Friday, April 29, 2011

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver.  (HarperCollins 2007)

A couple of weeks ago my friend Uta K. and I went to the Beaumont Library to go to a class on container gardening put on by Kathy Austen of New Beginnings greenhouse.  Kathy did a great job, the room was full of parsley, mint, strawberries, and other amazing plants.  We really enjoyed ourselves and it was nice to smell dirt and green things growing (there was still snow on the ground at this point.)

After the presentation Uta and I wandered around the library looking for a good book to read.  Uta picked this book off the shelf and offered it to me, saying both her and her daughter had read it, and that I would really enjoy it.  I put it on top of the other books I had chosen and brought it home.

Barbara Kingsolver is a very talented fiction writer who lives in southwestern Virginia.  She, her husband and children used to live in Arizona, but were increasingly concerned with the amount of fuel and water that are used to produce or ship food for consumption in that desert climate.  They owned a family farm in West Virginia, and decided to return to their roots and live in a more temparate climate where you can grow your own food and eat locally.  As an experiment, she and her family made a committment to live for a year eating food that they either grew themselves or which came from within a 100 mile radius of where they lived, and during this time they would write about their experience.  A year of food life, as it says on the cover of the book.  The book therefore has a journal like feel, with each chapter in chronological order, including a submission from her husband and oldest daughter.  The author wrote about their experience, her husband wrote about the actual issues of food production and local farming, and their eldest daughter shared recipes and gave the point of view of a teenage girl living this experiment.

This book reads like a story in many ways, and I was drawn into the daily experiences of the family, of baking bread and weeding their gardens, trying to figure out what to eat in March (when they started the experiment), dealing with zucchini and tomatoes in August, and the funny side of poultry farming.  I also was drawn into the valid concerns of the family about the real consequences North Americans may face regarding factory farming.  I grew up in a small farming community in rural Nova Scotia, and my food experience as a child was very different from what my children are experiencing.  My mother bought milk from the farmer up the road.  I remember the big silver pasteurizer on our counter.  I also remember the taste of fresh milk, and the cream floating on top of the milk covering my oatmeal.  We kept chickens and geese for a time, so we had fresh eggs.  Our garden was very large, and I remember peeking out the window in the early mornings of the summer to see my mother kneeling in the garden pulling weeds before the sun got too high.  We bought pork from the farmer up the road as well.  I knew where my milk and eggs came from, pulled carrots out of the ground and wiped the dirt off on my jeans before I bit into it, and gave a thought to Snowflake the pig before I ate my porkchop. Compare that to the big box grocery stores where I shop, and it's no wonder my kids sometimes ask 'what animal does pork come from?'.

There are many reasons to read this book.  The narrative is wonderful and entertaining, the issues are timely, and I can't wait to try some of the recipes included.  As a result of reading this book I have spent a lot of time in the last two weeks thinking about where my food comes from, and look at my little vegetable garden in the back yard with new appreciation.  In some ways these are things I already knew, in other ways I feel like my eyes have been opened.  Thanks to the author for a wonderful experience!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Turning over the vegetable plot

Yesterday I bought a bag of fertilizer from an enterprising young man for five dollars.  Well-rotted, dry organic fertilizer of the avian kind.  This young fellow had been busy cleaning out the chicken coop, and was kind enough to bag up some for me.  Sarah, Jeff and Joshua were with me, and were a little worried about the ride home, but the stuff was so old and dry we only needed the windows down a little bit, and nobody was hanging their head out the window. 

Chicken manure is pretty potent stuff, and a little goes a looooong way.  It has more ammonia in it than sheep or cow manure, so you want to spread it over a large area and mix it in really well.  It also needs to be done well in advance, because you don't want to burn your plants.  My vegetable plot is about 11 by 20 square feet, so the one bag was definitely enough for the whole garden.  If I was more organized I would have done this in the fall, so it would have had the whole winter to mellow out.  However, snow came early and I'm not that on top of things.

After school today, I put on my rubber boots, grabbed a shovel and the bag of fertilizer, and went to work.  I opened up the bag and dragged it around the garden, distributing it as evenly as I could.  Then I raked it around a little more evenly.  Jeff came out to help, and we started turning over the garden.  I am a very lucky gardener, because our vegetable garden is over 25 years old, and the previous two owners were avid gardeners who obviously amended the soil faithfully every year, because this stuff is black gold.  Not a rock in sight, a pleasure to work with!  I'm really spoiled.  I try to be grateful and make sure that I add to the soil each fall and spring as well.  Last fall all the soil from my pots went into the garden.

