Maple Syrup


When I was a kid I used to spend every school holiday up with my grandparents. They lived at the “cottage”, but to a kid it was paradise, specially for a city kid. They had killer tobogganing hills, skating, snowmobiles and nature as far as the eye could see. I was allowed to play with fire, build stuff and wander in the woods but best of all, every March Break, my Grampa would tap his maple trees and start collecting sap.

Ever since I’ve been about 10, I’ve wanted to learn the process from start to finish however the call back to school usually had other plans taking me away from the best part, the final product.

Now with years gone by, Grampa had put the maple gear into storage.
I have my own kids, flexibility and a food blog. It may have taken a few years of urging, but Greatest Grampa, how he’s now referred, dusted off the sap buckets and handed down one of the most awesomest candy thermometers I’ve ever seen.

In playing the role of Mom, I was able to take the kids out of school a few days before the break to head up north. The weather was ideal, so after packing too many clothes and boots for the changing of the seasons, we were off for our my long awaited visit with Greatest Nana and Greatest Grampa.

We were eagerly greeted by my Grandparents with scrubbed buckets and boots on. The weather had been cold the night before but was warming up nicely in the soon to be spring sunshine; ideal weather to get the sap running…

Since there aren’t any leaves, we were amazed at the knowledge and accuracy my grandfather, whom I’ve always thought was a genius anyway, was able to identify the Sugar Maples from the at least twenty varieties of trees he has growing in his quite diverse forest. With a drill and a spiel, we tapped the trees and hung the buckets, which were quickly chiming off a delicate symphony of drips into the galvanized pails below.

Next, we had to wait. Greatest Grampa had only brought down ten buckets, but after listening to the rapid drips of sap filling our buckets, we had caught the bug. We found water jugs and ice cream pails, you name it. If we could drill a hole into the side of it, it was soon hanging from a tree. All in all we doubled our collection and headed off to the local Maple Syrup Festival to pass the time. The kids saw, and tasted what was about to come their way.

By the end of the second day we’d collected enough sap to begin our first boil.

Sap is mostly water, so it takes about 40 times the sap to make one part syrup.
Thinking it had to by much more complicated than it was, I was sure that there had to be more to it when we were told that we “Just cook it.” I will cook just about anything and so we continued onward this adventure in syrup making. We were given a large soldered pan, which I’m sure my Grampa must have manufactured himself all those years ago.

When we started the cooking process, we realized we were soon referring to the boiling sap as, “Our Baby”. How precious it became as we watched our heavy sap just evaporate into the air. Slowly but surly it cooked down, only to be replenished by more sap until the last liter of the batch had been added. Shadowed through the bright sunshine we watched as the nearly clear liquid gave way to a light mapley shade of amber. The smell of cooking sap is amazing. The sweet steam warming our chilled cheeks, faintly reminded me of Shrove Tuesdays past. Finally we tasted, pondered and, of course, tasted some more.
Once we had deemed it worthy, we packed a sips worth into a cup and trotted up from the cottage, through the bush to Greatest Grampa’s house in the forest.

Anxious. “Maybe a little underdone.” We were told. But better under than over, as we learned. Apparently syrup is quite forgiving… phew.

Of course, pancakes were made to celebrate. Certainly a sweet success.

Chi Chi Chi Chia


Chia seeds, which used to be mostly known for growing kitchy green hair, is now coveted as a omega-3 rich supergrain.

I always secretly yourned for the terra cotta collectable, so I wanted in on the healthy fun.

With a kid that has just started her career in brown bagging lunches, I’m certainly learning that it’s tough enough getting them to eat, let alone eat well. One food I know will not return home again are bagels and since I usually try to make my own of everything, I thought I’d give them a go.

CHIA SEED BAGELS

1 1/4 Cups Warm Water
1 1/2 teaspoons Instant Yeast Granules
2 Tablespoons Sugar
3 1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 1/2 teaspoons Salt
1/4 Cup Chia Seeds

Measure off the warm water and add the yeast and sugar, stirring to dissolve.
Leave the yeast mixture to sit, activate and bubble while you add the flour and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer with the hook attachment. (Alternatively, a large bowl and a wooden spoon still works:) Mix to combine.
Once the yeast has begun to bubble turn your mixer on low and continuously pour the yeast mixture over the flour and salt.
Keep the motor going, it should come together into a elastic dough. If you find it’s still sticking to the bottom of the bowl, feel free to toss in a small handful of flour and keep mixing.

Remove the dough, shaping it into a smooth ball and transfer it to a lightly greased, deep bowl to rise, loosely covered it with plastic wrap.
Let your dough rise, doubling in bulk, for about 2 hours or over night in the refrigerator, but bring it back to room temperature before proceeding.
Turn the dough out to a lightly floured surface. Dust a knife in flour and cut the dough in half.
Cover one half and cut the other into 4 or 5 pieces.
Beginning with the first piece, roll out the dough into a long rope, about 1″ (2cm) in diameter, shaping into a ring and secure. Leave it to rest, covered, on a baking sheet while you continue with all of the remaining dough.
Preheat the oven to 400ºF and bring a large pot of water onto boil.
Once the water is boiling, drop 2 – 3 of the bagels in for about 1 minute on each side.
Remove with a slotted spoon and return to a new, parchment lined baking sheet. Carefully sprinkle over the chia seeds and return to boiling the rest of the waiting bagels.
Flick or lightly spritz water into the oven and place the bagels on the center rack. Bake for about 5 minutes and spritz water into the oven again to create steam (and crispier bagels).
Bake for about 15 – 20 minutes more or until golden.

