Turn Down the Heat!!

“Turn down the heat!” I couldn’t tell you how many times I have said that, shouted it, pleaded it and whined it over the years. What is it about teenage boys that they have to have the heat at 30 deg C in their bedrooms? I have a son who steadfastly refused to lower the heat in his room because, as he claimed, he was too cold; but the same boy goes outside at -3Deg C without a jacket, claiming that the cold doesn’t bother him. I just don’t understand. And then when he goes to school, the room is still being reserved as a sauna without anyone in there.

I have raised three sons, and they were all heat lovers. You’d think I would have clued in before now. Well, desperate times call for desperate measures. With the rising cost of electricity, we just couldn’t afford to keep the heat so high. I spent some time just going down to the offending bedroom and turning down the heat when said offender had left for school, but sometimes I forgot. The heat bills were getting higher and higher when one day Dave said, “We’ve got to do something about this. I’ll take care of it.” What ever was he going to do? I had visions of Aaron freezing to death.

Dave went off to Home Hardware and bought a little lockable plastic box that he screwed on the wall over the thermostat. Brilliant! He set the temperature to 20 deg C, locked the box and hid the key. Now the room stays at 20 deg C all the time, and if Aaron wants to keep it warm in there all he has to do is to keep the door shut.

Saving on the heat bill

I couldn’t tell you how much we paid for heat last winter, but I can tell you that it is a lot less this year. The cost of the little plastic lockable box? 20$  Now everyone is happy and no one is being nagged. End of story.

Making Yogurt

It’s the third day of Spring! It is beautiful outside, albeit a little cool for this time of the year. You could say romance is in the air, but so are allergies. You can’t have it all I guess.

Last week I wrote that I would share with you some of my ways to save money, and I showed you how to make sprouts. Today it’s yogurt, or laban as we used to call it growing up. Yes, I am a yogurt eater from way back. Long before yogurt was commercially available, my mother had a green ceramic bowl in which she always had some yogurt “setting”. Only two ingredients are needed to make it: milk and some “starter”, which is simply a few spoonfuls of yogurt left over from the last batch. When I was young, we ate yogurt with a slice of bread broken into bits tossed in. It would then be topped with a couple of spoonfuls of sugar to cut the tartness. Often my parents ate it with a little salt. It was always homemade and it was always good. Nowadays we eat it with fruit, a little jam or on cereal.

A 600 ml container of yogurt costs between 3 and 4 dollars at the supermarket. I can make one liter (which is 1000ml) for the cost of the milk (about 1.70), and make it sugar free, sucralose free and almost fat free. Plus in this age of green, it’s better for the environment as there are no plastic containers to throw away. It’s not difficult to make, as  you will see:

Pour one liter of 1% milk into a pot. Add 1/3 cup of skim milk powder and stir. Heat the milk until it just starts to boil and then take it off the heat. Let it cool on the counter until the temperature is about           120 deg F; if you don’t have a thermometer, just let it cool until you can put your pinkie finger in and count to 20. It’s about the same thing.

Waiting for the temperature to come down to 120deg F.

When it is at the right temperature, stir in about 1/2 cup of plain prepared yogurt. Then cover it and put it in a warm place for 8 hours. Before I had a yogurt maker, I used to wrap the yogurt bowl and put it on top of the fridge because it is warm there. Or you can put it in the oven with just the light on. Cool in the fridge and then you can add sweetener, jam or fruit.

All ready to put in the yogurt maker for 8 hours.

Can you imagine, I bought  my yogurt maker at Frenchys for 4$ and it was brand new, still in the box!

Sugar Apple Pie Crisp

I decided that pleasing everyone shouldn’t be that hard…and I was not going to make Sugar Pie, Apple Pie and Apple Crisp. We would have one dessert, not three. After not giving it much thought, I decided to make a sugar pie, pile some sliced apples on top, sprinkle with cinnamon, and then put the apple crisp crumbles on top of that. After all, the three flavors do go well together.  And here is the result.

This dessert is truly delicious – I think I’ll be making it again, except the general consensus is that the sugar pie part should be deeper and the crumble topping should be thinner.  Served warm with vanilla ice cream makes it the ultimate end to a good meal.

I just wasn’t sure of the name. Should it be

sugar apple pie crisp

apple sugar pie crisp

crispy sugar apple pie

tarte au compote au pommes sucrees

What do you think?

What’s For Dessert???

“What’s for dessert?” Aaron innocently asked. Well. I haven’t been making desserts lately because, you know, healthy eating, dieting and the like. But it’s March Break and  the troops need something sweet. What to make? One wants tarte au sucre, one wants apple pie and yet another wants apple crisp. I can tell you, I won’t be making all three of these decadent desserts tomorrow, but I will be making one. I have an idea…maybe I can please everyone in one dish. Stay tuned  tomorrow for the incredible result.

The Rising Cost of… Sprouts?

The rising cost of living has always been an issue. So what’s new these days? Well, 2011 has started with a bang for sure: from the overthrow of government in Egypt, the unrest in Lybia, North Korea attacking South Korea, to the earthquake in New Zealand and now the triple disaster of earthquake followed by tsunami followed by nuclear explosions in Japan. You could say the ripple effect is in effect, and we are feeling the unrest in our wallets. Oil and gas prices have skyrocketed, as well as the price of sugar, dairy and meats. That’s not all. My favorite drug/vice/antioxidant is about to get more expensive. Coffee beans. What’s a person to do?

For my next few blogs, I will tell you what I am doing – maybe you’ll be inspired to do something as well. This time I’m talking sprouts, alfalfa in particular. Did you know that those little sprouts in plastic boxes in the grocery store are a powerhouse of nutrients? They have protein, fiber, trace minerals, vitamins A, C and K. They also have magnesium, calcium, iron, phosphorous and potassium. But wait – look at the price of those things. You can pay a much as 3$ for a little square box of them, and most of the time they are already days old.

