile...

Almond Flour Scones - Passing on the Pleasure

My friend, Cindy, brought over a batch of these amazing scones the week I gave birth to Emmanuelle. They gave me the much needed energy that was necessary for nursing a newborn and for regaining my strength. Plus they tasted amazing! I asked her for the recipe and for some reason JUST got around to making them. I have no idea why I didn't make them sooner, they are truly EASY PEASY. To somewhat start a tradition I made them for a friend who recently had her third child... We brought them over along with a batch of soft pretzels from a local bakery. The intention was to eat the pretzels with cream cheese and to leaving the scones for them to eat but instead I think everything were gone by the time we went home. There were three women and six children after all...

I wrote the recipe below as I made them but I put additional options in parenthesis. This is a great recipe for people who can't have gluten or grain flours. The egg can also be replaced with flax seed emulsion and the honey replaced with agave or maple syrup to make this recipe vegan.

Almond Flour Scones
8 servings

2 cups blanched almonds, ground (you can grind your own or buy them ground into meal for the same price as whole at Nutter's. Go on 20% off day and buy a large bag, you can freeze it.)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 large free range egg (1/4 cup flax seed emulsion can be used in place of egg, see below *)
1/4 cup honey (or maple syrup)
1/2 cup organic cooking dates, chopped to about raisin size (can use raisins... see variations below)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp ground cardamom

Grind almonds to a fine powder in a blender or coffe grinder (I just use the course almond meal AS IS from Nutter's, our local bulk health food store). Mix in baking soda well, rubbing into the almonds with your fingers to combine. Add cardamom and set aside. Whisk eggs or flax seed emulsion with honey or maple syrup and vanilla. Stir whisked egg and syrup into almond flour and stir in dates. Let batter sit for about 5 minutes to thicken. Drop onto oiled cookie sheet and bake at 350 F for about 8-10 minutes. Let cool before removing from tray (or they may break apart).

- 1/2 cup grain sweetened dairy free or regular chocolate chips and a pinch of cinnamon
- 1/2 cup frozen blueberries and a tsp or organic lemon zest
- 1/2 cup chopped frozen cranberries and a tsp or organic orange zest
- a dollop of fruit sweetened jam in the middle of each unbaked scone

*Flax Seed Emulsion
Combine 3 part ground flax seeds with one part water. Store in a jar in the fridge for up to one week.

Please feel free to leave a comment with more suggestions on variations. Also, leave me a link to your favorite gluten free recipe. Cheers!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Book Recommendation - The Wheels on the Bus

From about 2 1/2 to 3 years old our daughter had a fascination with the song The Wheels on the Bus (before that it was Baa Baa Black Sheep). One day at library story time the instructor brought out the book The Wheels on the Bus by Paul O. Zelinsky. Quin's eyes lit up and she sat completely enthralled as the instructor read the story while showing the children all of the moveable parts; windshield wipers, bus doors, a woman getting off and on the bus, the babies crying, the mamas shushing, even the people going bumpity bump. I knew Quin wanted to touch that book, I knew she wanted to HAVE that book. On my urging she timidly asked the instructor if she could check the book out and bring it home. The kind instructor explained that unfortunately they could not let this book out of the library. It was only for story time. This made sense to me, since I have seen the shape some library books end up in, and a baby or toddler could really harm this book. I reminded QQ that her birthday was coming up and maybe we could get it for her birthday. She was sad she could not borrow the book but happy that maybe someday we would have one of our own...

I honestly, rarely, buy our kids new books. In fact, I am a book-aholic and I rarely buy myself a new book anymore. There are just too many places I can get good books for next to nothing; 50 cent children's books on the library sale shelf, 3 for $1 at the local thrift shop, yard sales, friends' hand me downs, a bag for $3 on the last day of the library book sale fundraiser, and of course, borrowing from the library. I know it sounds funny but this $25 new book amounts to 75 books from the thrift store. But, I knew we had to buy Quin this book. So, I did with some birthday money that grandma sent. I would have loved to have bought it from a local independent bookstore, but ours went our of business recently (that's another story for another time... ). I bought it online and it arrived lickity split. Quin was THRILLED and still is to this day. We have spent many fun times with daddy reading this book. And it has been a good way for Quin to learn how to take care of her things. She has been pretty good although her biggest lesson was learned on the day we taped the hand back on the woman who gets on and off the bus... C'est la vie!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Better Ice... Just in Time for Winter

