Sunday, December 20, 2020

Safe and Healthy Holiday Season

There must be something here that I can eat!!
With the shortest day of light behind us now, I look forward to longer, light filled days. Dealing with Covid19 through the majority of 2020, has been a challenging experience for most of us. We cannot let our guard down with this virus! The holiday season will look very different this year for all of us.

I am fortunate to live on an acreage with a large vegetable garden and walking trails through the woods. Our temperatures are predicted to drop below freezing in the next few days. Today was time to pull more winter carrots from the garden and put extra mulch on the carrots, strawberries, garlic, cabbage and kale. As I pulled up 2 small rows of carrots I found a climbing cutworm in the soil. The chickens will be put to work to clean up that raised bed in the Spring after all the carrots, beets and kale are out. I pulled a one gallon pail, five pounds of assorted carrots including my first try of Kyoto Red Carrots, a Japanese sweet red carrot from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co.

Dec. 20th, 2020 ~ 5 pounds of fresh garden carrots
They say the bright red color becomes much darker when grown in winter, so I only pulled a few for comparison sake.

Until next year ...  have a safe holiday season.

From my home to yours ... Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and Bon Appétit 

... stay healthy, be safe, wear a mask and take good care!

Photos by Sally Rae

Sunday, December 13, 2020

New Belgian Callebaut 'Callets'

Bags of Belgian Callebaut 'Callets'
Chocolate plays a large part in most of our holidays. Whether it is Valentines Day hearts, Easter bunnies or eggs, Halloween goodies or Christmas Truffles ... chocolate plays a major role in our gift giving celebrations.

Once a year I make an assortment of handmade Belgian truffles and chocolates. My annual chocolate ritual began in 1990, shortly after moving to Denman Island. We could not find a local chocolatier to our liking, so I started to experiment and develop an assortment of our favorites.

Denman Christmas Craft Faire 2010
Production was too much for just us, so the 'extras' were used for gift giving... and from there demand grew and grew! In 1994 my boxed collection of truffles and chocolates debuted in the Denman Island Christmas Craft Faire and was sold out the first day. I began increasing the size of my recipes and had to buy a small used fridge just for my 'chocolate season'. In 2010, I filmed a small video on YouTube of the Denman Christmas Craft Faire including a glimpse of my chocolates. Back then, I was producing the maximum amount for one person to accomplish while also working in Courtenay, growing a garden and running a household. 

11 pound slabs of Belgian Callebaut
Until this year, I was buying the imported Belgian Callebaut Chocolate in eleven pound slabs from a wholesale distributor in Victoria. Covid has brought many changes to the food supply chain and for some reason my supplier was now selling a different brand, not Callebaut chocolate. In my frantic search for Belgian Callebaut, I found an online Canadian company called Vanilla Food Company where I was able to order and have my Belgian Callebaut delivered. One difference is I am no longer purchasing the chocolate by the slab, they are now in big bags and in 'callet' or chips form. Last year I found these same Callebaut callets at The Bulk Barn in Courtenay of course at a much higher price than buying the large bags. I have not checked if they are available there this year.

from Callebaut 'Callets' to handmade truffles

These callets are a time saver, no more taking the time and energy to break down and chop the chocolate slabs for ganache and dipping. Just scoop from a bag and temper! And it is a little too convenient to scoop a little bowlful for snacking!! Our house smells like chocolate for a shorter period of time these days but those days are cherished. I'm proud of my truffles ... plus the knowledge and experience I've gained over 40 years of working with food as a professional ... and the 30,000+ individual handmade chocolates I've made so far on Denman alone!

I have purchased other professional baking supplies from Vanilla Food Company in the past. If you are looking for a high grade food coloring I would suggest their 'AmeriColor' Soft Gel Paste Food Color. I searched the web for this product and was very happy to find it available through a Canadian company, paid for in Canadian dollars!!

AmeriColor Soft Gel Paste Food Color

It is an easy to use gel format that will not weep, separate or harden. It is able to withstand the freeze/thaw cycle without colors bleeding. It will not break down even the most delicate icings. A very small amount is needed for intense color that will not impart a bitter taste. The bottles are a convenient squeeze, with a re-closable lid. Mix and measure one drop at a time for color that is consistent from batch to batch. They are available as individual colors or in kits of assorted 6-12 colors. 

