Sunday, October 18, 2015

To Eat with Soup

These biscuits come together easily and quickly.  The trick is to work them as little as possible so that they stay tender and fluffy.

Pecorino & Pepper
Buttermilk Biscuits adapted from Harrowsmith Country Life

2 cups all purpose flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
5 rounded tablespoons shortening ( I subbed 2 out for butter)
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup finely shredded pecorino romano
1/2 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
     Sift flour, baking powder, soda, pepper, cheese and salt.  Cut in shortening with pastry blender until consistency is mealy.  Add buttermilk and stir until well blended.  Turn onto floured surface, knead 18 times and pat out to 3/4" thickness.  Cut biscuits with cutter and place on parchment covered baking sheet.  Bake in preheated 450* oven for 12 minutes.

I find the food processor makes short work out of cutting in the butter - a few pulses and it is done.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Getting Ready for Class

     I have signed up for a portrait class that starts in two weeks and am quite excited and nervous.  My drawing skills seem so rusty compared to drawings I have from a long time ago when I was in school.
    In an attempt to be prepared, I have been sketching a little here and there and this morning I sat down in front of the mirror to try a 30 minute self portrait.  I tried to capture the pose below, although it is super hard to take a picture of what you see in the mirror.  No lipstick, or colour - I didn't brush my hair or anything.

maybe I will try to sketch from this picture later and compare!
I was drawing on old newsprint with a 2B pencil and tried to erase as little as I could.  In reality, I tried lots of erasing, but newsprint (especially old dry stuff) doesn't take well to the pressure on its surface. 

     I can pick at this all day and I don't feel I captured my likeness.  A couple of aspects I am happy with, for example; there really does appear to be a neck there!  There are many points where improvement can happen ( oh so many...)  - I really wanted to just stow it away - however, by posting it here I am now obligated to practice, practice, practice. 
     Really looking is hard work, it is natural to start to draw what you see in your mind, instead of what you actually see in the mirror.  That is the first thing I will need to work on with the next drawing!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Adventures in Foraging: Elderberry Tincture

Beginning of summer   End of summer
At the beginning of the summer I posted pictures of the Elderflowers I collected and linked to a cordial recipe.  Elderberries are also edible and apparently have wonderful medicinal properties.  The bushes that I collected from are luckily large enough that I was able to leave many blossoms on the trees and even after harvesting some berries, you'd never know any were missing.  Happy Eating birds!  So I froze the berries as I had read that this made them easier to remove from the stems.  Perhaps, but there is still a lot of work to pick through them and I didn't help matters by freezing the bag full.  Next year I will freeze the clusters on a cookie sheet to make life easier! 

Frozen Elderberries

starting to thaw!
I debated making a syrup, but decided on a tincture instead as I feel like I have been making a lot of sweet things with the jams and jellies.  Various recipes abound.  They all seem to agree that you must use at least 80 proof alcohol to extract the goodness from the berries.  Most recipes use vodka as it is tasteless, but I went with Sailor Jerry's rum instead.  It is 92 proof and has sweet and spiced flavour that I thought would go nicely with the currantish flavour of the Elderberry.

Picked clean!

The berries were put into a large glass jar and covered with the rum with a cap of about an inch.  The mister will be glad that I didn't use all the Jerrys!  I did give them a bit of a mushing to release some of the juice.  Now to let them sit in a dark spot for 4-6 weeks.  After it is strained I can bottle it and it will keep on the shelf much longer than a syrup would keep in the fridge - another reason I chose the tincture over a syrup/cordial.

Elderberry flavoured Sailor Jerry's!
If you want to give the mixture to kids for cold prevention, add a 1/4tsp to a mug of boiling water and let cool before drinking.  The boiling water will burn off any alcohol. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Wild Plums - Adventures in Foraging

     I have been keeping my eye on a couple of wild plum trees we discovered on our cycling adventures this summer and with this incredible heat, they are ripe and ready to go!  At the beginning of August, they looked like this...

And now...ta da!  glorious wee plums!

wild plums in South Ottawa
     They are small, so I am thinking jelly might be the way to go as I won't have to remove the pits.  I have read that they will keep a couple of days refrigerated, which is fantastic news as apparently this heat wave isn't over yet!  I made peach jam a couple of days ago with peaches from the reduced rack at work and did it ever make the apartment hot!  Although - right now at 8:30 in the evening - it is lovely sitting on the deck.  

