Lady Lake’s gingersnaps

 

I like mornings. Enough so that I’m glad to be awake for the grey world to slowly be suffused with colour, even if I fall asleep again later once all the light is in the sky. I like seeing the orange squares of light in the window frames of the neighbouring houses. I like seeing the colours, pinks and yellows, flow from the sky into the landscape, and the drained sky to slowly turn blue.

This is kind of a strange place, with gulls wheeling by and the wind always ready to whip up strong and hearty. The garden in the back, all dry grasses and bent plants, is flooded. One night I dreamt that this whole flat area, the garden and the field next to the house, were underwater and there was a great shallow lake with ducks milling around outside the bedroom window. I went out the window into a boat.

Lady Lake’s Ginger Snaps
a family recipe…  
2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp ginger
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup blackstrap molasses
1/2 cup chopped candied ginger

In a medium bowl, mix together dry ingredients, then set aside. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add egg and continue beating. Add molasses and blend well.
Gradually add dry mixture to creamed mixture until incorporated. Stir in candied ginger.

Chill dough overnight. Scoop with a spoon and roll into small balls. Roll these in granulated sugar to coat. Press flat. Bake at 350° for 10-12 minutes, careful not to burn.

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sunny winter day

 

 

Today felt like the beginning of spring, like a new year is really beginning now. The sun was so bright, light filling up the world here. Me with a baby in my belly. Everything brighter, happier, more hopeful and leaning forward. It made the city suddenly beautiful, and I was drawn out into the sun to explore. I’m definitely feeling the need to reset: to get the house back into a state of pleasant harmony and to make a habit of walks, yoga, writing, painting, just the right amount of baking, and planning dinners.

I’ve included a recipe from last winter that I never got around to posting. It comes in handy for using leftover egg whites and is pretty flexible.

Meringue Cookies, two flavours
5 egg whites
1 cup sugar

Whip egg whites until good and frothy. I like to start the mixer on slow and gradually bring up the speed to about medium for this part. Slowly add sugar while continue to whip, then turn up speed and beat until stiff peaks form. Divide roughly half into another bowl and gently fold in flavourings.

Bowl A:
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 smashed candy cane
handful mini chocolate chips

Bowl B:
1/4 tsp almond extract
handful cacao nibs
handful mini chocolate chips

Pipe or spoon onto parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 200 for 1 3/4 – 2 hours, or until firm. Turn off oven and leave meringues in the oven overnight.

Note: I bake meringues until they’re on the drier, crunchier side. If you like them softer and chewier, bake for less time or maybe don’t leave them in the oven overnight to dry out. Larger meringues will tend to have softer centres than small meringues. I like to make small, bite-sized meringues, but you can certainly make larger ones, just keep in mind that they may need to bake longer.
You can adjust the recipe to suit the number of egg whites you have on hand, just try to keep the egg white to sugar ratio about the same.
Feel free to make them all the same flavour or have as many different flavourings as you like. Experiment with whatever flavourings inspire you. Spices and extracts are fun, as are chopped toasted nuts, and you can add food colouring if you wish. Keep in mind that anything too heavy or oily will collapse the meringue. 

Finnish sugar cookies

 

 

These cookies are a new favourite. I made them twice last winter and will certainly be baking them again before this season is out. Orange zest can be used in place of the lemon zest, however I found that it was much stronger (maybe because it’s moister and compacts more) and made my teeth feel a bit funny so would try using just 1 tbsp of orange zest. You will have extra egg wash, but it will come in handy for making a second batch! The recipe comes from Trine Hahnemann’s beautiful book Scandinavian Baking. Normally I’m hesitant to post a recipe that I haven’t really changed much, but I’ve seen this recipe posted online on another blog already and why mess with perfection?

Finnish Sugar Cookies
very slightly adapted from Trine Hahnemann’s wonderful Scandinavian Baking

250g all-purpose flour
75g granulated sugar, plus more for the top
200g salted butter, chopped
2 tbsp finely grated organic lemon zest or 1 tbsp orange zest
1 egg, lightly beaten

Mix the flour, sugar, butter and zest, first by rubbing with your fingers and then by mixing with a wooden spoon, until the dough is smooth and firm. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for an hour.

Preheat oven to 375°.

Place the dough between two sheets of parchment paper and roll it out to a rectangle about 1.5cm thick. Remove the top layer of baking parchment.

Brush the dough with egg and dredge sugar densely on top. Carefully roll over it with a rolling pin, so the sugar is pressed slightly into the dough. Cut into 3cm x 2cm pieces, and place on baking trays lined with parchment paper. Bake for 15-18 minutes, then cool on a wire rack.

Eat or give away to loved ones!

 

news and some kitchen tips

 

Hello! I’ve been working on a website to sell my artwork and it’s finally up and running: zephyrdear.com. I’ve also created an Etsy site, here. (!!!)

Now, here are some of my favourite kitchen tricks. Maybe they’ll come in handy for your winter baking.