Jeff and Joshua and I worked really hard after supper as well, and between the three of us we managed to get the whole garden turned over.  It's supposed to rain tonight and tomorrow as well, which will help the manure to mellow out and mix into the soil.  Jeff and Josh found a few really fat worms as well.  A robin was busy singing high in the branches of the poplar tree in our neighbor's yard, watching our progress.  I think he was biding his time until we left to pick around for some of those fat worms.  I won't be putting the garden in for a few more weeks, so I'm glad I got the bed turned over and everything mixed in.  My Uncle Rick, who has an amazing garden, says not to plant until after the full moon after Victoria Day weekend.  He swears by this, and he's usually right, so I'll stick by his rule of thumb.  It felt great to be out in the garden, working with my boys.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Soy Marinade

This is one of my oldest recipes, from the first cookbook I got as a newlywed.  I think it was the Pillsbury Cookbook.  That recipe book was lost on one of many moves.  Thank goodness I had copied the recipe onto a card for my recipe box! 

I love this marinade!  It can be used on beef or chicken, but I love it best on a porkchop.  It makes the best barbecued pork chops ever!  It's super easy, too.  For fabulous results, marinade your meat for 24 hours in the fridge.  If you're in a hurry, you can marinade it for at least half an hour on the counter.  If you're a super organized over achiever, when you bring your meat home from the grocery story, mix up the marinade and throw it in with the meat in a freezer bag and freeze it until you need it. 

Here's what you'll need:

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 green onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
3/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons honey or white sugar
2 tablespoons vinegar or lemon juice

Combine all the ingredients and mix well.  (I put it in a mason jar and shake shake shake.  Sometimes I put all the ingredients except the oil in my blender and then drizzle the oil in as the blender is going, this makes it emulsify.  Sometimes I put it in a big measuring cup and use my little immersion blender, which also does a very good job.)

If you're feeling like switching things up a little bit, you can use finely chopped fresh ginger instead of powdered ginger.  You can also use lime juice instead of lemon juice or vinegar.  I also substitute chives for the green onions sometimes as well.  It's a versatile recipe.

Once the marinade is prepared, take whatever meat you're using and grab a fork.  Then poke lots of holes in the meat.  This helps the marinade to sink all that flavor into the meat.  Put the meat in a big ziploc bag and pour the marinade in as well.  Try and squish as much air out of the bag as you can while you're closing it.  Then put it on a plate and stick it in the fridge until you're ready to fire up your barbecue. 

This recipe is really reliable and very delicious!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Things I've learned from my mother....Lemon Pledge

My mum and I talk on the phone a lot.  Now, you have to realize that I live near Edmonton, Alberta, and my mother lives in Upper Stewiacke, NS.  That's thousands of kilometres away.  So we have this awesome long distance plan, because I need unlimited long distance to talk to my mum!  We generally manage to solve the world's problems during our (very) long conversations.  We also love to talk about domestic things.  That's right, how to solve the world's small domestic problems.  Now this may not be the most scintillating conversation, but, hey, we live for the little things! 

My mother has some nice stainless steel appliances.  Now those of you with stainless steel appliances know the frustration of keeping them polished and streak free.  This can be really frustrating.  Mum tried lots of different stuff to clean her fridge, with no success.  It was still streaky.  And every time she touched it, more fingerprints and streaks.  This will make a girl go a little cra-Z.  One day, in desperation, she grabbed her can of Lemon Pledge and a clean cloth and sprayed down her fridge and gave it a quick polish.  To her wonderment and surprise, the fridge looked fantastic!  No streaks, nice and shiny.  Now, the great thing about the Lemon Pledge is that it repels streaks, so for a day or so no fingerprints showed up either!  So it saves a little work as well. 

So that's my Tuesday tip of the day - polish your stainless steel appliances with Lemon Pledge, and let me know if it works well for you as well! 

Monday, April 25, 2011

Minute to Win It - Games - Elephant March - NBC Site

Minute to Win It - Games - Elephant March - NBC Site

Johnny Applestack
 We are in the middle of planning our town's Dry Grad celebration, and decided on a Minute-To-Win-It theme for the activities. NBC has a great website for the show, with detailed instructions of all the games. This evening for family fun we tried out some of the games. It helped that at Sarah's recent YW activity night they played some of the games as well! Josh rocked at Johnny Applestack, he can stack five granny smith apples one on top of the other! Jeff, after some practice, rules at the Elephant March, knocking over water bottles using a tennis ball in the end of pantyhose worn on his head. Sarah is excellent at the Elephant March and the Nose Dive, transferring 5 cotton balls from one bowl to another using only her nose greased with handcream. Scott rocks at the one where you stack four paper cups inverted on recipe cards, and then pull the cards out so that the cups stack on each other. I've included the link for the Elephant March. Check out their website and try some of these games with your family, they're hilarious! And most of them use stuff that's just lying around the house. Have a fun family day!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter everyone!  We hope that you will all have a wonderful Easter Holiday with your family and friends.  Enjoy the chocolate, eggs and ham, and have a great family time with the ones you love the most.  I'm grateful for the opportunity this holiday gives us to reflect upon the miracle of the atonement in my life.