In the on going effort to rid our home of plastic, something that will probably never be completely accomplished, I looked to my freezer. We don't have an automatic ice maker, just one of those annoying white plastic cube trays that eventually will crack and be rendered useless. I decided to look for an alternative and while surfing the internet I was delighted to suddenly remember that when I was a child (born in 1973...) there was such a thing as metal ice cube trays. I found a few for sale but for about $20 on average. I decided to keep my eyes peeled and found two at a local sale of all things vintage (more on this amazing sale soon...) for 50 cents each! They are so cool. And so sleek. And so functional, and obviously built like tanks because they are still around. I made the first batch of many lovely cubes to come. My hubby beat me to the fun part of pulling the lever and breaking up the cubes, but I will be sure to do it next time. He says they work like a charm...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Goodies From Winnipeg, Sooke, & Vancouver - Part One

Part two... A couple of weeks ago I posted about a visit from my friend, Serena, her partner, Jason, and their little boy Sebastian, who you can see above being loved by my daughter, Quinlyn. They brought us many goodies that I wrote about here in part one.... On their second visit they brought us more goodies, which I am sharing below.

Serena brought us a bottle of mead from the Tugwell Creek Honey Farm and Meadery in Sooke, BC. They are the first Meadery in BC. This was taken from their website.

"Tugwell Creek Honey Farm and Meadery was licensed as British Columbia's first Meadery in 2003. The combination of Bob Liptrot's 43 years of beekeeping experience and over 25 years of mead making experience bring a unique and educational culinary experience to each visitor to our tasting room. Our award winning Meads (honey wines) reflect harmony and balance by blending varietal honeys and berries from our local region.

Mead (Honey Wine) is the oldest art of fermentation. Consumed by all, from kings to peasants, mead has gained a reputation as a giver of life, wisdom, courage and strength down through the ages.

The term “honeymoon” has been associated with drinking mead during the month long celebration following a wedding in pagan times."

Our bottle of seasonal mead was delicious! It brought back memories of going to the Renaissance Festival every late summer/early fall in Minnesota, where I grew up. My aunt would usually go with me once I was old enough we would sample the mead. She would love this! I am going to contact them about whether they can ship to the US. In the meantime you can learn more about the history of mead on Tugwell Creek's website.

The second treat that Serena brought was a tin of organic Tea of Serenity from Silk Road. I LOVE tea and am always looking for good Canadian companies from which to buy it. Silk Road is in Victoria, BC. They also have aromatherapy and natural spa products. They have a great website from which you can buy all of their offerings.

The Tea of Serenity is so fresh and colorful. I could photograph it all day!

My little QQ is quite the herbal tea drinker, so we made a pot of yummy tea right away.

And what is a pot of tea without some cookies and chocolate?

I am so excited about this next treat that I can hardly contain myself!! I had posted on this blog about making play dough and had wondered aloud about natural ideas for dying play dough. Serena commented with some ideas. She remembered that I has mentioning natural dyes at one point and emailed me from Vancouver Island to ask if I would like a natural dye kit from Maiwa. Now, I don't plan to use these to dye play dough. I would like to use them to dye fabric and maybe even photographs. I think the $40 price is really reasonable for a kit to get a person started on something new. Many times the set up costs for a new hobby can empty your pockets. I can't wait to give these a try and will keep you posted.

If you are interested in natural dying and have questions, Serena said the woman above knows everything about it. You can check out all the craft supplies they sell at Maiwa on their website and you can learn more about this kit here.

Thanks, Serena! It was great to see you all and we look forward to seeing you in Winnipeg next summer!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Alberta Art Days - DIY with Linda Bodo at the Banff Public Library

I have a four month old baby. She is the most laid back little angel you ever could meet. Her big sis was much the opposite as a baby, although at the time, her being my first, I had no idea. However, I now know how different one baby can be from the next. I nursed both kids on demand. With Quin, I spent most of my time sitting down and nursing. I could not leave her with my husband even to grocery shop. I nursed her for 2 years and 3 months. Elle on the other hand put herself on about a 3 hour schedule from the get go. If she eats more often than that she spits it up. So, aside from growth spurs and occasional cluster feeding, I can leave Elle with Andre and Quin and from time to time I get to experience a bit of art and craft making outside of the house.

During the weekend of Alberta Art Days I took part in a FREE DIY workshop at the Banff Public Library (they offer all of their programming and library membership for FREE). The instructor, Linda Bodo, is from Edmonton. She has been compare to Martha Stewart but she had a reduce, reuse, recycle mentality. Her motto is "Repurpose, Recycle and Redefine your Leisure Time.” The projects she presented to us were mainly for the garden and entertaining (lots of good ideas for using wine corks!!). The project that we made during the class was a beautiful moss-lined hanging basket.

I wish I could find this project for you online. Linda has a great website that does offer many of her projects on it. Check it out for some inspiration. She gave each of us a copy of the spring 2009 issue of Enjoy Gardening, which has the hanging basket project on page 93. It may also be in her new book, Enjoy Life Outside, which features 15 of her outdoor projects.

