29 April 2009

Sweet Potato Pecan Muffins, and other adventures in baking.

So I posted on Twitter/Facebook the other day that I was making Sweet Potato - Pecan muffins. And suddenly (ok, maybe it took a few hours) I had a flurry (ok, it was two) requests for the recipe. Hey, that's a lot of feedback for me, so excuse me if I got excited. I'm easily excited.

Anyway, the recipe is from my The Joy of Cooking cookbook, which I (and by I, I mean we, GeekDad and I) got for our wedding from our friends Dan and Gail. Actually, they're really friends via the in-laws, but regardless, they are great people. Plus they helped out tons with the wedding, so we would owe them big time, even if they hadn't given me (us) an awesome cookbook. Which it is. The Joy of Cooking is like a how-to guide for almost anything you can imagine. Want step-by-step instructions on making pickles? How to plan a backpacking menu? Brine meat? It's all in there and then some, man.

Anyway, I've been drooling over this cookbook for awhile, but this is the first recipe I've made. And it was all I hoped it would be.

So it starts with a basic muffin recipe. I don't know if the people at Joy of Cooking will care that I am posting their recipe (modified by me). If they do, I figure they can let me know, and I'll take it down. So here goes.

Whisk in one bowl:
2 c. flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
*1/3 c.sugar (I used white sugar here)
*1 tsp. cinnamon
*1 tsp. ginger

*These are the alterations to the basic recipe, which called for 1/4 tsp. nutmeg. I switched out ground ginger for the nutmeg and increased the amount, but my ginger wasn't very fresh, so it wasn't as prominent as I'd hoped. I think I need fresher ginger for my next batch.

In another smaller bowl, whisk together:
1 c. milk (or cream if you don't care about muffin hips)
2 large eggs
2/3 c. sugar (I used demerara here)
1/3 c. canola oil (You can use whatever oil or butter here, up to half a cup. The cookbook suggests that is you are making them to last more than a couple of days, you should use more oil/butter, to keep them from drying out.)
1 tsp. vanilla
*1 c. mashed sweet potato (In my case, it was a can of sweet potato puree. Because with a baby, I just do not have time to make sweet potatos and then mash them just for muffins. However, if you happened to make sweet potato anyway, and then happened to have leftovers, this would be a fabulous use for them.)

Then you mix the wet ingredients into the dry, being careful NOT to overmix. The batter should still be lumpy. After a couple of swipes, I added about a 1/2 c. of pecan pieces, and then finished mixing.

The muffins were good - moist, not too sweet, and with a bit of crunch.

For my next batch, I might add some crystallised ginger, because I love the chewy bite of it, and because in my mind, you can never have too much ginger. I might also leave in the nutmeg, because I like baking spices. The more the merrier, in my opinion. Also, if you wanted to fancy them up a bit, you could put a crumb topping on them, with a little brown sugar, butter, flour, cinnamon, and maybe some finely chopped pecans.

In case you're wondering about the wrappers, they are Wilton brand silicone cupcake/muffin tines, available from Michaels. They come in other shapes and colours, but the triangle-shaped pink and purple ones were on sale for $4.99, instead of the regular $16.99, which is why I have them. You simply put them on a cookie sheet, fill with batter, and bake.

I was quite impressed with these, actually. They baked up nicely, even though I filled them a bit over the fill line that is marked on the inside. They gave the muffins a nicely browned bottom, as you can see.

And they're reusable, which is cool, ecologically speaking.

These muffins are tasty, and you know what. THEY COUNT AS VEGETABLES. Seriously, how much better can you possibly get??!!!

26 April 2009

Nine bags of leaves and weeds later...

Ok, now you get to see what I've been spending all my time on, instead of blogging. Our yard!!! At least, that was what I've been doing the last couple of weeks. This weekend, our yard looked like this.

And this.

Regardless of today's weather, what I'd like to do is let all of you see the progress of my gardening work as the spring and summer progresses. Because some of you might be interested. And even if nobody cares, at least I'll have a record of my progress for posterity.

As I'm sure I've said here before, our yard this winter was in a state of unkempt laziness. All the beds were overgrown, the lawn was overgrown beyond any excuse, and things were generally horticulturally unhappy. These photos of the back patio bed and the raised garden bed (behind the swingset) should give you an idea of how bad it was.

I emailed the lovely people at Hole's Greenhouse in St. Albert to get some advice on where to start, and they actually got back to me. Which is pretty cool, because I know they must be crazy busy, especially at this time of year. And they gave me advice, which mostly consisted of a hell of a lot of elbow grease, and knee grease, and lower back grease. Which I wasn't especially thrilled to hear, but still, it was really nice of them to get back to me regardless.

