84. Harvest – Whew!

fall wreath with labelFall is the best season!

So inspiring to a fibre artist.cottonwood stand, labelled

But, wo/man! What a big job!

Everything I harvest needs to be processed somehow if we can’t consume it now.

I have canned Harvard beets, cucumber relish, raspberry jam.

Frozen pizza sauce, spaghetti sauce, tomato paste, salsa.

Dried mushrooms and hot peppers.roasting hot peppers

Made roasted jalapeno and cayenne paste.roasted peppers in oil

Made a fabric dye bath out of indigo leaves and lobster mushrooms (I love how the top lobster mushroom actually looks like a lobster tail.)lobster mushrooms

Picked and dried a whole bunch of dye plants for later use in the winter.flowers for dyeing

Dried a raft of herbs (was a great year for herbs with all the heat.)dried herbs

Picked and ate fresh all the grapes.grapes on vine

Made apple pie filling out of our 35 apples from these two little trees:apple trees

Somehow, in all the excitement (!) of building our house these last five years, I completely overlooked the need for a root cellar. To the internet I go – search ‘makeshift root cellar’. Decide to use this old hardware box from F-I-L’s basement, combined with leftover burlap from son’s wedding, to create storage for carrots, beets and potatoes.root cellar box Collage

Our little roof-top vegetable garden was so productive this year. Some of the carrots were so long that when they reached the landscape cloth at the bottom of the boxes, they just started to grow up or wind up like a snail, or push themselves up out of the ground a few inches.

I cleaned the root vegetables and layered them between damp burlap, stored in the garage, the coolest place that doesn’t have vermin.

Made all the eggplants into Baba Ghanoush dip, and froze it.eggplant harvest

Have been picking (and loving!) all the garden flowers, and there are still some brave dahlias, jack-o-lanterns, hydrangeas and even a couple of renegade sweet peas.fall's flowersveggie harvest collage

I’m exhausted from just writing about harvest season. Gotta go to bed!virginia creeper on rocks

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83. Downton Abbey Fundraiser Tea

Mrs Hughes CollageI mentioned in my last post that I was “Mrs. Hughes” for the fundraising tea at “Downton Abbey”. It was held in the local art gallery, which proved to be a cultured venue. The art on the walls, by Suzy Arbor and Meghan Hildebrand, made the atmosphere extra-classy.maids getting tea sandwichesDownton table setting

downton serversThe Driftwood Players provided the “footmen” (no one volunteered to be Barrow, I noticed!) and staged an historical fashion show and skits for the guests.Downton footmen

And the guests, oh! the guests! Didn’t they just embrace the era? (Betty and Mary, below, were on the organizing committee, but also came as guests.)

Downton tea bossesIt was all highly entertaining, and raised funds for the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Grandmothers to Grandmothers’ efforts to support grandmothers in many African countries stricken by AIDS.serving maids ready for duty

As Mrs. Hughes, my job was to design the menu for the 60 guests, formulate the recipes, help find volunteers to prepare the food and serve as maids at the tea, shop for the food I was responsible for, instruct and oversee the female staff and kitchen during the tea, and help clean up all the dishes and linens that were lent for the day.

Volunteer bakers prepared the food at their homes, with instructions for how to “Food Safe” their kitchens.
Cathy cooks Claudia bakes tarts

Sandwich assembly and scone-baking happened the morning of the tea, to make sure these critical tea components were fresh:sandwich assembly for Downton TeaMy “staff”:downton maids all in a row

tea dainties ready for plating

You might be interested to see the menu:

Bottom Tier: Sandwiches

Rolled Asparagus & Prosciutto

Egg Salad and Watercress Fingers

Cucumber & Cream Open-faced Cheese Squares

Lox & Avocado Triangles (Gluten & Dairy-free)

Carmelized Onion Pastries

Baby Rarebits with Beet and Orange Relish

 

Middle Tier: Sweets

Lemon Tarts with Fresh Berries

Cream Puffs with Chocolate Mousse

Macaroons with Marscapone Filling (GF)

Raw Hazelnut Chocolate Babycakes (GF/DF)

Whole Strawberries

 

Top Tier: Scones

Welsh Cakes

Scones with Clotted Cream

Lavender Jelly

Strawberry Jam

 

Kenyan Black Tea and Decaffeinated Black Tea

Water with Lemon Slicesplating tea food

As much work as it was for all the volunteers, it was also a chance to play-act a fantasy, and was as fun a way to volunteer as I can remember!Gayle with tiered tea service

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82. The Death of Nostalgia (or, Who will speak for the recipe box?)

heather bedI’ve had a fabulous trip this week – down memory lane!

