Monday 28 July 2008


Safiya will be four on Wednesday. Her birthday party was yesterday. Thank you to all family, friends, and neighbours who jammed into our little place and shared a wonderful day of food and kids running around and the tides of party-noise that is always music to my ears: talking, laughing, kids banging various musical instruments at various times, clinking cutlery, the telling of stories, books read out loud to children crowded around, the yelling for coffee...

A delightful day, with a very happy little girl in the middle of the whirl.

Thursday 24 July 2008

The Vegan Mennonite

The vegetable dishes section in the revered cookbook above are heavy on cheese and half have meat in them. Butter and eggs are applied liberally throughout, and the idea of a vegetarian is an aberration of nature....

But these things must be understood within their context, surely. When asked to submit recipes years ago, these ladies would have submitted their most proud, their most delicious. Recipes that indicated bounty and celebration (think eggy paska), not thrift (bacon fat sandwiches, anyone?)

And it is within that frame that I remember the savoured foods of my childhood. Tummy-filling borscht (tomato based, not beet), flaky perishky with savory or sweet fillings, platz, hand-cut kielke, deep fried rollkuchen, and, of course, Mennonite sausage with cream gravy and wareniki - oh, and that staple of faspa (late afternoon lunch) - zweiback (double buns) grandmothers' food lavished well-being on us with its freshness and evidence of hand hard work. Although, the Mennonite Treasury of Recipes, like any good 50's cookbook, has it's share of ingredients such as condensed milk, soup-in-a-can, and jello. Why not? Thrift, although unspoken, was a virtue bred in the bone.

Today I did the unthinkable, and I may have created a new mission for myself. On a substituting roll, I veganised my Grammy's raisin cookies, the recipe for which is contained in the Mennonite cookbook. It's not a traditional Mennonite food, but for me it reminds me of Grammy's house, which is authentic enough for me. So here I proudly present my first vegan "Mennonite" recipe:

Raisin Cookies

1 cup raisins
1/2 cup boiling water
1/3 cup canola oil
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp ground flax seeds
3 Tbsp boiling water
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup unbleached white pastry flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp cloves
1/8 tsp nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 F. Combine ground flax seed and the 3 Tbsp of boiling water and let sit while continuing with recipe. Combine raisins and 1/2 cup boiling water and also let sit (at least 10 minutes).

Mix dry ingredients, including sugar, in a large bowl. Drain the raisins and reserve liquid. Add oil, raisins, vanilla, and ground flax seed mixture to dry ingredients and mix until combined. Add a little of the reserved water until you get a sticky batter (don't overmix).

Drop by teaspoonfuls, bake for 10 minutes (they should rise and not spread too much, but they'll fall again when you take them out), remove from oven and cool on racks (they're a soft cookie).

They turned out great, if not quite like Grammy's, then yummy in their own right. Now, the holy grail for me is zweiback, which, as Grammy told me this morning, "need really can't make them without butter." But you know what? I just found a recipe that doesn't use butter, and a really neat tutorial on how to make them, 'cause there would be shame in the room if I tried to do this at the side of Grandma or Grammy ;-)

And I'll end with my favourite part of this cookbook, the part that reminds me of the trinity of weddings, showers, and funerals in church basements, the MCC (Mennonite Central Committee - a relief organisation) sale, of youth Sunday suppers, of family reunions and church picnics.

"Quantity Servings". For 100. Now, when we get a vegan cookbook with that section, that will be a real cookbook. All else is mere child's play ;-)

Wednesday 23 July 2008

Also, In Which Lillian Was Generous and so there is a Give-Away with a Package Actually Ready to Give Away

"S" is for swell..

And sweet and sgenerous and sthoughtful....

When I did the Children's Trunk Show, my booth neighbour was the sweet Lillian, who runs Bamboo Lily. Her stuff is adorable and well made and environmentally conscience, so please go and check out what she makes because she is due some awesome karma. She was cleaning out her studio, she had extra fabric, she knew from the show that I use recycled fabric, and next thing you know there's this email asking me if I would like two large garbage bags full of fabric.

My head almost exploded.

And to top it off, she passed on to me some incredible fabrics from her Mom, who had brought them from India in the 60's. That is about the coolest thing I've ever heard, and so to delight your senses, here's a little sampling:

Good quality fabrics; silks, wools, psychedelic polyesters, cottons, just about like falling into fabric heaven.

