27 June, 2008

350 is the Only Number

In any language, it's easy to understand the importance of clean air.

350 parts per million
of CO2 is the goal for Earthlings' ability to breathe and function. Watch the video and then check out 350.org and see what the world is doing to get itself healthy.

Wherever you live, whoever you are, they speak your language. Join the world.

21 June, 2008

Summer Solstice Concert

Raise your glasses to the sun.

Take a walk with your pet, family or a friend.

Cook some real food and eat it consciously.

Watch the conjunction of the moon and Jupiter. (Nova Scotia, 5:00 am in the night sky) or find other bright stars and planets with Astroviewer, a program that opens an interactive star map by clicking on a link (top left of the page) and can be customized to your location and the hour of viewing. Great for novices like me.

Come on, dance a little, celebrate the apex of the light and our fortunate life here on earth for one more year.

Summertime: Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong (I recommend earphones to hear the rich tones of this one.)

Good Vibrations
: 1967 Beach Boys (the classic)

Heroic harmonica from Van Morrison:

Marrakesh Express/Blackbird: Crosby, Stills, Nash

Mother of Music: Cape Breton master fiddler Brenda Stubbard's music is pure joy.

17 June, 2008

Cornmeal Pancakes with Dried Cranberries (Gluten-free)

Here is the promised (in the sidebar) recipe for Cornmeal Dried Cranberry Pancakes to serve soaked in maple syrup or topped with your favourite sweet sauce. They are hearty and satisfying for campers or week-end brunchers, or any lovers of a bit of a bite and a chew at breakfast. If there are leftovers they can be cut up in wedges like cornbread and served as a snack or just re-heated and eaten as pancakes.

I developed them here at the house a few weeks ago but they recently made an appearance at a week-end camping reunion my family took in a lovely wood near a national park. Typical for Nova Scotia on the site were mixed evergreens and hardwoods on a peaceful lake with a float for swimming. Lots of beauty, lots of black flies.

I took along the small cast iron frying pan to get a nice crust. These are easy and good and no-one noticed that they weren't made with traditional flour. I used Bob's Red Mill which seems to be widely available in North America, but substitute any you can get locally. Even if you aren't on a gluten-free diet you might be surprised how much you like these.

The pictures are from a batch I made earlier at home.

Spiced Cornmeal and Dried Cranberry Pancakes

Makes 4-5 smallish but thick pancakes

1 cup brown rice flour (I used Bob's Red Mill, which is very finely ground)
1/4 cup cornmeal (Bob's Red Mill or your choice)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
good dash ground cinnamon
good dash ground ginger
small dash nutmeg
1/4-1/3 cup dried cranberries

1-2 eggs

3 Tb vegetable oil (I used sunflower)
1 cup soy milk

extra oil for the pan
Put all the dry ingredients in a bowl and mix together with a fork. Put the eggs, oil and soy milk in another bowl and whip them together until the colour is consistent and then add the mixture all at once to the dry ingredients. Mix with the fork until blended. The batter should be stiff but pourable. You can adjust the consistency by adding more soy milk or rice flour. You need to do this because the flour will contain different amounts of humidity depending on storage conditions and the weather. Don't worry, the batter is very forgiving. Stir in the cranberries last or add them to the dry ingredients, as you like.

Put a tsp or so of oil in the pan and heat it up. Add a few spoons of the mixture, and if you need to, distribute it around with the back of the spoon. You will need less oil after the first pancake. Keep adjusting the heat under the pan so the cakes cook evenly, and have time to cook through before they get too dark.

Serve with lots of maple syrup and dig in.

11 June, 2008

Toast (& Gluten-free Bruschetta)

My favourite week-day breakfast, before I stopped eating regular bread, used to be toast and coffee. Nothing fancy there. Just tumble out of bed, roll into the kitchen, put the water to boil for coffee, and pop a double-slice of bread in the toaster.

I was a little picky about the toast, though. It had to be made from a good heavy, grainy bread that would pick up some strength from being toasted and it had to be dark toast. I like crunch, and it could never really be too crunchy for me. I didn't load it down with butter, either. I liked it dry or with a smidge of butter, peanut butter, or occasionally, jam.

I always wanted one of those antique English toast racks. I figured the English knew a thing or two about how to eat toast. And they weren't having any of those margarine-soaked slices stacked up on a plate, so they steamed themselves into a soggy square that actually turned down in your hand, folding itself shamefully in two. The kind of toast they serve at family restaurants.