It started like this:

I was asked to be the “Food and Servants” director (a.k.a. Mrs Hughes) for the Downton Abbey Tea fundraiser that the Grandmothers and Grandothers are putting on for the Stephen Lewis Foundation. Since I am not a Downton Abbey fanatic, I had to watch Season 4 to understand what went on in the kitchen and what Mrs Hughes did and how she looked (the guests and the “staff” are in costume.)mrs hughes

I researched a menu for an afternoon tea, then drafted the recipes in the quantities needed for the tea (60 guests). Then, with the committee, sought volunteer bakers and serving staff.

The most important food item is the scone. My goodness, I have to get that right. They should not be fluffy like the American biscuit – oh, no! They should be at least as high as they are wide, and have a natural break somewhere near the middle so the guest can gently pull it apart to spread with clotted cream and jam.scones

After baking a couple of test batches, I finally got it right. But the journey to get there – I went to the internet first, then my favourite cookbooks, then the recipe box. I know, who uses a recipe box anymore?

But, it’s a treasure trove of old connections and emotions. The cards are stained and marked from use. Here’s the soy chicken recipe that my sponsor teacher introduced when I was learning how to be a Home Economics teacher. And my sister-in-law’s English Muffin recipe – no one could make them like her. My mother’s typed Raisin Jumbo Cookies – remember when typed mistakes had to be struck out or erased with a special eraser? My mother-in-law was a baker in name and vocation – we use her Welsh Cake recipe to this day. Many of the friends and relatives have passed away or we’ve lost contact with them. All the recipes I pulled out of the box had memories associated with them.recipe box baking

But…. where will the memories be housed for future generations? I went looking for my mother-in-law’s elastic-bound cookbook, with its cryptic notes and recipes that read, “Add enough flour until it feels right”. While searching, I found a journal I kept when I was a new teacher, a new bride, a new house-builder, and a soon-to-be new mother. I would say it was an eye-opener, but it really wasn’t. My thoughts, activities, priorities, lifestyle and friend and family relationships were so very familiar. I have a theory that our personalities are basically developed at birth, and unless life throws us curve balls (or we throw our own curve balls at life) we are who we are. The read did remind my always-poor memory about the activities we were engaged in 35 years ago, and how optimistic and active we were then.geraniums

I mourn the death of physical memory-holders. So much so that I wrote a short essay, The Death of Nostalgia, which I may or may not have submitted to The Globe & Mail. (I told you my memory is poor!)

Here it is (and if you’re still with me, thank you for your patience):

“After a recent move to our last home, I am filtering through the boxes of our family’s lives.

When I was in the middle of those plumb-full child-raising years, I was scarcely able to scan the records at the end of the school year, before I tossed them into a box. Photos, with their accompanying negatives, ended up unsorted, for the most part, stuffed into file cabinets. Into the pile went memorabilia from sports teams, trips, concerts.

I always intended to organize photo albums and scrapbooks for each of the four children, during a seaside holiday or when I was unemployed for a spell. But, these life records just got moved in their “raw” state from one home to the next. Now, as I sort, I ask, “Is this photo/project/essay/birthday card/report card/badge/artwork worth keeping? Will my son or daughter care to have it?

Somewhere in this home, as yet uncovered, is a letter I treasure: a brief note that my aunt wrote to my mother shortly after I was born. Nothing profound, just a ramble about their daily lives with new babies. I don’t have a photographic memory, nor even a very good long-term one. I need these physical reminders of what a great life I have had. It became poignant to learn about my childhood when I started having my own babies. Always sentimental, I got obsessive about capturing every detail about each new and remarkable life in my arms.

Our children, now wonderful and warm-hearted young adults, state in many ways that they are close to us and each other. But I wonder if these mementos will have any meaning to them, even when they have children of their own. In a time when digital photos are a dime-a-dozen; most (unsorted) photos are stored on laptops, memory sticks or in “the cloud”; videos are produced daily on cell phones or digital cameras; and parent blogs chronicle every poop or giggle the new baby makes. There’s no physical “stuff.” We’re encouraged on the Home and Garden channel to hire a home organizer to banish clutter in our increasingly small living spaces anyway.

With each piece I place in the “keep” pile, I rationalize that I would like to have such an item from my childhood. The “about me” assignment: “I have blue eyes, 2 brothers and 1 sister. I am 10 feet tall. I want to be a boat guy when I grow up.” (He’s an engineer.) I wrote down and put into the “keep” pile every cute utterance the children made.

I am interested in my husband’s early life, too, as a way to get to know him and maybe understand our children’s health, personalities, or abilities. The young couples I am close to seldom want to know anything about their partners’ pre-adult lives. Everything they may want to know, they can find on Facebook. And maybe they’re right. They’re taking their loved ones at face value. They’re forming their own history.

Is technology erasing the need for physical mementos? Are too many images and too few (Tweeted) words reducing the depth of our relationships to our parents, our partners and our children? Notes and letters are sent by email, and quickly banished to the virtual trash can. We are encouraged to save-a-tree by not printing them.