And I'm really excited about this, which is a ruched chiffon:

Actually, I love the paper in which it is enclosed as well, and my mind is racing, thinking up possibilities...

And to top it all off, some awesome vintage dresses, also from India:

Thanks, Lillian. Generosity like yours is truly kind-hearted. And being the fortunate recipient of such generosity prompts me to pass it on. So, please share a tale of generosity here, in the comments. If not just for the fact that stories like that spread warmth, but for the fact that I've got two identical packages ready to be sent out containing pieces of some of my favourites:

There are some surprise pieces in there as well, and some of that chiffon, just to spread the happiness around.

Now, for the sake of transparency, I have packages from two give-aways....last year, that are still W.I.P. I've been pretty good since then, but if you are someone who is waiting for one of those, do not despair! And please comment again, because these packages are hot to trot and waiting to go :-)

Let's see...leave a story of generosity in the comments for this post by Wednesday, July 30, which is Safiya's birthday (yay!), and we'll randomly draw two numbers and have the packages out by the end of that week.

Thanks Lillian!

In Which Mr. S. Has Delusions That Become Reality

On Friday I had a little surgery to rid my leg of veins that were threatening mutiny - a condition I inherited and have been putting up with since I was 16. But the point of this story is not poor me, the point is that Mr. S. is a masochist. A sweet one, to be sure, but there are times like this where....

Well, like I said, the surgery was on Friday. Afterward, Mr. S. drove Safiya and I down to my Mom's to hang out while I was off my feet (and to have a lovely baby shower for my new sister-in-law - yay!), and as for the picture above, that was what our kitchen looked like when we left. I'll not show pictures of the floor, which was in a miserable state.

This is what I walked into when we got home Tuesday morning. Cabinets painted beautifully and floor tiles regrouted. It wasn't a surprise; I knew it was going to be done. And that's the scary thing - I knew it was going to be three days. You see, he gets this look in his eye when we are discussing stuff like this and then he says "You know what? I bet you...I bet you I can get it done in three days." And then he shakes his head emphatically "yes", looks at me with three fingers held up and says "three days!"

Like I said, masochist. Not that I'm complaining ;-)

Thursday 17 July 2008

The Day Safiya Decided to go to Granny's By Herself

Yesterday Safiya ran away. Well, almost. She had finished what she was doing, I was in the middle of trying to get an order done, and she wanted me to teach her how to crochet a Daddy sea slug. My suggestion of "later" was not part of the plan, I got frustrated and she got upset.

She went upstairs to vent, and I heard her complaining away (she doesn't realise I can hear her, which is actually quite amusing), I went upstairs to give her some solace, then back down to the studio.

A long pause, some pattering around, supplies falling on the floor, and some muttering. This is the conversation that followed, us communicating between floors:

"Mama, how do you spell Mama?"

And then I heard her spelling first Mr. S.'s name and then her name S-A-F-I-Y-A....

"How do you spell is?"

"And Going?"
"G-O-I-N-G"....And here my scissors pause, intrigued...



"D-I-F-F-E-R-E-N-T.....A different what, honey?"

"I can't tell you"
"Oh, o.k...."


"Mama, can I tell you anything?"
"Yes, honey, you can tell me anything."

"A Different House. Mama, how do you spell House?"

And then I went upstairs.

I found her lying on the floor by the front door, shoes on, despondent in the way that only little almost-four-year-old girls can be, and having decided she was going to Granny's house because there, "Granny plays with me all day." There was a note. With tears in her eyes, she patted my arm and told me, "Don't worry Mama, I'll be back in 12 days."

I asked her if she had everything she needed. She perked up, pattered back into the playroom and returned with one of her stuffed animals and her piggybank "because I'll need money...." We talked about bus tickets and she remembered to ask me for the key to Granny's house so she could get in. She asked me to open the door, I asked if she needed her hat, she said "Thanks Mama", got about 3 feet out the door, and then turned and cried...."But I'll miss you, Mama!"

Hugs, more crying, some ambivalence about staying or going - she missed Granny so much, you see, but also, "I like it here". It was an afternoon of between-us talking and much hugs and kisses, me trying to hold back laughter and tears at the same time.

Safiya, my honey, you never cease to amaze me. Thank you for an afternoon of just us.

As for the rest of the day, this was the song that floated around in and about the two of us, comforting and holding my hand....

Where are you going, my little one, little one?
Where are you going, my baby, my own?
Turn around and you're two,
Turn around and you're four,
Turn around and you're a young girl,
Going out of my door.

