Wednesday, October 28, 2009

christmas cake

Another day at home - small boy has pink eye so we had to weather the clinic waiting room, with all the panic about H1N1 around and wait for a prescription. Of course, picking up the prescription we walked past a display of monster trucks, garbage trucks, hot wheels, etc all of which set my boy into a passion of "I wants".....Grr. I managed to emerge with eye drops and one colouring book of Tonka trucks. And one fairly disgruntled boy with pink eyes.

Kelly got me to thinking about christmas baking about a month ago in a post on her blog at So yesterday I dug out my recipe and I'm amassing the ingredients to start baking my version of Dark Fruit Cake. Now I know that fruit cakes are the but of jokes everywhere but I love my version of the cake. And some others do as well. My secret is that I grind up the nuts and the candied peel and use dried cranberries and apricots in place of the glace cherries (which I loathe). And these days, making the cake reminds me of my bridezilla days. I baked my own wedding cake - dark, fruit cake for a traditional english wedding cake. I have no experience in icing (this cake is usually iced in royal icing) so a friend of D's was going to do it for us. I spent a weekend baking the cakes in early September for our wedding in late October. But then D's friend suffered a ruptured appendix and bowed out of the icing committment which I completely understood. But then I was left with my three tiers of cake - uniced. What to do? I scoured my wedding directory and asked bakeries - the answer was always the same - we only ice and decorate cakes we make. I didn't want anyone else's cake, I wanted mine (you know - true bridezilla) and I was actually googling how to do royal icing and considering fondant icing, when I came across a tiny listing of a bakery that would ice your cake for you. I called and explained my dilemma and they told me to bring in my cake along with pictures of the icing design I wanted. So off I went. I walked into the store and landed up in an eyeglass store - oops. But no - the bakery shared half of the location with the optometry store! A little chinese lady came out behind the bakery counter, took a look at my cake and a look at my pictures (magazine examples of the kind of swiss dot finish I was looking for) and said she would charge me $60 for the complete three tiered cake and I was to call 3 days prior to when I wanted it picked up to remind them. Oh and I had to give them cash. So I ran down the street to the cash machine, leaving my cake and pictures behind. When I got back, the lady at the optometrist counter took my money, explaining that the bakery lady had had to go and pick up her granddaughter from school. Had I made a mistake? My cake was gone somewhere now and I could only hope that it would all turn out.

Three weeks later I called the bakery and they said that the cake would be ready for pick up on the Friday afternoon on the day before our wedding. D and I set off in my little Honda to pick it up. We arrived at the store and they brought out a huge cardboard box. We peered into the top and I almost cried. They had done an absolutely wonderful job - even better than I had hoped for. Gingerly we loaded the box onto D's knee for the ride to the church hall to leave for the caterers the following day. The caterers, following vaguely expressed wishes for fresh flower decorations on the cake did a wonderful job as well and I almost cried again when I walked into the hall and saw the cake. The photo is curtesy of our wonderful wedding photographer, Sherrin Kovach of Sherrin Kovach Photography Ltd (www.

Dark Fruit Cake - adapted from the Canadian Living Cookbook

4 c. mixed candied peel and dried fruit*
2 c. sultanas
2 c. golden raisins
1/2 c brandy or rum
1 c. almonds (ground)
2 c. flour
1/2 c. butter
3/4 c. granulated sugar
1 c. brown sugar
5 eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp each cinnamon, allspice and mace

* I use some of the flour and chop the candied peel in a food processor until it is tiny pieces. The balance of the fruit is dried cranberries and apricots chopped finely in the same way.

Soak fruit and peel in brandy for a couple of hours. Meantime cream butter and sugars until creamy, then beat in the eggs, one at a time and then add the vanilla extract. Mix together the dry ingredients and add them and the fruit mixture to the batter and mix until the fruit is covered with batter. Pour the batter into a well-greased and papered baking tin and bake for 3 1/2 hours at 275 deg. The cake will keep well wrapped for 6 weeks. (we froze the top layer of our cake and served it at our son's christening some 20 months after the wedding)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

autumn days

The backyard has been filling up with leaves falling from our neighbours cherry and apple trees and our maples. So we've been sweeping them up and T has been helping by collecting them in a box and then strewing them on the garden. My sister-in-law is taking a master organic gardening class and is now my go-to resource on composting and working the soil. So all organic matter goes on top of the garden to rot over the winter and give up lots of lovely organic matter for next year.

Today T's preschool class visited the Pumpkin Carving Man - Steve is amazing. Every year he carves hundreds of pumpkins in the week before Hallowe'en using a jigsaw, a dollar-store scraper and a drill. He raises money for the burn unit and the local school kids go on tours around his garden to see the pumpkins. Of course, it started to bucket down rain as soon as we got there and stopped once we got the kids back to preschool but they had fun watching the pumpkin face being made and then running around the garden looking at the pumpkins and other Hallowe'en decor - T was particularly impressed with the "old pirate ship" in the fountain.

When I picked up T from daycare, the kids were "raking" leaves into piles and then jumping into the piles and throwing the leaves all around - each other and all over the lawn again!

When we got home, T decided we should carve our own pumpkins but mummy was much slower getting the guts out of the pumpkin (no scraper) and T was bored with it all by the time I had done. Now I have a big pile of seeds to toast and a gutted pumpkin all ready to carve.

Monday, October 19, 2009

self discovery

Yesterday, I was in the laundry room folding another load of little boy laundry when I hear T calling me from the bathroom. I go to see him standing in front of the mirror with his shirt held up. "Mummy, what are these?" he says, pointing to his chest. I explain what they are. He says, "how long have I had them?" I tell him, "since you were born". He doesn't look convinced but gets distracted by a truck going down the street or the cat racing past.