Even as a little kid, travelling with family, and looking forward to a rare meal out, I couldn't contain my disappointment when that kind of toast was served. I couldn't eat it, either. To me that toast was the epitome of everything that was wrong with packaged white bread. I figured cremation was too good for it. Just toss it to the dog, if she wasn't too fussy, and bring out the real deal, crisp golden brown slices with a hint of the smoke of the oven, unbuttered, maybe cut diagonally in two, arrayed on the ides of the plate around the eggs, and when I bit into them, gloriously crisp, crunchy, toothsome, perfect.

I still like toast. It helps improve the flavour and texture of gluten-free bread, which tends to the cakey, crumbly, and bland side of the bread spectrum. In other words, most of the commercially prepared gluten-free bread, and even home-made loaves, are a bit of a disappointment. More "memories of bread" than real bread. It's no secret among gluten-free folks that one of the things we would love best is a recipe for a nice loaf of bread. Good toast is probably a close second. Often the toast made with these breads is rather pallid. Bruschetta, a great gilding of toast, and perfect for breakfast or a snack, is almost impossible, because it relies on grating the raw garlic over the toasted surface of the bread, and you need enough strength and structure in the bread to do that.

I have dearly missed brushetta; I loved it for breakfast with deep dark coffee.

Happily, I've discovered I can make a pretty good toast and therefore a good bruschetta with gluten-free bread.

I had a few too many slices for breakfast yesterday, just to perfect the method, you understand.

Yep, it works. And it was darned enjoyable.

For all you gluten-free folks who have been longing for bruschetta, here's my method. I used Glutino Flax-seed bread and it worked well. You might like to experiment and let me know which ones you favour.

For this toast you need a small (or large) cast iron frying pan. Just the thick black ordinary kind. This pan could be your best friend for crusty pancakes, fried tofu, anything that you want extra flavour and crispiness in. It's my favourite pan these days. It might be hard to find in Japan, though. I'd appreciate if any of my readers from there let me know about a source.

Note for campers: this method work for any toast, in the absence of a toaster, and I think the toast is tastier, too. It's got some of that smoky flavour of other camp toast, without the heavy scorching issues.

Put your cast iron pan on high heat and heat it up for a minute, then put in the slice of bread in without using any oil. You need to wait until the toast starts to smoke just a tiny bit. Keep checking until you get used to how fast it cooks. Once the pan is hot it will cook very quickly and you might want to reduce the heat to medium or low. Usually it takes less than a minute a side in a hot pan. Turn it with a fork.

When it's done, immediately put it on a plate and grate a garlic clove that you've peeled and cut in half over one side a few times, to taste. Drizzle on a bit of extra-virgin olive oil and a drift of salt. Eat right away for the crispiest texture. It does tend to get limp fairly quickly. You could try putting finished toast, without the topping, on a wire cookie rack and see if that holds the crispness. I'll try that next time.

In any case, this toast is very good, and about the closest to regular bread I've tried. You could also top it with anything else that makes your hungry heart flutter.

Enjoy the crunch!

05 June, 2008

Peppermint All-purpose Household Cleaner

This is a recipe I've tested well. I've been using it in several variations for more than a year now and I wouldn't be without it. One of the first things I did when I got to this old house was make up a batch so I wouldn't have to use the commercial cleaners under the sink.

Why do I like it so much?

It cleans the sink, counters, kitchen table, toilet, bathroom tub, sink, furniture, stuff spilled on the floor, or anything washable. It smells great. It can even be used as a dishwashing liquid. In fact, if you have caked-on food or greasy things, a few spurts of this and a fill-up with water, then an overnight soak pretty much cleans up the problem. I even use this to clean cutting boards before giving them a good rinse, and I don't worry about getting off-flavours because this is natural and rinses right off. The vinegar helps to kill mold and disinfect.

It's biodegradable.

It's cheap.

It smells good.

It doesn't sting my hands, even if they happen to be a bit tender.

It's customizable. You can add a bit more detergent/soap or vinegar if you want more cleaning power. You can use tea tree oil, grapefruit seed extract, or peppermint extract as the active agent. Or, you could substitute something you like better.

There's one bottle instead of five or six cluttering up your cupboard or counter.

You can re-use that bottle.

Here's how:

Take a spray bottle. You can re-use one from a cleaner you already have. I'm currently re-using a Windex bottle. It works fine.

Put around three fingers in height of dish detergent in the bottom of the bottle. If you have a biodegradable one so much the better, but even using a regular dish detergent is good, because it will be diluted a bit by this method.

Put in around 1/4 cup of vinegar. I use white but it can be anything you like. Maybe a flavoured one is overkill, though. I'd save my rasperry champagne vinegar for the salad.