My family likes sprouts on our sandwiches, more than lettuce, spinach or anything else. I got tired of buying them half rotten and expensive at the grocery store, so we started making our own. It takes about four days from seed to leafy green sprouts, and at a fraction of the cost, they couldn’t be fresher. We pay 1.49$ for a bag of sprouting seeds at the health food store and there is enough there for about 10 one litre bottles of sprouts. That’s a saving of about 200%.

All you need to get started is a large mason jar and some netting for the cover, or you can buy mesh covers at the health food store for that very purpose. They come in sets of three sizes of mesh for different stages and sizes of sprouts. I put a tablespoon and a half of seeds in the jar and cover them with water for a couple of hours. After that I drain the water and put on a mesh cover. I rinse the seeds a couple of times a day through the mesh cover and drain. After a couple of days the sprouts are starting to grow; when they have leaves, put them in a sunny window until the leaves turn green, still rinsing twice a day. When the jar is full and the leaves are green, store in the fridge in the same jar. The next day I usually start another batch so that we are never without sprouts.

The sprouting process

We use sprouts on our sandwiches and also on top of salads. They are so pretty and they give a nice crunch to whatever you’re eating.

It’s so easy, I hope you’ll try it, and let me know how you did. If you have any questions, just ask!

It’s Pancake Day!

If you’re middle aged like me, and if you were raised Catholic, then you might remember that Shrove Tuesday is also known as Pancake Day. This is the day that Christians celebrate the beginning of Lent and the giving up of something in memory of Jesus who was sent into the wilderness  for forty days and forty nights and was tempted by the devil. These forty days also precede Easter. The more Americanized version would be Mardi Gras (fat Tuesday).

I remember growing up in Newfoundland when we celebrated Pancake Day. Supper would be, what else – pancakes! But the pancakes Mom made had surprises in them. When no one was looking, she would hide little things in the batter. So when we took pancakes on our plates, we forked them furiously to see what the surprise was. It could be anything from coins to buttons, screws and other little things that she found. If you found a dime, it meant that you would be rich; a button meant that you would be a seamstress; a screw or nail meant that you would be a builder. It was also a way of getting rich if you could just eat lots of pancakes and find lots of coins.

I don’t think that people do this anymore, and it’s a shame; just one of the cherished traditions that have gone by the wayside. I’m sure the pancakes weren’t that healthy back then, so I’m including a healthy pancake recipe here.

Healthy Pancakes

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

2 cups milk

2 eggs

2 Tbsp oil

2 Tbsp honey or maple syrup

1 Tbsp cider vinegar

Mix the dry ingredients in a small bowl. In a large bowl, mix the wet ingredients; then add the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.

For apple pancakes, add one chopped apple to the batter.

For blueberry pancakes, add 1 cup of fresh or frozen blueberries.

Enjoy!

How I Met My Husband…the conclusion

That was the shortest but most amazing visit! After Dave left for Calgary we were both left alone to figure out what all had just happened. When he got back home to Nova Scotia he called to tell me that he had bought three airline tickets: one for him to come to Montreal for a week in August; one for me to go to Nova Scotia for a week in October; and one for him to come to Montreal for two weeks at Christmas. We were set!

When Dave came to Montreal that August, we had the most amazing time – my son Steve drove us all over Montreal: to the Jean Talon Market, Mount Royal, St. Joseph’s Oratory, a great Indian restaurant, and we finished up at Universite de Montreal where he gave us a private piano concert.

At the Jean Talon Market

Over the course of that week we visited, we talked and talked and we realized that we were in love. Imagine falling in love with your best friend – that’s what happened to us. We kept marveling at how we could finish each others’ sentences; how the years had melted away and we were still as impressed with each other as we had been way back when, except now there was romance in the mix. On his last evening in Quebec, we went for a six-course gourmet meal at a little French restaurant in St Eustache. When Dave was paying the bill, the waitress made some comment to him about us. He told her he was going to marry me, but that I didn’t know it yet. 

In October I flew to Nova Scotia just in time for the Autumn Pumpkin Fest and I met some of Dave’s people. He had invited about 12 of his close friends to the house to meet me on the Sunday of my visit. Talk about feeling like a bug under the microscope! I think I did ok. When everyone finally left, Dave was a little antsy; said he wanted to take me for a drive. I went along with his idea, even though it was cold, windy and starting to drizzle rain. He brought his camera. We drove to a place called The Lookoff where we got out of the car to see the view. I kept saying, “It would really be beautiful if it was a nice day”, and wondering what we were doing there. Then Dave said he wanted to get a picture, and so he went back to the car for the camera. I was thinking that a picture in the rain was better than no picture at all, notwithstanding the fact that it was starting to get dark. Next thing I knew, Dave was down on one knee asking me to marry him and presenting me a ring! I was so taken aback; this was so unexpected that all I could say was, “You’re crazy!”  And he said, “Yes, but will you marry me?” Well, you know the answer to that.

And so we decided to get married in Montreal when he came for Christmas, 2009. My sister generously offered her house for the wedding and reception, and she prepared a huge Lebanese feast for the occasion.

My parents were there, as well as Dave’s sister and brother. My old friend Judy was there too; she was the one who had been talking to Dave about me and me about Dave all that time. Thank you Judy – we’re indebted to you!

Can you guess what I gave each attendee as a little gift? Look to the left of the cake and you will see square pans of Divorce Fudge with a little bag of lavender attached.

And now we’re living in Coldbrook, Nova Scotia and couldn’t be happier. That is the end of my story, but really it’s only the beginning…