Instead of snow

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I am very happy to see online that my friends to the east are embracing the crazy dump of snow that just happened. Snow men, snow angels, snow pants are all a lot of fun. I am almost envious, except that I am too busy gardening and gloating among the flowers here in Victoria.

Not to say there hasn’t been rain, because there has, and lots of it, especially yesterday when it poured all day yesterday. We got drenched in the best sort of way when I had the dog and baby out for a (very) early morning walk. It’s impossible to grumble about the dark and the cold and the wet when there is a bright-eyed little boy in awe of it all helping to hold the umbrella with one hand, pointing out all the street lights with the other, frantically doing his sign for tree every time we go past one (often!). This is my favourite thing about being a mom: experiencing the world anew through fresh eyes every day. It’s a cliche, I guess, but a true and joyful one.

Seeing the world with wonder is particularly lovely when paired with spring. Rhododendrons, hellebores, crocuses, snowdrops and are all blooming now, and the first daffodils and cherry blossoms are out, too.  As soon as we have some warm weather I know the plant life will start to explode, so I have been trying to get an hour of gardening in every day while I can still see the ground. Last year we were parenting a newborn and in no position to be gardening, so our yard quickly became a jungle. I learned from our neighbours that the people who lived here before us had a regular gardener, which made me feel a little better, but reinforced that something needs to be done! This year I am trying to tame the beast, at least a little, and also trying to reclaim some areas overgrown with invasive perennials (free daylilies, buttercups or Queen Anne’s Lace anyone?) so we can have more space for fruit and veggie growing.

I need to take some “before” pictures this week so we can marvel later this summer at what is sure to be an improvement! For now, I am very content to be digging and dividing and enjoying the relative simplicity and smallness of the garden – delicate patches of purple crocuses, hardy edibles, the first daffodils opening, nodding hellebores, and strawberry runners starting to make their move. 

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February 16, 2016 at 9:33 pm Leave a comment

Toasted granola

IMG_3418 (1)Here is a recipe that has been adapted, and then adapted again. My thanks to my mother-in-law, who introduced us to this delicious granola and showed up often at our doorstep with a ziploc bag full of it (which is welcome always, but most especially when there is a new baby in the house).

I asked for the recipe around Christmas-time so I could make a batch as a gift for my parents, and it has been gratefully received. I’ve amended it a little: even though the original is perfect, I cannot help tinkering! I love coconut, so I’ve added that, and omitted chopped almonds in favour of more hazelnuts, which are my favourite (and also available locally). I’ve also employed my trick of tripling the spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger) and cutting half the sugar, which adds enough flavour that you don’t miss the sugar (too much).

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My husband has quickly become addicted to it, and I think I have made three or four double-batches already this year. He makes me a latte every morning and has done so for many years, so with my granola-making I finally feel like we are on equal footing at breakfast time. Plus, I am enjoying it, too – a perfect snack or breakfast sprinkled over yogurt and fruit.

The recipe originated from the River Cafe – a beautiful oasis of a restaurant in Calgary. It was a favourite (though occasional – pricey!) place for us to eat dinner, and I have fond memories of taking a very old and good bottle of wine there on free corkage night one time and thinking that there could not be a better place to open something special.  I’ve never eaten brunch there, nor have I visited it since it was rebuilt after the floods in Alberta a couple of years ago, but I can imagine that toasted granola would pair wonderfully with the amazing atmosphere I’m sure still exists there.

Toasted granola
Makes approximately 6 cups

4 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup hazelnuts, chopped
1/2 cup coconut
1/3 cup pumpkin seeds
1/3 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup flax seeds
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup grapeseed oil
1/2 cup maple syrup

Combine all the dry ingredients in a big bowl and mix well. Add the oil and maple syrup and mix well again. Spread on a tray and bake at 350F for about 15 minutes until golden brown, stirring once or twice while baking. Allow to cool completely, and then store in an airtight container (big mason jars, tupperware, etc) at room temperature.