Cleaning these out is a HELL of a lot of work, let me tell you. Here are instructions, in case you're interested. What, somebody might be interested?! First, clip down the weeds with shears, and clean that debris out of the bed. Then break up the weedy soil with the garden claw, and and pick out the worst of the crab grass (including roots), dandelions and chickweed out of the the resulting mess. Then break up the soil some more with the garden claw. Then, according to Julie from Hole's you let the soil sit some more, until the weeds start sprouting again, and then you start back at the beginning. And THEN you put in your plants. If you have any energy left.

There is also a raised garden bed in the backyard, which is in an equally bad state. But I'm chipping away at it slowly. I'm also working on a rock garden on the north side of our deck, but it's still in the beginning stages. Really beginning, as you can see.

The front bed was just as bad as the back one, but last week when the weather was nice, I was able to spend some time cleaning up the front yard. After removing nine (!!!!) bags of leaves, weeds, and various other debris, it's looking pretty good.

(The front deck, with 6 of 9 bags of debris)

(The bed in front of the house)

(The caragana bed)

The front bed has, or at least had, irises coming up. During the cleanup I discovered a forgotten roll of chicken wire which we had laid over the bed to keep out the neighbourhood cats which were using it as a litterbox. In retrospect this obviously wasn't such a good idea - I had to tear it out to work up the soil in the bed, and ended up taking up a good portion of the irises with it. Now, a lot of the flowers were dead, probably due at least in part to neglect, but I went though all the debris, pulled out the tubers that were showing signs of life and replanted them. I'm not sure if they'll still bloom this year, but the effort has been made. I'm also planning on transplanting the bleeding heart from the back bed to the front one.

I also have a bunch of pots and planters on the front and back decks.

(Front Deck)

(Back Deck)

I'm planning on growing tomatoes, herbs and peas in the clay planters. The plan for these pots with the beautiful willow baskets

is to buy a couple of clematis from our local greenhouse to plant in there, and then move them out by our garden shed.

I've started a lot of perennials indoors this year. They were only started in the middle of April, so they're pretty small yet, but I'm hoping they'll be hardy enough to put out mid-May, or at the latest on the May long-weekend.

These are (from top right) Coleus, Lavender, Catmint, Sweet Williams, Columbines (which are just now starting to germinate), Campions (also called Maltese Cross), and Delphiniums.

Pinks, Scabiosa Japonica (which look a bit like chives to me), Carpathian Bellflowers, Asters and Hollyhocks.

The big ones are Nastutiums, which have totally taken off, and I may need to transplant to larger pots soon. In the middle are Icelandic Poppies, and the Pansies are on the right.

These are my poor Fragrant Pinks and Snow-in-Summer, which I tried to transplant, as they looked over crowded. I think I may have killed them. If I did, I figure I'll just sow seeds directly into the beds mid-May.

Tomato Plants, and a Hen-and-Chicks, for the rock garden.

While the yard isn't anywhere near where I want it to be yet, it is at the point where we can enjoy it. As evidenced by the wiener roast we had with Seester and her family last weekend. You know, before it started snowing.

This is really the reason I want to get the yard cleaned up.

Because nothing says summer like having a bunch of people over to your yard for a bar-be-que, letting the kids run around in the sun all day, and then wrapping up with a fire as the sun sets. I can't wait, people!!!

19 April 2009

So much to share, and so little time.

For once I have lots to write about, and yet I haven't posted in forever. The weather has been beautiful around these parts. The snow is almost entirely gone, and I've been out in the yard trying to remedy the neglect of the past couple of years. I would apologize for the irregular posting, but the truth is that it's much healthier for me to be out doing stuff than sitting inside. And while my computer is my lifeline, especially during our long dark Northern Alberta winters, once spring hits, I tend to spend waaay less time on it. This isn't an excuse though. I'm beginning to accept the fact that I'm an irregular blog poster. That's just the way it is in my world I guess.

So, in the post I will address Easter, which was almost two weeks ago already. It was busy for us, since we live close to both our families. Friday was at home for Brunch with some of my closest friends,

From For Blog
(with BabyA still in her pj's)

Saturday as at GeekDad's mom and step-dad's,

From For Blog

Sunday was at Seester's with her munchkins.