I fear memories have lost their depth of meaning to the contemporary human.”eggplants getting air

Thank you for listening!

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81. Green Stuff/Grapevine Privacy Screen

grapevineOur three-year-old grapevines have filled out the big space (about 10′ x 12′) we needed to provide a patio privacy screen from the looming house next door. The sunlight filters through the leaves – so pretty. wicker and vinesAnd there are even grapes ripening – bonus!

grapes

I’ve pruned these vines aggressively – three times already since the leaves started growing. I’ve made dolmades twice from the leaves.

Summer has been full – full of gardening, full of outdoor entertaining, full of house guests, full of love. This past weekend we hosted a house concert with performers from Melbourne. (As we look forward to D’s retirement in a couple of years, we are interested in ramping up our community involvement, and this is one way we can enhance our sense of neighbourhood and belonging.) house concertThe way these house concerts work is: We figure out how many people our house can comfortably/safely hold. We prepare food and beverages for it, and provide accommodation and meals for the performers.dinner with the band In the photo above, we have pulled the guitars (on the chairs in the foreground) up to the table to join us for dinner- not crazy at all, right?

We charge our friends and neighbours for the concert, and all the ticket price goes to the performers. It’s a way of supporting artists in untraditional venues.

In other news at This Green House, I have done or attempted a couple of repairs on items to increase their functionality/longevity. One repair was marginally successful, the other a massive (and scary) fail.

The first is my purse. I needed the strap shortened, and went to a couple of leather repair shops (in Prince George and Gibsons) to ask if they could cut the strap and put one rivet in it while I waited. The response was a curt “No, can’t do that.” In Prince George, the shop owner said,”Leave it here for two weeks, and I can get to it.” Gosh.

So I looked into my storehouse of supplies, to see if there was a way I could do it myself, and found that the various eyelets and snaps would not go through the 1/4″ of leather thickness. So, I sewed it, using upholstery thread. Not pretty, but functional.shorten purse strapAre there any “while you wait” repair shops around anymore? It seems to me that customer service is just not that important in so many small shops. (Does saying that make me old and crotchety?)

The other repair was on my favourite pair of glasses. The plastic at the bridge screw had broken. A 1mm and 2mm thick break – not much to work with. I opened some old epoxy glue, and could see that part of it had hardened. So I squeezed it out onto a piece of paper, with the intention of using a toothpick and my tweezers to put the superglue onto the tiny surfaces. Only, the hardened epoxy stuck in the nozzle, so I squeezed harder. crazy glue glasses

And that’s when a stream of superglue bounced off the paper and onto the table, my shirt, and MY FACE! Chin, lips, beside my nose, forehead, and MY EYE! I instinctively shut my mouth and eyes, then… what do I do? We’ve all heard horror stories of fingers and eyelids getting stuck together.

First, I groaned some swear words – I couldn’t say them because my mouth was closed. Then, I felt my way to the pantry, and pulled out the peanut butter. Whhaaat? Well, I have used peanut butter to get sticky stuff off my quilting rulers, and I reasoned that the oil would provide a barrier plus a diluter to lessen the impact of this horrid stuff.

Imagine me plunging my hand into the jar, and smearing peanut butter all over my face. Yup, that’s what I did. Then I opened one eye, headed into the bathroom, turned on the hot water, and washed off the peanut butter and Krazy Glue with soap. Verrry carefully opened the other eye, and could actually feel my eyelashes stick. So scary. No wonder surgeons use this stuff to close wounds. I applied more soap and hot water, and rubbed vigorously with a towel. Could still feel a kind of dry scratchiness, but the eyelashes weren’t sticking anymore. Then, I rubbed vitamin E salve on it all. Only then did I return to the table to clean it off, and then, meticulously, try to repair the glasses.

When it appeared that the mend had worked, I put the screws back in. The mend immediately let go. Repeat and repeat. I give up.

I so hate to spend a few hundred on glasses that are not designed to last. And I miss those glasses.

tea with drying herbs & grapevine

Those are some of the things going on around here.

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80) Ten Habits for a Green Wedding

night reception black & whiteOur son, Liam, married his partner this weekend (on the night of the Supermoon!) They are both environmental engineers, and so our philosophies of living green are very much in sync.