The MacIntyre's

Friday, April 22, 2011

Essence, an EBook by Diane Tolley

My friend, Diane Tolley, is a writer.  How cool is that?  She recently wrote and published an ebook, called Essence.  This story is written for the YA audience, and is in the science fiction/fantasy category. 

Essence is the story of Todd, a fourteen year old boy who lives in Southern Alberta with his widowed father, who is a scientist who studies animal DNA.  I don't want to give away too much of the plot here, because spoilers ruin everything!  Todd's dad's experiments become the interest of local authorities, the press, and local criminals who want to use it for the wrong reasons.  Todd has to deal with a friend that he likes as a girlfriend, a friend that isn't a friend at all, and dealing with all the normal pressures of being a teenage boy.  There is danger in the form of experiments gone awry, spring flooding of the Milk River, bullies at school, criminals, and unpredictable animals.  There's a little humor and true love thrown in as well. 

I really liked this book.  I found it hard to put down, and I couldn't wait to see how things would turn out.  It was well written and entertaining, and the characters were easy to relate to.  I'd recommend it to anyone, regardless of age.

You can find Essence at the following link:

Essence, an EBook by Diane Tolley

Enjoy the read!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Maybe Spring will come

Can you guess what this is?  Pretty weird looking, huh?  If you guessed rhubarb, you get a gold star!  Hurray for you!  While I was poking around in the rhubarb patch, I uncovered some lady bugs as well.  So it's confirmed - the event known as Spring will take place.  Thank goodness!  (There are still lots of patches of snow in the yard, though.)

A small clump of crocuses have decided to grace us with their presence as well.  This plant helps me to believe in miracles.  Below zero at night, and yet the crocuses are here - miraculous! 

While I was waiting for my children during their piano lessons, I picked up a Stokes seed catalogue their teacher, Colleen, had in her magazine rack.  I had my trusty beat up old hilroy notebook with me, so I wrote up a seed wish list for spring.  That catalogue just makes you want to grow everything!  Do you remember the magic of the Sears Catalogue at Christmas when you were a little kid?   (I know I'm dating myself here.)  I get the same feeling from a seed catalogue now. 

Here's my wish list:

yellow bush beans
green bush beans
scarlet runner pole beans
kentucky wonder pole beans
nantes half long coreless carrots
buttercrunch lettuce
romaine lettuce
swiss chard
green bunching onions
sugar snap peas
zucchini (I know I'll regret it)
tomatoes - 6-8 plants, different varieties 

I already have about 10 packets of seeds, now I need to get the rest!  For those of you already gardening, happy planting and good wishes for an abundant harvest.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Hot Fudge Pudding Cake

Welcome to Wednesday, which is Recipe Day!!  This is a recipe that I copied from Bev MacDonald back in Sackville, NS, before I was married.  Hot Fudge Pudding Cake is one of our families favorite all time desserts.  Sarah, in particular, requests this often.  This recipe is really easy, and relatively low fat as well.  (Not that I really think Low Fat when I think Dessert.)  Hot Fudge Pudding cake is made by mixing up a nice chocolate cake layer, and spreading it on the bottom of a 9x9 pan.  Not greased, by the way.  Then you sprinkle on a generous mixture of cocoa and brown sugar, and pour hot water over the whole think.  Pop it in the oven and presto chango, 45 minutes later it's ready.  By this time the cake has risen to the top of the pan, and underneath the brown sugar, cocoa and hot water have turned into a delicious sauce.  Cut a big old piece of the cake and invert it onto a plate or into a bowl, then spoon some of the sauce on top.  Top with whipped cream, or ice cream, or do what my family does, and pour a little milk over it.  (Don't be judgemental, just try it.)  