At dinner, he lifts his shirt again and says to D "look Daddy, I have these". So we tell him, we all have them. He repeats the word several times and finally ends up calling them "nimbles". "We all have nimbles?", he asks. I look at D and mouth, "I'm not showing him mine!" D lifts his shirt to show T his "nimbles". T's comment, "Daddy, yours are much bigger than mine!"

Saturday, October 17, 2009

rainy saturday

The rain was pouring down when we were awakening by T's thundering feet down the hallway. It always makes me laugh when I hear the expression, the pitter-patter of tiny feet, because in our house it is more like the thundering rampage of a herd of elephants - all from one three plus boy! T announced that the rain was really loud and it was - sheets of it banging against the roof and the garden and the skylights. After a cuddle, we got up and ran around getting ready for swimming at 9AM. T had a great time jumping and splashing and diving. His poor instructor has to spend a lot of her time getting him to sit down on the steps or to join the circle but she said he listens to her so hopefully it is ok.

We ran errands after swimming and were home, with groceries unpacked by 11 AM!

I made a big pot of baked beans from the America's Test Kitchen recipe. Bacon, onion, molasses, mustard, salt, beans and water all simmered for hours in the oven, spreading sweet molasses smell all through the house. And now a big pot of delicious beans to eat.

I made vegetarian moussaka for supper, followed by peach galette. D liked the galette - half of it was gone this morning! (Either that or the cat has taken to eating pie!)

While the beans were cooking, D played trucks with T. I put together train tracks and T made a super long train to chug around them. And then we played hide and seek. T doesn't quite get the hiding part yet - he usually tells us where he is going to hide and gives himself away by giggling madly the whole time or yelling "are you coming to find me?"

Monday, October 12, 2009

happy thanksgiving!

Today we are having a lazy day at home as it is Thanksgiving!

We had our dinner last night - and despite having invited others, in the end it was just the 3 of us. Really for most of the dinner it was D and I as T was in a 3 year old mood and not wanting to participate in dinner (don't like it, I'm not going to eat ANYTHING!) so D and I had ham, creamy potatoes and roasted cauliflower and broccoli with onion cheese sauce. And for dessert a lovely apple pie I picked up at the market yesterday. T did eventually join us.

Creamy potatoes are one of my favorite standbys for a potato dish for special occasions or dinners. It's classy name is Pommes de Terre Dauphanoise but in our house they are C's creamy pototoes. To make, thinly slice potatoes and layer them in a buttered or oiled baking dish. Between the potato layers you can add thinly sliced onion, green onion, leek or just black pepper. Once you have filled the dish, add 1 c of grated gruyere cheese, some grated nutmeg and black pepper to 1 c of cream and pour over the potatoes. Bake for 45-60 minutes at 350 F until the potatoes are tender, the cream is mostly absorbed and the top is golden brown. Yum!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

snapshots from the oregon coast

We spent a few lovely days in Cannon Beach, Oregon this week.

The minute we arrived at the Inn, T wanted to go to the beach. So I took him down, with his backhoe, and he dug on the beach for a few minutes while the sun went down.

Three lovely sunny days, with some mist on Wednesday morning and fog on Thursday but no big wind or storms which was what D really wanted. T and I waded in the surf everyday but the water was freezing.

The rest of the days were filled with walking the long stretches of beach punctuated by lots of digging in the sand. D and T made a big sandfort and T spent lots of time demolishing the walls.

Every night I would shake out a few pounds of sand out of shoes, clothes and wash off more in the bath. Some of this year's memorable moments include a seagull coming up and pecking at my toe, and the mooing of the Cannon Beach fire warning system - the mooing cow means it is a test!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

splish splash in the pool!

T had his first swimming lesson yesterday. Early - 9 AM. T was initially a bit clingy - not surprising given the throngs of people. We lined up (grouped up?) near the Minnows sign and waited for the swimming teacher. All the other kids and parents were huddled around the pool deck waiting as well. The signs are near the big pool so T was overwhelmed. Once his teacher arrived (Melissa), she took the kids around to get showered and once he was wet and standing next to the kids pool, T wanted to go in the water right away. He had a great time, jumping and splashing - jumping off the side of the pool with gusto. He didn't want the lesson to end! No lesson next week as it is Thanksgiving.

We are off for a few days on the Oregon coast!

grape harvest

We had about 20 lbs of concord grapes from Auntie K's tree. In the past I've made grape jelly from the juice but we're not really jam people so I googled recipes and decided to make grape juice concentrate.

First we stripped the grapes from the stems and washed them.

Then boiled the grapes and mashed them into pulp and juice. Then into cheesecloth to drip overnight.

D rigged this up (cheesecloth draped over a broom handle) slung between two drawers as he didn't think our faucet was up to holding the weight of the cheesecloth overnight.

After dripping overnight, I added sugar and water to the juice, boiled and poured into hot jars and sealed. I ended up with 10 1/2 jars of concentrate. I cut the concentrate with about 5 parts water for juice. It is sweet (the sugar will preserve the juice) and grapey.
Sunday I took T for a haircut. He sat quietly in the spiderman car and watched Diego look for dinosaurs - good as gold. He got to take a toy garbage truck home from the toy bag. And he played in the ballroom afterwards for a few minutes.

Here is T sleeping on his Thomas the Tank Engine sheets and duvet cover. Our sweet boy!
I harvested all the green tomatoes in the garden - ended up with this big bowl. Yum - tomato pie anyone?