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February 11, 2016 at 12:35 pm Leave a comment

Vegetable and bean soup

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Happy Meatless Monday! Here is a very simple soup recipe – basically a half-finished minestrone soup. It was so (unexpectedly) popular with everyone here that I think I will be making it again and again.

If I had a TV show, it would be called “Cooking with Casey,” and it would feature recipes that can be completed with one hand while holding a baby/toddler. We have a budding chef on our hands, I’m sure, because he absolutely needs to be “up!” to see all chopping, stirring and especially mixing with the KitchenAid.

I intended to add pasta, lentils and various seasonings to this soup, but I learned that hungry babies are not interested in culinary musings when the basics are already ready. Our stove top taste test at what I thought was the halfway point resulted in a lot of vigorous “more!” signs, so we sat down to eat, and rightly so. This soup was substantial enough for dinner, but not too heavy – the broth is really nice and light.

If you save parmesan cheese rinds in the freezer to flavour soups and sauces like I do, this is a perfect place to use them. Or omit them and you will have a completely plant-based meal. The soup is delicious either way.

Vegetable and bean soup
Serves 4-6

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 medium carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
3-4 large bay leaves
1 large (28 oz) can chopped tomatoes
4 cups of water
Rind from parmesan, asiago or other hard cheese (optional)
2 cups cooked mixed beans (I used a combination of chickpeas, kidney beans and white beans)
1 cup finely minced kale
Salt and pepper to taste

Saute onion in oil on medium heat until translucent; about 10 minutes. Add carrots, celery, bay leaves, tomatoes, water and cheese rind (if using). Cook until carrots soften; about 20-30 minutes. Stir in the beans and kale, season with salt and pepper, cook for a few minutes until heated through and tasting great, and then eat.

February 8, 2016 at 12:23 pm 1 comment

Carrot and apple breakfast cookies

IMG_3373Here is my attempt at a healthy(ish) breakfast cookie. As much as I love a sit down breakfast, it’s just not possible some days. I usually gravitate toward muffins for a grab-and-go breakfast, but lately they have felt too heavy, too crumbly, and sadly, sometimes even two minutes of warming in the toaster oven is not realistic/desirable mixed in with all the morning things that need doing. There is also something about coffee and cookies that I can’t get enough of – a small indulgence to start the day.

These batter for these cookies will look a little gooey – the carrots and apple provide a lot of moisture. The result, though, is a lovely texture: a cross between a gingerbread cake and an oatmeal raisin cookie, which is exactly what I was hoping for when I started experimenting.

Try them on the run with a piece of fruit, or pack them for a mid-day treat. Or make them on a Saturday, like I did, and enjoy eating cookies for breakfast.

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Carrot and apple breakfast cookies
Makes 24 cookies

1/2 cup butter or coconut oil, softened
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup blackstrap molasses
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup spelt or whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup ground flax
1/4 cup hemp hearts
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1 apple, finely chopped (I left the peel on for texture and colour)
1 carrot, grated

Preheat the oven to 350F. In a large bowl, cream together the butter/coconut oil, brown sugar, molasses, egg and vanilla until smooth. In a separate bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt together and stir into the butter/sugar mixture. Stir in the remaining ingredients.

The cookies should be two inches apart on a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat or parchment paper. Bake them for 12 to 14 minutes, taking them out when the edges are “done looking” edges but still a little undercooked-looking on top. It’s a little tricky to tell because of the dark molasses colour – if they smell great and look almost done take them out (always better to undercook rather than overcook). Let them sit on the hot baking sheet for five minutes before transferring them to a rack to cool.

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February 6, 2016 at 11:40 am Leave a comment

International Year of Pulses

year of the pulses

I am overdue for a big hooray about the fact that 2016 has been named International Year of Pulses by the United Nations General Assembly. Pulses being delicious, healthy, sustainable foods including beans, lentils, peas, and chickpeas that are a staple of plant-based cooking and eating. Beans, chickpeas and the like could use some positive PR with most eaters I know. Let’s hope the International Year of Pulses helps alleviate some of the grim faces that often accompany the words “are there lentils in this?”