Homemade Nutella


The way this homemade stuff pops up and ends up in various pastries and the like, you’d think that  absolutely almost everyone loves Nutella. Almost.

I had hazelnuts on hand and I’ve been itching to use my cocoa nibs in everything, I just had to, I couldn’t resist. Combine the two and what do you get? You guessed it! Plus I figured, I was bound to get my self proclaimed vegetarian kid who won’t eat peanut butter to eat a nut, especially if it’s intertwined with chocolate and it tastes like Nutella.

Warm, buns, still steamy from the oven, homemade Nutella and some thinly sliced banana heaven…

Nope. “This taste-iss like peanut butter is in it. Are there nuts in this?”

Yes friends, I have the only known person who dislikes Nutella living under my roof and she’s a chocolate loving child.

At least they say that little tastebuds change. More for me, I guess.

COCOA NIB HAZELNUT SPREAD

1 cups Hazelnuts, toasted & skinned
1/2 cup Cocoa Nibs
1/2 cup Confectioners Sugar
2 Tablespoons Coconut Oil
1 Tablespoon Cocoa Powder

Preheat oven to 250ºF.
Toast the hazelnuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet for about 10 minutes. Give the pan a good shake about half way through to toss.
Remove the nuts from the oven and cool slightly.
Tightly wrap the hazelnuts in a clean kitchen towel. Twist and rub until most of the skins have come off.
Place the nuts and the cocoa nibs in a food processor, and pulse on high until they have broken down.
Add the coconut oil and continue to blend until they become smooth and buttery; about 5 minutes.
When the nuts are liquified, add in the sugar and cocoa powder, continuing to blend.
Transfer the spread to a jar and store in the refrigerator, leaving it to come closer to room temperature just before using.

Little House On The Prairie.


Posting a school snack might be cutting it close but we began running out of the packable snacks. With a mere three days of school remaining for us, I was not about to run out and restock with packages, so I decided to make my own. Now of course I was prepared to catch flack for this. Since making bread at 1am the other day, (we were out & I knew I’d be too lazy to go to the store) I heard this: “We don’t live on the Little House On The Prairie, you know? Stores where they have jam, butter and bread are some of the many modern conveniences of the 21st century.”

And that’s from my husband. Cute.

My daughter has someone with a peanut allergy in her class, so keeping that in mind I had to get these to stick together with out anything nutty. The second strategy was actually getting the kid to eat them, so I tried to replicate the “original” that she’s used to; chewy, with chocolate and rice crisps.

Third, get them by her little brother and into the snack bag for school.

Wha? Thought I wasn’t looking because I had a camera over my eye, didn’t you? Caught ya.

I’ll warn you, these are sweet, but the kids, they li -iiike them!

NUT-FREE CHEWY GRANOLA BARS

2 Cups Old Fashioned Oatmeal
1 Cup Rice Krispies
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Unsweetened Shredded Coconut
1/2 Cup Safflower Oil
1/2 Cup Agave Nectar
1/4 Cup Brown Rice Syrup
1/4 Cup Brown Sugar
1/2 Cup Dried Cranberries, or cherries or cherry flavoured cranberries
1/3 Cup Chocolate Chips

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
Spray a 9″ x 12″ Pyrex baking dish with oil.
Combine the oatmeal, Rice Krispies, coconut, cranberries and salt in a large mixing bowl.
Heat the agave, rice syrup, brown sugar and oil in a small saucepan until it just begins to boil.
Pour over the waiting oat mixture and mix well to coat.
Stir in chocolate chips last, so they won’t melt.
With clean, greased hands, press the mixture into the prepared pan.
Bake for 15 minutes.
Remove from the oven to cool slightly. Cut into bars while still warm
Cool completely before individually wrapping.

Makes 12 bars.

Ghoulish Goodies



Before leaving for vacation, my daughter was very concerned about the notion of being away for Halloween. Never one to pass on a party myself, we decided to throw a little pre-dinner soirée for our little fairly princess and her guests.

With thirteen members of the 4 and 5 year old set, I knew I’d need extra hands and entertainment but as far as the food went, I figured I had it covered.
Between the green goo and witches brew, there were ghost pops, goblin cakes and these Casper cookies.

The cookies are great for cutting out cats, witches, pumpkins and ghosts alike. Pretty quick and easy to make, just err on the underdone as the edges can brown fairy quickly.
Continue reading Ghoulish Goodies

Apple Lollipops



You know, the apples with sticks, or at least this is how candy apples are commonly known around my house. We can’t get through October without bobbing one of our fresh apples from the orchard in molten sugar.

So quick and fun, this autumn carnival snack is a must do, especially if you have kids or, of course, if you still are one.


Continue reading Apple Lollipops