Turn around, turn around,
Turn around and you're a young girl,
Going out of my door....

Monday 14 July 2008

Wardrobe Refashion, Kid's Version

Every once in a while I quickly go through my clothes and put things in the donation bag. Lately though, I've become a bit more mean. Yes, there's a perfectly good shirt of Mr. S.'s that he doesn't dig anymore in there, but you can't have it because the buttons can go in the button box and the rest can make rags. Stingy, I know, but might as well get as much use out of it as possible.

So there was the top in the picture up there, which was an early-pregnancy-friend-gave-me item that seriously? Awesome on a hot summer beach day when the pregnancy boobs are so big that they can be seen from space, but these days squishing is hardly to their benefit ;-) I quickly shortened the elasticized bodice (just cut the top couple of inches off in-between rows of stitching), took the side seam in, added ribbon for straps, and hey presto!

On a roll, I got daring with this:

Love the pattern, love the cut, but too small. I'm not sure if doing the following is officially sanctioned altering - is this allowable? Apparently, 'cause it worked!

I put the t-shirt on Safiya, got her to stand still (!), pinched it up on top of her shoulders until I got a decent fit, marked one side with a safety pin 'cause that's all I could manage given the level of wriggliness, and then turned it inside out and pondered for a minute.

This is a view from the back of one of the shoulders. The trick, which I almost got, is to line up the neck binding and the sleeve seams from front to back. There was extra fabric on the back, so I just pleated it as I sewed the seam, following the original line of the shirt (which yielded a perfectly fitting sleeve - I was pretty amazed!) It still puckered a bit across the back of the neck, so I just folded it under and stitched, as you can see.

O.k., the following is my doctored version (the red arrows are where I lined up the old seams, which are in white, and the green line is where I sewed the new seam - does that help, or am I making things more complicated?)

Anyway, not the most glamourous of jobs, but it created, it all of 5 minutes (minus the pondering), a perfectly serviceable dress:

I'd love to show you a picture of her wearing it, but most of the time today she was sticking her hands in the pockets and pulling it up over her head. I can, however, show you what happened at the end of the day:

That's our vegetable "garden". There's herbs, sunflowers, and sunchokes in there somewhere. And the often played in but rarely photographed mud hole. With the dress as accessory.

Saturday 12 July 2008

Like Scoring Three Goals in One Game...

I tried to convey how excited I was about this to Mr. S. using terms he could understand, but to no avail. "That's nice!" He tried, he really tried to be happy for me, but there was still the unspoken "whatever, crazy lady" behind his words :-)

This is my spool graveyard. I've gone through a lot of thread. Does anyone have an idea of what to do with these? I guess somehow load them up again, eh? Anyway, a couple of days ago I ran out of white. And off-white. And beige.

The halcyon days of simply buying new thread, the days before I realised what I sewed with ended up being swallowed by sea life, are long gone (and that includes the dyes - I'm starting to think, if I wouldn't want to drink it, it shouldn't get thrown out...I know, crazy talk....)

Thread on spools is hard to come by second-hand. And I haven't graduated yet to buying organic thread. But I have scored a couple of cones of thread for sergers, in the hopes of figuring out what to do with them. Ages ago I remember seeing how to rig them up on a non-serger machine on someone's craft blog. I have a million bookmarks - did I bookmark it? Of course not. So, after some searching last night, I came up with a combination of this idea posted on instructables and this. And for all you out there going, "well, a thread stand, of course..." I did not know that thread stands existed, so there.

The hanger was bent with pliers and tacked down with some electric-cord-hold-in-place-thingies from Ikea, and I just placed the cone on the spindle and put it underneath.

And it works like a charm!.....


Thursday 10 July 2008

Like Candy

I would have loved to see what came from the creative hands that previously owned this bowl of goodies. Crocheting something so fastidious holds no appeal for me, but I bet there will be another use for colours so luscious around here. It makes me happy just looking at them. Anybody got any ideas?

Another stroke of thrift-store luck yielded this wonder stack, and do you see the mod pink? Two big sheets!

Way back in September I lamented that there was only one little piece of it left in my stash. It's very odd to re-find pieces, but then of course, the manufacturers would have made stacks and stacks of the same thing, right? Actually makes you wonder where the rest of it is lurking :-)

And finally, after much waiting, Safiya and I found our very own button haul. I was always jealous of other crafters' stories of button hauls - where were all these second-hand buttons hiding? And voila!