I love all pulses, and they are in heavy rotation in my kitchen as I am always trying to sneak more protein into vegetarian fare. I’m looking forward to working on some new pulse-friendly recipes this yearalready I’ve been so inspired by #lovepulses posts all over the internet. In the meantime, here is a quick round-up of previously posted recipes that I’m keen to revisit in celebration of lovely legumes this year.

 

February 3, 2016 at 12:25 pm Leave a comment

Water + Pigment + Paper at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria

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A long time ago I lived next door to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. We loved the annual Moss Street Paint In, and the gallery’s collection of Emily Carr works captured my imagination, so much so that the artist now has a namesake in our beautiful dog.

It’s been wonderful to see how much the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria has grown up since we last lived in Victoria. Our Emily (the dog) is now 11 years old, and I remain enchanted by the artist she is named for. The AGGV has done a beautiful job showcasing the Emily Carr works in its collection alongside art from Carr’s contemporaries, including a couple of favourite artists of mine, Mfawnwy Pavelic and Ina D.D. Uthoff, both of whom are also featured in the gallery’s new watercolour exhibition (more on that below).

When we moved back to Victoria last year I bought a membership to the gallery and it’s been a great investment, especially during my year of maternity leave. We still live within walking distance to the gallery and browsing its exhibits on quiet summer mornings and rainy fall and winter afternoons has been a treat – a hit of mental and visual stimulation on days that can sometimes feel long or lonely when it’s just me and the little one. And now that he is getting older there is an added dimension to our gallery visits: I am not the only one looking at the pictures anymore.

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We went to the opening of Water + Pigment + Paper: Experiments in Watercolour from the AGGV Collection last weekend. We were alone (sans baby) and it was night time – two rare occurrences to be sure. We were the youngest people there for most of the night by at least a decade or two, but still, it was a fun start to date night, and something I’d recommend to other new parents: the openings are free, plus you can be easily home by 9 or 10pm, even if you go out for a drink afterward like we did.

I always love to see shows that are curated from galleries’ permanent collections, and this was no exception: there are some really interesting pieces that say so much about the history of some prominent Victoria artists, as well as work by other BC, Canadian and international artists the gallery has collected over the years. The curator was careful to point out the large number of women represented in the show and it was refreshing to see so many female names on the wall, especially given that all of the work on display is pre-1990s. “So Much More Than Pretty” is the tagline for the show, and I think it’s apt, although it is very pretty: Gorgeous colours, inventive brushstrokes, spontaneous and playful capturing of moments, people and places, and most of all the overarching feeling of intimacy that seems to be a hallmark of the watercolour medium.

As fun as it was to be out alone just us adults, I will definitely visit the Water + Pigment + Paper show again during the daylight hours. I love my being able to drop into the gallery whenever I want now that we have the membership, and with each of the shows I find there is always so much more to see on the second, third or fourth visit, especially when I’m with my favourite art lover in training.

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February 2, 2016 at 12:58 pm Leave a comment

Applesauce oatmeal muffins 

  

A quick, easy kid-friendly muffin. I’ve made these a few times now and they’ve been a big hit with our one year old. 

My three year old nephew helped make the latest batch. He rejected them at first, but took a tentative bite today and I think we’d have him by tomorrow if they weren’t already all gone. That is the thing I like most about this recipe – the flavours are really simple, but these muffins seem to disappear very quickly.

Applesauce oatmeal muffins
Makes 12 muffins

1 cup flour (all purpose or spelt flour both work great)
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup rolled oats
1 egg
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup applesauce
1 apple, peeled and finely chopped

Preheat oven to 375F. Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Combine egg, applesauce and oil in another bowl, and then add to dry mixture. Stir gently until just combined. Spoon into greased muffin tins and bake for 20 minutes.

January 27, 2016 at 6:55 am Leave a comment

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