Storing Citrus Zest: I love adding zest to baked goods, but don’t always have fresh citrus on hand. Instead, I keep sugared lemon and orange zest (separately) in the freezer so that it’s always available. Here’s what I do: when using a lemon just for its juice or when eating or juicing an orange, I first use a microplane to remove the zest. I put the zest in a jar and add a spoonful or so of sugar, just enough so that the zest doesn’t all clump together (lemon zest tends to be drier than orange zest). That’s it. Then I keep the jar in the freezer and can scoop out a teaspoon when I need it to add to cookies or muffins or whatever. I always use organic citrus for zesting.

Vanilla Sugar: I can’t bring myself to compost used vanilla beans when they still have aroma to offer (which they do). After using a vanilla bean to flavour a creme caramel or other dessert, I give it a good rinse and then put it in my jar of organic cane sugar. I keep adding beans as I use them. The sugar preserves the beans and over time takes on a very vanilla aroma.

 

the garden

I’ve been thinking about writing about gardening here. Not how-to, by any means as I’m still slowly figuring that out, but about the gardening itself. This is the third summer we’ll have this garden. The first year, we roto-tilled the grass under, bought a few inches of topsoil, lime and other things to amend the heavy clay. We sprinkled seeds, sowed seeds in rows and grew starts in the living room. The garden that year was a jungle. Cosmos and hollyhocks tangled with orach, chicory, tomatoes and brussels sprouts. It was dense, lush, verdant and a mess. We planted so much that there were beautiful plants tumbling over themselves and each other in a feral tapestry. Last year we had another project on the go and thought we would be moving so we mostly left the garden to its own devices. I have an incorrigible curiosity when it comes to gardening and had let almost everything from the year before go to seed. I am also reticent to pull unknown plants in case they turn out to have pretty flowers, or to maybe be something I planted and forgot about. I delighted in American black nightshade for weeks thinking I had hit a west coast eggplant jackpot before they developed enough identifiable characteristics that a google search led me to pull them all out. I also let an elegant frondy member of the carrot family grow to monstrous proportions before a parent pointed out it was poison hemlock. But there was broccoli, and beets and raspberries and strawberries, and the borage, nasturtiums and lupins came back along with the ever-present fennel and what I think hope is lovage. A thimbleberry shrub erupted in one of the main garden beds and though I’ve relocated it three times, I’m sure it will be back as I can’t seem to get at the deeper roots without dislodging neighbouring plants. Last October, I picked up some gardening books but had to put them away after reading “I understand plant domestication as an eternal contract whereby we humans promise to nurture a wild plant and protect it and its progeny from competition.” in Steve Solomon’s introduction to Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades (it took me six months to pick up the book again and finish it). So much for my curious, laid-back approach to letting plants seed themselves and see what happens. I like wild places and find that nature rarely looks messy to me. But I didn’t want to be mistreating my vegetables and causing them to struggle. Our soil is bad enough as it is. That, and the relentless wind around here, and the shading buildings, and the slugs. So this year, this year things will be tidier. I’ve let the raspberries migrate where they like though, because I have never had too many raspberries, and have moved the strawberries to where it looked like they were trying to go. Those giants, fennel and hollyhocks and lovage(?), that turn up throughout are being moved to the edges. I’m not sure I have the heart to pull the poppies(?) that are coming up amongst the leeks and garlic, but maybe I’ll try to move them. I was going to plant a small bed of parsley, and a small bed nearby appears to be full of parsley seedlings, so that works. The big plan for the garden this year was to grow lettuce for the rabbits. Unfortunately, most of the ground I thought was free is now home to a multitude of little gemlike chard seedlings. It’s a good thing rabbits also eat chard. The things I have planted so far (peas, sweet peas, endive, lettuce, orach) have all been in rows, but I couldn’t resist also sowing blanketflower, marigold and borage (and zinnias, cosmos and sunflowers to come). About the gardening: I don’t think I quite actually like pulling weeds, but I do like the moments when I’m out there weeding. I like the meditative calm that comes of having one’s hands in the dirt, and the quiet of the sky and the birdsong filtering through my thoughts. At the risk of sounding cliche, it’s grounding. At the end of a busy workday downtown, the garden feels like an oasis.

December 3

The rain is pouring down in that most soothing temperamental way of coastal storms. The water shines on the dark needles of the conifers and the bare branch tips of the birch. Our house is cold, and since we have baseboard heat and single pane windows there are also a lot of blankets. One rabbit is snoring, and the other is under the coffee table. I’m not sure, but I think this is how I start every post: the state of our birch tree, what the rabbits are up to, and something about the weather.

I’ve been saying in the back of my mind for a while now that I need to take better care of myself. This may be related to having gone through much of November with a sore throat. I remembered last night about the salt water gargle trick. Better late than never. More soup, more sleep. Probably yoga and more leafy greens and time spent with trees are also in order.