From For Blog
(Seester, her Hubby, and Munchkin #3)

From For Blog
(Munchkin #2 showing off her Easter dress)

From For Blog

(SeesterHubby, Uncle Tim-MAY, and Munchkin #3)

Also my dad and his wife,

From For Blog
(My dad talking family history with GeekDad)

From For Blog

(Dad'sWife is on the far left)

my grandma (my dad's mom),

From For Blog

and my Uncle George (my mom's brother).

From For Blog

We ate ham until it was coming out our ears. We at rice and potatoes and beans and peas and then we ate Fresh Strawberry Pie and Cake Pops.

The Cake Pops were a bit of an adventure, let me tell you. I read about the idea for Cake Pops on Bakerella's blog. In Bakerella's world, they look like this.

In Seester and mine's world, they look like this.

From For Blog

Ummmm, the similarities are blowing my mind. Really.
The good news is, we had fun making them. The two youngest munchkins helped out by eating sprinkles and candy melts. And also feeding them to BabyA. Then I stayed for supper and the munchkins wacked out a bit from all the candy. It was a blast.

In other news, BabyA is 10 months old in two days. How that happened I have no idea. She has no teeth yet, but her smile is still amazing.

From For Blog

She doesn't crawl, but turns in circles just fine, and pushes herself backwards so that she gets stuck under things like coffee tables and couches and dining room chairs.

She has started mimicking us - coughing like Nana, laughing like Mama, hooting into a glass like Daddy. She no longer wants her food cut into little pieces, but prefers large chunks she can grasp in her chubby little fists and gum into submission. She is a joy and wonder.

05 April 2009

Variations on a Theme: Spring might, maybe, be cometh-ing.

Once again, it's been too long since I've posted here. BabyA has been/is teething, or at least I'm assuming that's the problem, from the drool problem she's developed.

(Note the shiny chin)

She has been waking up every hour to hour and a half, needing soothing and/or nursing. Since she's usually a very sound sleeper, I'm assuming this is being caused by teething, although as yet we lack any concrete evidence. Whatever. All I know for sure is that waking up every hour to hour and a half is wreaking havoc with my sleep schedule. I've been up since 5am, which is wrong on more levels than I can tell you. However, it should give me a chance to catch you up on what's I've been doing.

1) I discovered The Pioneer Woman. She is high-LAR-ious, and obviously ridiculously talented, as she not only has four young kids, but also homeschools them. And blogs about it. And also about cooking, and gardening, and photography, and her enduring romance with her husband. What a show-off. Sheesh. Seriously though, you should totally check out her site, it's the awesome. So is her Chicken Scallopine, which I made this week.

2) I also made Fresh Strawberry Pie, with this recipe from Epicurious.com. It consists of fresh strawberries in a kind of homemade strawberry gelatin base, and a shortbread cookie crust, which is good because I DO NOT make pie crust.

This pie tastes like summer. It's a good thing the snow is finally starting to melt, or it might just make me cry.

3) I am working on quantifying the magic that is my homemade burger.

Seriously, if I am remembered for anything after I die, it will be these burgers, they are that good. But I've never actually measured any of the ingredients - it's more of an 'Add rolled oats until the mixture feels dry enough' sort of thing. But my Bonehead Brother asked for an estimate so he could make them, which inspired me to attempt to create an actual recipe. My Bonehead lives in Calgary, which means they were cooking burgers outdoors about a month ago, the jerks. But since the snow has finally melted enough for us to get to our BBQ, and the weather has been above zero (Celsius), I made enough burgers for 2 or 3 meals. I'm freezing some of them for later.

4) You may have discerned somewhat of a theme from my activities, all centred on the idea that it is finally starting to feel like spring around here. It's still early spring, mind you, because our yard still looks like this.

But that's a hell of a lot better than it was at my last post, and it's a close enough approximation of spring that I can bbq, and make strawberry pie without crying. Which also means, I can start to garden. Not outside, of course, at least for another month or so, but I have started planning our yard for this year, and I'm hoping to get my seeds started indoors this week. Yay!!

Our yard, and especially our flower beds, are going to be alot of work this year, as they've been kind of neglected for the past couple years. Last year was kind of torture for me, as I was teaching all of May, too pregnant in June for much gardening, and then spent the rest of the summer recuperating from my C-section. The only gardens I got to enjoy were my lovely cousins' and the ones in Dunvegan. This year, with a lot of luck and hard work, I'm hoping to get the yard back into shape. I'm starting a bunch of perennials indoors, and hopefully some veggies (especially tomato plants) in my mother in law's greenhouse. I will be soliciting suggestions, so stay tuned for pictures of my beds and yard.

5) And finally, there's this.

Which I'm always working on. Or with. Or whatever. However you say it, this project is the one I can't live without.