Here's the recipe:

Hot Fudge Pudding Cake

1 cup flour
3/4 cup white sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons melted shortening
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
1 1/3 cup boiling water

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Mix toger flour, white sugar, 2 tablespoons cocoa, baking powder and salt in medium sized bowl. 
  • Add milk and shortening, mix well.  Add a tablespoon of milk or two if necessary if the batter is dry. 
  • In another bowl mix together brown sugar and remaining cocoa.
  • Sprinkle mixture over cake batter.
  • Pour boiling water over cake batter. 
  • Place pan on cookie sheet (in case of spill overs - you never know) and place in 375 degree F oven  for 45 minutes. 
  • Serve while hot.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Leftover Bread

Tuesday is tip day!  Here is my kitchen tip for the week.  If your family is like our family, somehow the bread box tends to have odds and ends of loaves of bread and leftover rolls.  These may have started to get stale.  What to do with all these leftover heels?  Toss them in the trash?  Feed the birds?  Yell at the kids for leaving the bread bag open again?  (Do you think money grows on trees, for pete's sake?)

Fear not, there are frugal ways around this stale situation!  Tip number #1 is to have a leftover bread bag in your freezer.  Collect those odds and ends and toss them in a bread bag or big freezer bag.  Phew!  That was hard!

These frozen odds and ends can be saved for about three months in the freezer.  What to do with these bits and pieces, though?  Well, I have found that frozen bread makes great breadcrumbs.  Next time you are making meatballs or any other recipe requiring bread crumbs, take a couple of slices of bread out of the freezer.  Grab a medium sized bowl and a grater, and grate the frozen bread.  It makes really great quality bread crumbs. 

If you need to make stuffing for a turkey or chicken, the frozen bread comes in handy as well.  Just toss the bread in a large bowl and let it thaw.  Then tear it up into the appropriate sized pieces and use in your regular bread stuffing recipe. 

Last but not least, is the good old-fashioned bread pudding!  Here's my recipe from a book called "Traditional Recipes of Atlantic Canada":

Preparation time:  20 minutes
Cooking Time:  1 hour
4-6 servings

2 cups bread with crusts, cubed
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup raisins (more if desired)
2 egg yolks
1 whole egg, beaten
1 1/2 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

Butterscotch Sauce:
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup cold water
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon vinegar

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  • Mix all ingredients together and pour into greased casserole.
  • Stand casserole in pan of water (to ensure more even cooking).  Bake at 375 degrees F for 1 hour or until top is lightly golden and cuastard is set.
  • Serve topped with butterscotch sauce.
Butterscotch Sauce:
  • Mix together sugar and cornstarch.  Gradually add cold water.  Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens.  Simmer for 1-2 minutes.
  • Add butter, vanilla and vinegar and mix.


Monday, April 18, 2011

Rubber Band Easter Eggs

This is a fun and easy way to decorate Easter Eggs that we have been using since Jason was probably five years old.  The materials needed are:

  • eggs
  • rubber bands
  • vinegar
  • food coloring
  • water
  • cups
  • tablespoons

I hard boil my eggs.  This is easier than blowing the eggs out.  It also makes the eggs more sturdy for decorating.  I foresee egg salad sandwiches in the future.....

Grab a bunch of rubber bands.  Wrap them in different ways around the hard boiled eggs.  I like a simple single band myself, but you can get quite creative.

Pour a teaspoon of vinegar in each cup.  Add food coloring to each cup, about a teaspoon.  You can get creative and mix your colors together as well.  Then add boiling water to each cup so that it's about 2/3 full.

Then, using the tablespoons, dip the egg in the vinegar/food coloring bath.  You can let it soak, or keep lifting it up and down, like my children do.  Either way, once the color is the way you like, take them out and let them dry. 

You can use a rag or old towel, or put them in the original carton. 

Once the eggs are dry, carefully remove the rubber bands.  Ooh, pretty!

Friday, April 15, 2011


Last Sunday night Scott, the children and I snuggled up together to watch Disney's new DVD release - Tangled.  This is the retelling of the classic fairytale Rapunzel. The story starts with the pretty little baby, Rapunzel, born to a King and Queen in a faraway land.  Baby Rapunzel, thanks to a magical plant that saved her mother's life, has glorious hair that has healing properties.  The wicked witch, Mother Gothel, covets Rapunzel's hair, because it will make her forever young, and steals into her room at night to cut off a piece.  However, the hair loses its magic properties when cut, so the horrible old woman steals the baby away to her tower and raises her as her own child.   Almost eighteen years later we meet Rapunzel, who is dying to get out of the tower.  Mother Gothel has kept Rapunzel locked away from the world, scaring her with stories of the evils outside the tower.  Rapunzel's one wish is to see the lantern festival that takes place every year on her birthday.  Mother Gothel leaves Rapunzel to go on a three day journey, and while she is gone, Rapunzel meets Flynn Rider, the dashing thief that promises to take her to see the festival.  And then the action begins! 