Monday, July 06, 2015

Adventures in Foraging: Elderflower Cordial

A sweet, refreshing syrup with so many uses
    In years past, I've never given Elderflowers much thought.  Last fall, I tried searching for the berries, but was confused by the number of different dark blue/black berries that populate the urban landscape here in Ottawa.  There are occasions to be adventurous - eating something of which you are not sure - should never be one of them. 
     Thankfully, one of the groups I follow on Facebook, posted a picture of some Elderflowers, proclaiming them 'in bloom'.  So, out the door I went, bags in hand. 
     As luck would have it, there are some gorgeous bushes within walking distance.  Last week would appear to have been the perfect time for a little harvesting.  The pathways on which I found many Elder bushes dotting the road were thick with lovely, creamy, white blossoms and the smell was heavenly.

     I gathered a couple of handfuls from a few different shrubs as I walked.  When harvesting, always keep in mind to leave enough blossoms behind to turn into berries for later harvest, plus enough for the birds.  You never want to strip a plant clean.  Step away and if it looks like nothing's missing, great! 
     Luckily, the recipe I found for Elderflower Cordial ( Cordial always makes me think of Anne of Green Gables! ) called for only twenty heads, leaving me some to put into a jar to enjoy.  Why these are not used for early summer weddings, I'll never understand.  The blossoms and greenery make an instant bouquet and the wee flowers themselves are the perfect looking confetti!  Did I mention the heavenly aroma? 
  The recipe is pretty straightforward, the only strange ingredient being Citric Acid ( not really that strange, just not found in the baking isle! ) which I found in bulk at Kardish with the help of the wonderful Kayla!  ( She works at the Blossom Park location and is so knowledgeable! )

Lemon slices, Rind and Elderflowers steeping in sugar syrup
     The concoction steeps over night and then gets filtered.  Don't forget to give the flowers a rinse first to remove any dirt or critters that might have come along for the ride!  Once you have it bottled, you can freeze some for later or start enjoying it right away.  The BBC site with the recipe offered some great ideas for its use.  I made a fruit salad and used a spoonful to sweeten the fruit.  Also I tried a Elderflower Wine Spritzer.  Two parts Dry White Wine, Two parts Sparking Water or Soda and one part Cordial with ice.  It made a lovely drink that way and really -  as even IKEA knows - it can be made without alcohol for a refreshing drink for kids!

     I look forward to watching the trees over the summer and seeing the berries emerge.  I shall have my canning equipment ready to make jam when the berries are ripe!  or perhaps another cordial type syrup - Elderberries are very high in Vitamin C and also reputed to be good for upset stomachs and nasal congestion.  Happy Foraging!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Adventures in Gardening - Free cuttings and divisions Welcome!

The last five years we have lived in this condo, I have missed my little garden in Dartmouth terribly.  It had only just begun to take shape when we were moved to Ottawa in 2010.  Every summer, I do quite a bit of growing in containers on our deck, but it's not the same is it? 
So last fall, I took the plunge and with the blessing of the Board of Directors (of which I am Secretary) I began a one woman gardening club.  I planted 25 tulip bulbs.  With the squirrels we have, I wasn't holding on to hope, but wouldn't you know it - they all came up!

With this success, I tackled the main flower bed.  It had been left to it's own devices for many years and been taken over by an invasive groundcover.  Mostly I weeded.

The dense yellow in the top right corner used to completely choke this flower bed.  Over the course of a month, I have been pulling it all out to make room for some traditional perennials and in the process a few of the original plants are beginning to recover.  We had some beautiful Siberian Iris with multiple blooms for the first time in 5 years!
On the May long weekend I planted a few perennials: Lavender, Lupin, Poppies, Shasta daisy and a blue Delphinium of sorts.

The plants I am sure won't flower this year, except the above ambitious one, but they look to have taken and seem healthy.  We shall see next year!  Today, I added some Rudbeckia and Echinacea.  One of the Echinacea is called PowWow Wild Berry.  I am really excited to see it bloom.  For now it looks like this!

The plant I am most excited for is a Hydrangea division I received from my friend Anne.  I planted it against a chain link fence that could definitely use some prettying up.  I have already put in a Peony there and hope the Hydrangea fills in nicely.  I always remember the amazing drifts of blue hydrangea on the lawns in Maine as we drove through.  I guess this means we are committed to staying here at this condo, as I have to see these plants mature and flower!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Birds and Animals

Last Sunday's class was depicting fur or feathers when painting birds and animals in watercolour.  Tricky stuff.  Especially if the creature is white!  I tried painting a squirrel (or chipmunk) and a cardinal.  I have always loved cardinals and my years spent out East where they don't live has made me a little more obsessed.  I will not post him because he is awful.  Husband said it looked like he had a trucker beard!
Here is the squirrel and a couple of other birds I have been practicing at home.

The halo of white light around him should be varied. 

Chickadee - quick study

I didn't tape down this study and so it is warped, causing the shadow on
the right hand side.  Oh well!