It’s a little hard to believe that we’re this far into winter already. I’ve been thinking wistfully about first snowfall for about a month now, for about the amount of time that it usually would be snowing back in Nelson. Amazingly, we may actually get some snow here on the coast this week. I hope that the amount of time I get to observe it drifting down outside windows and in the forest exceeds the time I spend walking through streets sloshing in brown slush. It will still have been worth it, even so.

We’ve had the oven on a lot lately, mainly roasting vegetables. I particularly love roasted vegetables topped with a poached egg and some grated cheese. I leave the oven door open after I’ve turned it off to help heat the house. Tomorrow the oven will be on baking holiday cookies and I am so excited. I’m notoriously bad at initiating social occasions, but to my friends who live nearby: please come bake with me. I plan to spend as much of December as possible in the kitchen.

 

 

October, I love you

This is the best. I’m reclining on the couch next to our jubilantly flowering begonia tree (?) with a near-bottomless mug of tea and the late afternoon light is all golden and violet playing on the buildings down the street and illuminating the intense yellow of the birch leaves overhead. The rabbits are quietly nibbling hay, the husband is puttering in his workshop, and the cat is out of sight but almost certainly lounging on the doorstep like she owns this end of the neighbourhood.

I’ve had some time off, which may account for this good mood and this first blog post in five months (!). I suppose I could say we’ve been doing exciting things and visiting everyone we miss in the daily grind of working life. But mostly that wouldn’t be true. It is such a relief to finally have time for ourselves. Things like Enough Sleep, baking, painting, cooking real food… these have been enough, so much enough that I want to wallow in them and never go back to the hectic busy life. It is so good to see the light move across the house and garden at different times of day. To mostly not wear a bra. To stay up until midnight painting ten paintings at once and listening to an audiobook because I squeezed too much paint onto the palate and because I could.

I don’t have a recipe today, only a heartfelt recommendation of the quiet life, of stepping back and slowing down, of spending a day pulling weeds and listening to birdsong, and of walking in the rain under dripping trees and coming home to make chai and chilli and biscuits, or whatever is easy and fulfilling. Also, I get awkward about blogging when I let too much time elapse between posts, and had meant to write something quite different but here we are and it’s good to be back.

surfacing

It has again been ages.

Spring rushed by and summer has been upon us already.

Or so it seems. I’m not used to sandals in April.

Some things that have brightened my week:
a fish jumping / a seal surfacing / the morning sun bright on the water / the breakfast sandwich at dak / coffee (always) / three herons – flying, standing, stealthing

Saturday: good family and good food, brunch and gelato in the sun, time together.
A walk around Durrance Lake: lizards / columbine / wild geranium / people fishing / shining water / green trees / apple blossoms / shade under the trees / moss and lichen / black and white moth / blue butterflies / huckleberry / ferns unfurling fiddleheads / rock ferns / trilliums in flower / vanilla leaf or deerfoot / blue sky overhead / praying for rain

Sunday up-island at the farm: good friends and good food, picnic in the sun-shade grass, deviled eggs, exploring expeditions in creekbeds and over fields, skirting nettle.
wisps of cloud in plumes – feathers – mares’ tails in hot blue sky / tall trees – bare dry limbs / chickens / salmonberry / currant / elder / green grass and ladybugs / red-breasted sapsucker / reddish snails in the dry creek bed / giant old trees – ancient fir – rough cork bark peeling

(when short on time, lists.)
ps. there are saffron clusters of ladybug eggs spangling the white bark of our birch tree – I discovered them yesterday

 

the light

Out of the corner of my eye I witnessed the sun come out.

I’m drawing a sleepy blank on what to say but I wanted to post a few pictures from the past month. I flipped through my notebook for inspiration and was reminded of a few things. In January and February I was especially glad for this year’s seed catalogue, Zephyr the rabbit’s silver feet, raspberry leaf tea, cara cara oranges, satsuma mandarins, AlterEco brown butter chocolate, the previously mentioned frozen cookie dough portioned out in the freezer and sideways-pouring silver rain. This month, I am grateful for bright mornings, marmalade! (on everything, now, with butter), flighty spring weather, lengthened light in the evenings, and riding my clattery blue bike, especially through the park where there are ducks and squirrels! galore. This is not to say that mornings have been easy this week with the time change (I almost wrote “moanings” instead of mornings there, and almost left it), but the light- I’m glad for the light. On the subject of marmalade, that bittersweet tangy light in a jar, I am blessed with a mother who makes a batch every winter and have amassed a small -yes, now dwindling- collection of the glowing jars. They taste of days spent scraping citrus rinds around my grandparents’ table with cousins and aunts, the fragrant pot steaming on the stove, and the flavour of these gatherings concentrated in the vintages that line our pantry shelves. It’s deeply reassuring to me that no matter what else, every year my mother hands me a small fiery jar of her grandmother’s recipe. I missed the marmalade making this winter but, with my renewed appetite for the stuff, will be sure to join in next year-it’s what we do.