I was so happy with my basket that I look forward to making some more in the spring to hang in our little back patio/garden. I will write a tutorial then, along with photos, but if you have any questions about it in the meantime feel free to leave a comment here or I would urge you to contact Bodo through her website. She is very approachable. I had a wonderful time at her workshop and hope to see her in Banff again. Or maybe on her estate, I hear it is gorgeous... I am sure it would be an awesome place for me, a photographer who loves flowers...

Monday, October 12, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving, Canada!

And happy Columbus Day to all of my family in the states. We had a lovely dinner last night with friends and are headed to our next door neighbor's house in a little while. We are far from family and many friends but we are very lucky to have a lovely social circle here. I think that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. You get together with friends and loved ones to enjoy each other, to eat a big meal, and to reflect upon what you are grateful for. Unlike Christmas, there is no emphasis on presents, not that I don't love gift giving, but it is nice to not have to think about that. Today is a day to count our blessings as we do each and every day. It is important to be grateful every day, and I think that Thanksgiving is a good reminder of that. Best wishes to you, all!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Banana Whoopie Pies, Oh Yeah!

I lived in Maine for close to ten years. Having grown up in the midwest I had been ignorant of the sweet deliciousness of a New England favorite called the Whoopie Pie. Since moving to Canada I have thought of these soft, cream filled, sandwich cakes, with fondness, and have sworn I will dig out the recipes I have from Maine. Chocolate with vanilla filling and chocolate with peanut butter filling were my favorites until...

...just recently, good ol' New Englander herself, Martha Stewart, kindly delivered this recipe to my inbox. How did she know that banana cake is my favorite?! I had to try it... and so should you!! Thanks again, Martha, for helping me to make each day a little bit brighter, and yummier...

Banana Whoopie Pies
By Martha Stewart


Makes about 3 dozen

* 2 cups all-purpose flour
* 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
* 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1/2 cup mashed banana (from 1 large ripe banana)
* 1/2 cup sour cream
* 4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
* 1/2 cup granulated sugar
* 1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
* 1 large egg
* 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
* 16 ounces cream cheese, softened
* 1 cup confectioners' sugar, plus more for dusting


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment. Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a bowl. Combine banana and sour cream in another bowl.
2. Beat butter and granulated and brown sugars with a mixer on medium-high speed, until pale and creamy, about 3 minutes. Add egg and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, beating until incorporated. Add banana mixture in 2 additions, alternating with flour mixture.
3. Transfer batter to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-inch plain tip. Pipe batter into 1 1/4-inch rounds on baking sheets, spacing rounds 1 1/2 inches apart.
4. Bake until edges are golden, about 12 minutes. Slide parchment, with cookies, onto wire racks. Let cool. (Unfilled cookies can be stored for up to 1 day.)
5. Beat cream cheese, confectioners' sugar, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon vanilla with a mixer on medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes.
6. Pipe or spoon 1 tablespoon cream cheese mixture onto the flat sides of half the cookies. Sandwich with remaining cookies. Dust with confectioners' sugar, and serve immediately.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Itty Bitty Canvas Collages

I am always trying to catch up on this blog. I have hundreds of posts which never get written. Balance. Ah. Yes, I strive to be balanced. So, some things don't get done. And for me, the point of a blog is to enjoy writing. If it becomes a chore I don't enjoy it. I love this blog. Mostly for what it means to me, since it is like a journal of the creative things I do in my life. But, also for those who take the time to check in and read what I write. Thanks to all of you...

Itty bitty canvas collages. Oh so fun! And since I made these I have had a hard time finding little canvases. I bought these at Loomis and Toles in Ottawa. They were on clearance. They are 2x2" and 3x3". They have lived two lives. I made five of them for the Great BIG smalls Show at Cube Gallery. I was part of a group show earlier in that year, and I had made 4 5x7 and 4 4x6 collages. I enjoyed making them, they just sort of created themselves through me. I love it when that happens. And they ALL sold! That never happens. I should have known that I could not duplicate that, but I tried with these little guys. And because it was forced, I only sold one, and got the rest back. When I saw them again I thought, yeah, they are not my best work. They seem unfinished. So, I took a second stab at it. Here are the Befores:

And now, the Afters:

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again... I never throw my work out, I just try to revamp it. Do any of you have and revamp stories?

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Prairie Harvest Sale

The Alberta Team on Etsy is having a sale.

"60 shops from the Etsy Alberta Street Team are participating in a team sale from October 3 - 9, 2009. Don't miss out on some amazing deals from some fantastic shops. It's a great time to pick up an item for a loved one, a friend or even yourself. Also a great time to get a head start on your holiday shopping!"

Head on over to our blog to see where to go for what deals. I am having a buy one, get one 50% sale in my photography shop. This is a great way to buy some handmade gifts as well as supplies and vintage items.

PS Thanks to the team for using my grain elevator image to represent the sale....