Here is a basic ganache recipe for chocolate truffles, it is dense and easier for beginners to work with...

Chocolate Truffles      Yield: 40 truffles
The ultimate chocolate indulgence! A truffle filling in its simplest form consists of chocolate and whipping cream... termed 'ganache'. *Tempering chocolate is to heat and cool chocolate to stabilize it for making confections. The chocolate hardens with a smooth, glossy, crisp finish.

1 cup whipping cream
14 oz. top quality dark chocolate, callets or very finely chopped
2 Tbsp. liqueur (for alcohol free truffles use; coffee OR flavored syrups)
1½ lb. dark, milk OR white top quality chocolate for dipping, callets or coarsely chopped
Garnish: crystallized edible flowers, chopped nuts, cocoa powder, threads or swirls of chocolate

In a heavy 2-quart saucepan, scald the cream. Remove from the heat and quickly stir in the finely chopped chocolate until completely melted. (If you are using syrup, add it to the cream before scalding.) Cool 5 minutes stirring once or twice to be sure all the chocolate has melted to a smooth ganache then add the liqueur. Pour into a large bowl and cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Line a baking sheet with plastic wrap. Form the ganache into tablespoon sized balls, roll between your palms until round, place on the bake sheet, cover and refrigerate for an hour or overnight until firm. If the ganache is too soft, spoon them out but do not form them, place them in the fridge and then form. 
Special Truffle Assortment

Meanwhile,temper’ the dipping chocolate: Start by chopping the chocolate very finely. Throughout the tempering process, be careful that no moisture gets into or condenses on the chocolate or it will become impossible to work with. Place the chopped chocolate in the top of a dry double boiler over hot, but not simmering water. (NEVER use a microwave for this.)

Stir as it melts. A chopstick or silicone spatula can be used for this process. Heat the chocolate to 104°F. Remove from the bottom of the double boiler. Cover the bottom so the escaping steam does not condense on the chocolate.

Cool to 80°F stirring occasionally. Return the top of the double boiler with chocolate to the bottom and bring the chocolate back up to 89°F. The chocolate is now tempered and ready to use for glazing, drizzling or dipping.

Line a bake sheet with parchment or wax paper. Dip each ball into the tempered chocolate, tap to remove the excess chocolate and to prevent a ‘garden slug foot’. Invert the dipped chocolate onto the lined bake sheet. Allow the dipped truffles to set up or harden without touching or your fingerprints will blemish them.

To garnish; drizzle threads or swirls of different colored chocolate for each variety if you are making multiple flavors so you can tell them apart. If using crystallized flowers or nuts they should be placed while the chocolate is still soft. For cocoa, allow the chocolate to cool completely then roll in cocoa. I use cotton gloves (available from Pharmacies) to handle the chocolates once they are set. Put each chocolate into a 'paper bonbon cup’ and box to store. 

**These truffles can be frozen for up to 3 months. Wrap the box in 2 layers of plastic wrap, then with tin foil. To defrost, remove to the fridge and defrost in the plastic and foil wrapping.

Until next time ... Bon Appétit ... stay healthy, be safe, wear a mask and take good care!

Photos by Sally Rae
Denman Island Craft Faire 2010 Video by Sally Rae
Truffle Recipe by Sally Rae

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Olson Hospital Face Mask

The contoured Olson Hospital Face Mask pattern was designed by and for medical professionals and health care workers, to be used when other surgical and N95 masks are not available. The masks supplied to hospitals are supposed to be left with an unfinished seam at the ear loops so it can be custom fit to each worker receiving the mask.


Olson Hospital Face Mask

Color coordinated ear loops
Due to Covid-19 and a high risk person in my household, I have been sewing 100% cotton face masks since June 2020. I wasn't happy with the amount of disposable masks thrown in the garbage. On top of that, they were uncomfortable on my ears and my glasses always fogged up. 

I tried 4 different mask patterns: the first was designed and approved by a nurse; I loved the string tie behind the head instead of ear loops but the mask pressed on my nose ... the second, a pleated version similar to the paper disposable types; I liked nothing about this mask! ... the third, a contoured mask in several different sizes; did not have enough coverage, it was fussy to fit and pressed on my nose. I was not happy with the comfort or fit of any of the first three patterns I tried. Then I made the Olson Hospital Face Mask pattern. I just love it... comfortable, snug fit, contoured, a nose wire channel, filter pocket, optional ear loops or behind the head string or elastic.Finally, I started to batch sew!!