We had a great afternoon just hanging out sorting buttons. Kids and buttons are made for eachother. There were some real beauties in the bags we found:

So now I'm set for buttons. For life :-)

If I needed something second-hand, I used to anxiously peruse the thrift stores pretty frequently. "Maybe this time the hand blender I need will be there!" Freaking out is not good for thrifting karma. I've had much better success just relaxing and checking when I happen to go instead of making it a mission. Thrift-store disappointment is harsh. Case in point: the hand blender. We went without after ours broke because after watching Manufactured Landscapes I just couldn't bring myself to by one new. I freaked for a while and then resigned myself to mashing soup with my trusty yet ineffectual potato masher. (Oh the deprivation!) And then, having let it go, a hand blender appeared when I wasn't even looking for one. Huh. And it was even better than our old one.

Can I keep talking about thrifting? 'Cause really sometimes it feels like finding treasure.

Tuesday 8 July 2008

It All Started with the Maple Syrup

A couple of days ago I was picking up emergency maple syrup from the grocery store close to us (emergency as in, we're going to have pancakes for breakfast tomorrow :-) and I gasped (yes, out loud) when I saw the price.

It had been $8.99 for 500mL. It was now $10.99. That's in the space of a month or so. I asked the clerk about it and she said "Yeah, it's gone up, eh? They said there was a reason - I can't remember what it was, but they said there was a good reason." Yes, it's called high oil prices.

Food price rises only happen to other people, right? Like a lot (most?) people we kind of keep a watch on how much we spend on food, and we kind of have some debt, not including the mortgage. What happens when the money that needs to go to that debt now has to be diverted to food? We're not there yet, but it's not hard for me to see that path, and I can imagine that some people (especially our neighbours to the south) are already there.

And I'd like to introduce you to our $9.50 bowl of peas:

Please note, I am not complaining, because sweet freshly shelled peas straight from the farmer is foods for the gods. We live literally in the middle of the largest city in Canada, and this farmer travels about 100km to bring fresh food to the market. I am not going to begrudge her/him $9.50 for a four quart of peas (which yielded about 4 cups shelled - hard to tell, we ate as we went along :-). My grandmother would be shocked, and I grew up on a farm, so it hurts a little, but did I grow my own peas? no.

But what happens when the cost for that farmer to get here keeps rising? My confession is that a lot of this creates for me some anxiety and a vague sense of unease. Hence the very cheery food posts lately glossing over all that ;-) Actually, it is exactly why there's been a bit more food posts around here. Lately my focus has been my fledgling business, planning to sew more for us, and really buckling down and learning to plan ahead with food and trying to make everything at home. Instead of ordering pizza on a day when Mama and Mr. S. ain't got the energy, I'd like to be able to take something out of the freezer or shelf. That requires planning and budgeting; more than I realised.

So, we made our own jam because not only does it taste waaaaay better, but it costs (and will cost if you figure what jam might cost in a year - ha!) slightly less than buying it. And I love having jam....for the year. And learning skills. Because that's what's important, right Napoleon Dynamite? Skills?

She started off really enthusiastic and then that predictably waned. Safiya's almost four and it makes me glad to see that she doesn't view anything (yet) as a chore. We'll see when she gets older.

I wonder what food will cost then.

Monday 7 July 2008

Chickpea Cutlet Love

That may not look particularly appetizing, but it represents a breakthrough in food at our house. Safiya has never eaten a sandwich before. She loved Veganomicon's chickpea cutlets so much that not only did she eat this schnitzel-ish food item, but she suggested the bun and then insisted I take pictures of her eating this crazy food.

Having never worked with vital wheat gluten before, gotta say, it's easy-peasy. The recipe (you can find it and a slightly ribald review at Yeah, That "Vegan" Shit) calls for liquid smoke (eeeew), which does not live at our house, so I omitted the chili flakes and subbed just a tiiiiny bit of this phenomenal stuff:

I'm on the chickpea cutlet bandwagon, and it is a yummy ride :-)

Wednesday 2 July 2008

There are No Pictures of the Cookies...

...because we ate them all in one 24-hour period. And by we I mean me.

The chewy chocolate gingerbread cookies, that is. Sub 1/3 cup oil for the 1/2 cup butter. Bake for 8 minutes so they don't get crispy. They'll be a little flatter than usual, but it doesn't matter. I'm telling you, it doesn't matter.