This was another great Disney movie.  The animation was really beautiful, especially the lantern scene.  Rapunzel's character was very well developed, and easy to relate to.  She really struggled with some of the decisions she had to make, and it was great to see her go back and forth with her decision making process.  Flynn was a charming character, very funny, not as well developed as Rapunzel, though.  It was nice to see a not-love-at-first-sight story for a change, but a relationship that started with friendship.  Mother Gothel was a villain who was very subtle.  The kids didn't find her very scary, but I found her method of manipulating Rapunzel very wicked.  What really stole the show for me was the secondary characters, Pasquale and Maximus.  Pasquale is Rapunzel's pet chameleon, and his methods of dealing with Flynn were very funny and creative.  Maximus is the horse of the Palace Guard in pursuit of Flynn.  Bereft of his rider, Maximus kicked it into overdrive as a primo law enforcement officer, and had some of the best scene stealing moments in the film.  The music in the movie was not as memorable as other Disney movies, I didn't walk away humming anything, which I usually do.  The whole family watched this movie, from the kids aged 9 to 18, and both parents.  We all found this to be a great family movie, one we could recommend to anyone. 

We'll give this one seven thumbs up!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Spring has sprung...

We woke up this morning to the expected April snowstorm.  Ten to twenty centimetres of snow should land on us by the end of the day.  I had originally planned on taking pictures of some of the perennials poking up around the yard (chives, hollyhocks, poppies, sigh.)  Instead, this is what is facing us right now.....

There are some gardening challenges that come with living in Alberta.  Our climate is harsh, with very long winters, late spring frosts and early fall frosts.  Our average daily high in July is around 17-18 degrees celcius.  This means when you read a seed packet and it gives you an estimate of how long til maturity, we have to add on a week or two.  However, all is not lost.  We have really, really long days in the summertime up here.  (We are not that far from the land of the midnight sun.)  This means that although our growing season is short, our gardens can catch up pretty quick with all the extra daylight.  The town we live in actually has very fertile ground.  Our garden is over 25 years old, and the previous owners were very dedicated gardeners who left some beautiful soil behind for me!  I have also developed some gardening strategies that help me get the most out of the ground in our short summer.

Some things I start from seed, some I buy as transplants, since I don't have cold frames or a greenhouse for starting seeds.  Our south facing windows are shaded by a very large willow tree, so starting seeds indoors on a sunny sill is out of the question.  I read seed labels very carefully to make sure that the vegetables have a short growing period.  I also grow dwarf varieties of other vegetables, because they tend to ripen earlier.  I plant tomatoes in pots because I can move them in and out of the garden shed on frosty nights, and move them around the yard to chase the sun during the day.  If an unexpected frost warning comes, my garden ends up wearing any number of old sheets, towels, whatever is available.  Some things I don't bother with, like pumpkins.  (Well, I did bother last year, and had a huge pumpkin vine with a tiny little pumpkin attached to it.  That was a colossal waste of garden space.)  Every year I have successes and failures, and learn a little more.  We have had great gardens over the past few years, and it's a wonderful way to get kids involved in the growing process from start to finish.  They will often eat something they have grown that they wouldn't normally try.  And nothing beats the wow factor of an overgrown zucchini or sunflower that stretches to the sky.  This is why we keep planning and planting every year.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Bless This Mess

My name is Jen, I have been married (almost) twenty years to my sweetheart, Scott.

We have five wonderful children – Jason, Justin, Sarah, Jeffrey and Joshua.  We live in a small town just south of Edmonton, Alberta, called Beaumont.  The purpose of this blog is to “strengthen home and family.”  Over the past two decades I have collected lots of fun, silly, crazy, practical, wise, frugal, tasty and useful information that can be applied to raising a family, caring for a home, and strengthening marriages. 

I love lists, calendars and schedules, so I came up with a schedule for this blog.  Monday will be family activities, Tuesday will be tips.  Wednesday will be recipe posts, and Thursday will be home and garden.  Friday will be a weekly review of a book, movie/dvd, game or toy.  Saturday will be an inspirational, uplifting or humorous thought about families.  Sunday I will rest!

Why am I calling this blog “Bless This Mess”?  Well, family life is messy!  Parts of my house are clean, not always at the same time.  We have problems, some big, some small.  Mostly we get along with each other, sometimes there is friction.  But no matter what, Scott and I keep trying to do a little better every day.  Because family always comes first!