I sew the masks on my Grandmothers' 1948 Singer Straight Stitch sewing machine. I feel my Grandma and my Mom with me when I work on that machine. It's a workhorse!!

My 1948 Singer from Grandma

New fabrics
I have sewn seasonal fabric masks for Halloween and now Christmas. The masks I personally wear are coordinated with my outfit and have become a wardrobe accessory! When possible, I try to color coordinate the ear loops with the mask colors.

Halloween Edition 2020

A friend told me where to get an N95 'Filti' fabric for making mask filters. This fabric goes out of stock often and as far as I am aware, is only available at one Textile Shop in Canada. I have just ordered my third batch and it will arrive hopefully this week. It is now recommended that the 'filti' fabric be sanitized in a 150F oven between tinfoil with a bowl of water for 30 minutes. This method prolongs the use of the fabric rather than washing.

With new provincial guidelines now in place ... it is suggested that homemade masks have a high thread count, a cotton face covering with a filter ... the Olson mask with 'Filti' filter is a good, comfortable option for protection. All the Covid-19 protocols still apply ... don't touch your face, wash your hands or use hand sanitizer, keep a safe distance and wear a mask with filter in enclosed areas.

Until next time ... Bon Appétit ... stay healthy, be safe, wear a mask and take good care!

'Designer' Olson Hospital Face Masks and photos by Sally Rae

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Organic Garden Cleaning Crew

Secure hen house and caged run with removable cover

I do not use pesticides on my vegetable garden. So after over 30+ years of gardening the same raised beds, the bugs are multiplying and are very happy ... making me unhappy and my soil very frustrating to grow anything. 

I grew up in a market gardening family business on the prairies. When I would complain to my Mom about my Denman bugs, she would always say; "When grandpa took the garden out ... the chickens went in to clean up." I had chickens in the garden about 7 years ago but within a few weeks predators took out 2 of my hens. It was fenced to keep deer out but not the raccoons, eagles, hawks and mink. Ever since then I've wanted a chicken tractor type enclosure that would fit on top of my raised bed garden boxes. This would make it much more secure to predators. We still had the small hen house it all just needed to be updated and pieced together to work in my garden.

Hardware cloth covered run with rain panels on top
The small hen house from 7 years ago was put on a dolly with four 8" pneumatic casters. The wheels rotate 360 degrees, so moving it around the garden is a breeze for one person! The house also got a fresh floor of plywood installed, a bit of insulation for the walls and a second nest box with a cute door for me to access the eggs easily. I added a hanger for their feeder and a small door was cut out with a ramp installed outside for access into the run. Two turnbuckles attach the hen house and the run together.

The caged run is 2"x2" wood construction with half inch hardware cloth. I read somewhere that; "chicken wire keeps chickens in. If you want to keep predators out hardware cloth with a small grid is the way to go."  It is more expensive but well worth it. The section of the run at the hen house is 3' in height, the rest is 2' and it sits on top of the raised beds that are 4'2" wide by 13' long. It needs to be manageable for two people to lift and move it. We had old corrugated fiberglass panels removed from the greenhouse laying around so they make the perfect cover to keep the rain and possible snow off the ground and the birds. They are light and easy to move on or off when needed.

Hen house and access doors
The doors and gates are all secured with hasp closures and carabiner clips. The cage run is held tight onto the wooden garden box with rubber bungee cords hooked into large eye hooks that are screwed into the side of the raised beds. Now this is chicken security!! One friend called it my new 'Chicken Emporium' ... I kinda like that!

The first garden box I had the hens clean up in the 3 photos above, was the bed for the garlic that was finally put in a bit later than usual on October 20th, 2020. They did a great job aerating the soil, eating bugs and slug eggs and leaving a bit of fertilizer behind! After cleaning three of the garden boxes, it was time to move 'The Chicken Emporium' up closer to the house. Their water was freezing over night and it was quite a bit hiking up and down to the garden several times a day. I really enjoy having them closer to the house now so I can visit them more often. I've left some of the big, old broccoli plants in the garden to pull for them and have some winter lettuce in the greenhouse that they love!