The venue was a river-rafting camp on the Cheakamus River in British Columbia. 95% of the 110 adult guests, 48 mountain bikes, 17 dogs, and 12 little guests (most under 6) stayed on site, in cabins, tents and RVs. I know, it sounds like a recipe for chaos, but the bride and groom, plus those they enlisted to help with big chunks of the event, were all highly organized. I would say the event went off without a hitch, except for the little ring-bearer, who not only lost the rings on the road somewhere, but also chose to roll around in the dry leaves at the feet of the wedding party (after the rings were found!), wrap herself around the bride, and sniff the groom’s crotch. Yes, you guessed it – their dog, Sinka, was the ring-bearer, and she did her best to steal the show.sinka antics

The event took place in a forest of mature cedar trees, with some deciduous thrown in for perfect measure. In the 30 degree (86F) heat for the two days, we were very grateful to be in shade. We had a campfire in the evenings.wedding campfire

I volunteered to be head caterer for the weekend. That meant overseeing the recipes, shopping, preparation, food-safe storage and clean-up for the entire menus for Friday night’s BBQ, the charcuterie table after the ceremony, and the wedding feast in the evening. Jessica was in charge of the desserts, including the wedding cake, and Verna was in charge of the pancake breakfast and the meat-cooking. kitchen helpWe drafted willing friends and relatives to help us with the prep, cleanup, decoration and everything else. It was a huge communal effort, all big-picture-orchestrated by the bride and groom.charcuterie helpwedding buffet

Cooking facilities on site were extremely limited, so many of the dishes were partly prepared off-site. Here’s the pre-event crew celebrating our efficiency by having a quick lunch with wine.celebrating cookingWe used the barbeques to roast the grass-fed beef, grill pancakes, roast vegetables, boil water for noodles, potatoes, eggs, etc. both because of insufficient stoves and a need to keep the kitchen cool. The huge salmon fillets were cooked over the campfire on a metal rack. With only two regular-sized fridges, we rounded up ice and coolers, including a homemade one that was as big as a chest freezer, and moved about the site when required, on a truck.

You might be waiting with breath bated to learn what made this a green wedding? Here are some of the many ways (followed by a fail):

1. Dishes were rented, eliminating all paper plates and plastic cutlery. They were hand-washed by the guests themselves for re-use for the next meal.

2. The napkins were rented, so no paper waste was generated.

3. The bride’s mother made 120 pottery cups, so each guest could use one at the dinner, and then take it home as their beautiful wedding favour. The cog design is a nod to the wedding couple, both ardent mountain bikers. Classy.cups & glasses

4. Drinks over the weekend were consumed from pint canning jars, with a chalkboard label for each guest to write their name on, for identification. Jessica took them all home to use to can her fruits and chutneys.

5. Picnic tables were rounded up from all over the site, put together, end-to-end, and covered with long canvas drop cloths and burlap, which will all be re-used for other purposes. Table decorations were canning jars with lights inside, blue napkins in Verna’s pottery cups, and plants wrapped in burlap (given to guests to take home to plant.)Green Wedding Reception

6. All the giant serving dishes were rented or borrowed or re-used – there was almost no garbage produced (but see the “fail” below).

7. The groom’s bowtie and pocket square were made from one of his father’s neckties (by little sister). (Green AND sentimental!) Here’s the bride’s family posing for the requisite photos:Meg family

8. Jessica used three old wood-frame windows to display funny and embarrassing and cute pictures of the bride (as a child) on one, of the groom on the second, and both of them together on the third.photo frame at night

9. Beer came from a keg, returned to the brewery. All cans and bottles recycled, of course. Wine was made by bride’s parents in re-used bottles.night reception

10. All food made from scratch, and some ingredients from my garden. Care for a recipe? Roasted veggies were all eaten up, so I know they were popular. I used Liam’s Godmother’s simple recipe: 1. Cut up veggies into bite-sized pieces, and place in roasting pan. We used: carrots and beets from my garden, new potatoes, broccoli, small onions/scallions, sweet peppers, parsnips, garlic cloves and cauliflower. 2. In the roasting pan, marinate veggies in a mixture of: equal portions of balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, and olive oil (to serve 8, I’d say 1/3 cup of each) and add salt and pepper to taste. 3. Put into a 350 degree oven or BBQ for 1.5 – 2 hours, stirring every 20 minutes or so.lights thru cedar

11. Every cook frets over the quantities of food, and we tend to produce far too much. If the reception had been at a hotel or prepared by a real caterer, large quantities of quality food would need to be discarded. Except for the leftover potato salad, which had to be tossed because of food safety, almost all the leftover food was given away to organizers and guests, and kind friends came over to our house the next day to claim a stack of salad ingredients. I only wish I had remembered to take mountains of “tupperware” for bringing food home.

So that’s the list of our 10 habits for a green wedding. I know there are 11, but I figure #7 is a bit of a cheat/brag. As a non-sequiter,Kaan, Tess and I yuk it up for the photo-booth:photobooth antics

Now for the fail:

The venue had no facilities to compost plant waste, largely because of the bear and other pest attractant factor. After all, this location is about a kilometre (as the crow flies) from the grizzly bear and her cub-spotting three days before the wedding! So, I guess I can relinquish one of my green habits in the interests of safety.solarized fire-watchers

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