Put in a small capful of your favourite extract. Tea tree oil or grapefruit seed extract is better for cleaning bathrooms since they have anti-germ properties, peppermint works for both dishes and the bathroom, so it's my current choice.

Fill the bottle with plain tap water and give it a shake.


To use it spray on, and scrub with a wet cloth. Or spray it on a wet cloth and scrub. Rinse with fresh water. To use it for dishes put a few squirts in the dish pan and fill with water or spray it directly on dishes, srcub and rinse.

Did I mention it smells good and it's cheap?

Best of all, it takes 2 minutes to make, if you stop for a swig of coffee in the middle.

Try it. Let me know how it works for you and what your favourite variation is.

Tell me how much money you save.

02 June, 2008

This Old House

I'm still here in the country, in this old house, though I don't know how long I can stay. It's a kind of funny existence, being in a place that feels so much like home, yet living out of a suitcase and never knowing if I will be leaving in a few days or not.

Unsettling, yet because the country is so easygoing and I'm here alone there is a kind of lulling rhythm that makes days pass as they should, with their center around cooking meals, drinking tea to warm up, getting yourself and the dishes and the house clean, getting in enough wood to keep off the early spring chill, trying to catch a ride once a week to the nearest grocery store in the next town, or finding when the Library down the street with the Internet connection, is open.

There is no telephone.

I am still alive.

Walking down to the stream over grass stretching its neck up to the new sun, being dazzled by fields of Dandelions, so yellow against the green grass that they make me think of hooking a rug with those same colours, a rug to lay against old uneven wood floors, a rug to hold spring close all year long.

A life where the excitement of the week is a squirrel in the house, and me chasing it from room to room urging "shoo, shoo", blithely ignored while she ricochets off the windows, does a trapeze act on the kitchen curtains, runs a circuit of the bathroom and the study and every room downstairs while I, finally a bit exasperated, pick up a broom, just to urge her out you understand, not to hit her, and resort to Lady MacBeth's cry of "Out! Out! Out! (Damned Squirrel).

That was after she had grazed my hair when she flew off the window, over my head, and onto the floor. I never had a squirrel hairdresser before, and I don't recommend it, unless you have better nerves than me, and like the wild look.

Not a clue how she got in. She popped out of the kitchen as I was watching TV one evening. After our chase she has decided to stay properly outside. I will show my appreciation for her forbearance by feeding her kitchen scraps when I have them. Well away from the house, I think.

It's pretty quiet here, as a home should be. The only noise is when the neighbors on two sides take to trying to tame the grass and dandelions. One with a big mower attached to his tractor and the other with an even louder gas-powered mower. Fortunately they're not at it all the time. I prefer the quiet method, let it grow and ripple and wave in beautiful patterns in the wind. At least for now that is a fine solution. If I get any ticks or get lost on the short trip to the stream or the Rhubarb patch, I may change my mind.

Rhubarb. Is there any welcomer spring "fruit"? Of course I know it's a vegetable but by the time you get it stewed with a bit of brown sugar, or settling inside a pie, you forget that it's anything but darned good. I haven't had rhubarb for more than seven years. In fact I don't remember when I ate it last. But so far I've cut short stalks and had it twice, and it's still growing, with a little more patience from me now that I've had a bit, so I hope to have it a third time before I leave here. I'd love to make a recipe for a good gluten-free rhubarb pie. If I had anything but a wood-fired oven I'm sure I'd have one by now.

A wood-fired oven, in a stove called "Sweetheart". Sounds romantic, doesn't it?

It's damned tricky. You have to get the temperature up high enough for cooking, which takes a couple of hours of good "charging". And a lot of wood. I surmise that the heat is correct when the wood has burned to coals. It's a whole new science. There's a lot to learn. I ruined the first cornbread, which did not ever really cook. The squirrel got most of that one. Funny she came back for more.

I want that pie, though, so maybe I'll try it this week. I can justify it by heating some hot water for washing at the same time. For there is no hot water here, except what I heat. And there is no washing machine. It's all by hand. Back to basics, yet so far I don't mind. There's only me to wash and to wash for. I can manage that.

Looking out the window now at more beauty than I thought possible, a green field full of yellow flowers, trees above that with their caps set to the wind, sky as delicate bright blue as my dreams of a Nova Scotian sky when I was in Japan. The solidity of a house, in a small town, on the earth, on this day when I can easily imagine the life of my great-grandparents and grandparents. I feel I have tapped into a kind of life that has always been right here. Inside the house but for the computer and TV and electricity, I might be living a hundred years ago. I can almost hear the whispers and footsteps of ghostly ancestors.

"Home", they whisper. "Home", they groan. "Home", they sigh.

It is a place to just be.

A place to love.

This old house.