Goldie, L'il Red and Buffy - Inside, happy and secure
Now that they are up near the house, they get moved to a new grassy patch every week or so. Along with hen scratch, broccoli plants, fruit and vegetable scraps and warm oatmeal with blueberries on the cold mornings, I think they are spoiled, happy hens! I just love chickens and I'm thrilled to have a small flock again... even more thrilled that I know they are safe as I can make them!

My new flock are three older girls, I got them mainly as my organic garden cleaning crew, the eggs are a bonus! In the photo at right, inside the run... the buff colored hen far back is a Buff Orpington who I've named 'Buffy (the Vampire Slayer)', she lays beautiful brown shelled eggs. The other two girls are Americaunas who lay pale blue shelled eggs. The lighter, golden one in front is named 'Goldilocks' and the one behind her is 'Little Red Riding Hood'. Yes... I name my chickens, always have... so, for short they are Buffy, Goldie and L'il Red. A week or so after I got the hens, Buffy started molting... feathers everywhere and now she looks a bit like a plucked chicken. They also stop laying when they molt and as the daylight hours shorten. For now, Goldie and L'il Red are still laying so we get about 4-5 beautiful blue eggs a week.

The beautiful eggs are a bonus!
The girls on the high roost
We don't use a lot of eggs, so they have supplied us well. And it makes me smile to look in the fridge and see blue eggs!

They will spend winter up by the house so I can keep their water fresh and tend to them as the winter rolls in. In the Spring, before planting the garden they will be moved back into the garden and put to work scratching around and having a bug feast on the early spring bugs. The first garden bed they cleaned this fall had Proteknet insect netting over it this summer and in May I found three Large Yellow Underwing Moths trapped inside. They are the culprits of the climbing cutworm so I was happy to get the chickens in there to find any eggs and pupae. I wrote a Post about the climbing cutworm Pupae in 2016 and will write a post in the Spring about the Moths that I found. I'm so happy to finally have a secure 'Chicken Emporium' and my new organic garden cleaning crew!!

Until next time ... Bon Appétit ... stay healthy, be safe, wear a mask and take good care!

Photos by Sally Rae 
'Chicken Emporium' design coordinator - Sally Rae 
'Chicken Emporium' construction assistance and supervised by Sally Rae

Monday, November 2, 2020

Chestnut Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

Chestnut Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

A few times per week I prepare a meatless meal ... I made these 'Chestnut Stuffed Cabbage Rolls' for Thanksgiving Dinner and they were filling and delicious!

I grow two varieties of early cabbage; Tiara and Taiwan. Both are very tender yet crunchy. They are an incredible addition to stir fries, salads and soups. Their tender leaves were perfect to make this meatless cabbage roll recipe. 

If you give this recipe a try, please let me know in the 'Comment' section below...

CHESTNUT STUFFED CABBAGE ROLLS      Yield: 16-18 cabbage rolls


6 oz. roasted, peeled and cooled chestnuts (*see directions below)
⅓ cup small diced parsnips
½ cup small diced carrots
1 small early or savoy cabbage
½ yellow onion
1 tsp. avocado oil
2 oz. white wine
½ tsp. sea salt
½ tsp. poultry seasoning
¼ tsp. coarse black pepper
1 Tbsp. white wine
¼ cup vegetable stock

  *To roast and peel fresh chestnuts; Preheat oven to 425F. Thoroughly wash the chestnuts then with a sharp paring knife, cut an 'x' in the skin on the round side of each chestnut.This keeps them from exploding from internal pressure and makes them easy to peel after roasting. Arrange on a bake sheet and bake in preheated oven for 15-20 minutes or until the skins pull back and the nutmeats soften. Remove from the oven and pile the hot chestnuts on an old towel. Wrap tightly and squeeze until you hear a crackling sound. Then let them sit a few minutes. Pull off the dark shells and the papery membrane to reveal the yellowish white meat. Allow to cool.

For the cabbage roll filling; Peel parsnip and carrot, small dice and steam 20 minutes. Steam the whole cabbage 20 minutes. Peel onion and finely dice. Sweat onion in a pan with avocado oil. Add chestnuts, cook a few minutes. Add carrot and parsnip, reduce heat and cook 2-3 minutes.

Deglaze pan with wine and season with salt, pepper and poultry seasoning. Separate and set aside 16-18 whole cabbage leaves and enough to cover both the top and bottom in the baking dish. To a food processor; purée the chestnut/carrot mixture and the rest of the cabbage. Use a #30 scoop (a generous 2 Tbsp.) to divide the mixture into 16-18 balls. Place a ball in the middle of each leaf. Fold sides over and roll up.

Place rolls in an ovenproof dish lined with cabbage leaves, cover with cabbage leaves. Pour over 1 Tbsp. wine and
¼ to ⅓ cup of stock and bake at 350°F until warmed through.

Until next time ... Bon Appétit

Recipe by Sally Rae
Photo by Sally Rae

Monday, October 5, 2020

A Time to Give Thanks

I have so much to be Thankful for ... Denman Island is a safe and caring community, I can grow our own food 12 months of the year, what I don't grow I can buy from local organic farms, we have a beautiful spacious property with stunning ocean/mountain/island views. I'm thankful for the warm dry home that we built, wonderful neighbors we can rely on, a year 'round abundant water supply, four-legged friends who enrich our lives, provide companionship and entertainment ... we have each other for love and support, and between us skills in; cooking, baking, sewing, gardening, hair cutting, dog grooming, building, massage therapy ... to name only a few!

Garden and greenhouse harvest October 5th, 2020
We have remained safe through the Covid-19 pandemic and are happy to stay at home. I am thankful that although our Island is small we have a Medical Clinic, doctors including TCM, a fire department, first responders, paramedics and home support workers. I am thankful for our General Store, Post Office, Hardware Store and the Farmer's Market. Last but not least, I'm thankful for my family, dear friends, clients and neighbors.

As we all prepare for a different Thanksgiving weekend this year, I wish you thankful thoughts, good health ... and a beautiful celebration dinner. From our home to yours we wish you a happy, safe Thanksgiving ...

Until next time ... Bon Appétit

Photo by Sally Rae
Produce grown by Sally Rae

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Storm Season and Garden Clean Up

Mercury cukes and Borghese tomato  

After a rainy, cold June... the hot, dry September produced some bountiful harvests. My tomatoes are slow to ripen because I had to restart seeds after losing 2 trays of seedlings to damping off. The outside tomato plants are struggling and probably won't produce much... but in the greenhouse some are starting to ripen and they are beauties! Also the Mercury cucumbers in the greenhouse are going to be hard to live without in the coming weeks of cooler weather.

Sally's Outdoor Salsa 1lb. 13oz.
Last week I picked the first and largest of my 'Sally's Outdoor Salsa' tomatoes, weighing in at 1 lb. 13oz. Not a record breaker compared to last years ginormous specimen that tipped the scale at my record of 2 lb. 5 3/4oz. I couldn't wait to slice into this beauty, the photo below, a single  'slice' dwarfs a Portofino Brioche Hamburger bun cut in half! For sure I saved seeds from this one! I had too many cabbages to use and left two of the early Taiwan Cabbage out in the garden. When the rain started I didn't want them to split so I picked them. 

A slice compared to open hamburger bun
Of course the slugs and earwigs had a good time with them in the garden that long. Also under each, about 4-6 little cabbages had started to grow at the base. They looked like big Brussels Sprouts!

Taiwan Cabbage
This past week we had the first big wind and rain storms come through our area. There is still so much to get done with garden clean up. Next week we are predicted to have sun and more sun with temperatures up to 8 degrees C. above normal. What a crazy year in many ways!!
September Seascape Strawberries
 The strawberries are still producing... this plate of berries were picked on September 19th, and today I ate a few while working. With the warm, sunny days next week, I expect to pick another small bowl of beauties! 

2 lb. Earlichamp melon

Today in the greenhouse, the last 'Earlichamp' melon released from the vine... a beauty at 2 pounds! The sweet aroma is incredible. If you noticed, I'm struggling a bit with the new Blogger format. I will eventually figure it out but there are a few glitches in this post, sorry, this could be a steep learning curve for me!!

 Until next time ... Bon Appétit and Happy Gardening!

Photos by Sally Rae