The Last of the Canning — Maybe

It looks like I have finally made it through my not-inconsiderable list of foods that I wanted to put up for the winter. I mean, I still have two pumpkins left to roast, but the puree is just going in the freezer, which doesn’t take nearly as long as hot water bath canning or pressure canning. If I don’t have to lug my canning rigs and bunches of jars out of the basement, it doesn’t count.

The last two things to put up were parsley jelly and hot sauce, both of which contained produce grown in my garden. I brought a big pot of parsley in with the first major cold snap about a month ago, and I kept it alive until I could chop it up for the jelly. The peppers for the hot sauce were brought in as they ripened, and then were frozen. This isn’t the greatest solution if you want your peppers crisp, but if you’re just going to run them through a blender or food processor, it doesn’t really matter. This way I was able to cook up a whole season’s peppers at once, instead of using them up individually as they became ripe.

I was curious to try the parsley jelly (from page 298 of Preserving: The Canning and Freezing Guide for All Seasons by Pat Crocker (2011)), since I’d never heard of it before. Mint jelly, sure, but not parsley. Apparently it’s and English thing? This jelly can also be made with sage, thyme, or basil, in addition to the mint that I’m familiar with. Sadly, as good as it looks, the jelly didn’t set despite following the instructions to the letter. That’s why I added a “maybe” to this post title. I mean, I could just give up and chuck the unset jelly, or I could try to re-cook it. I’ve used this technique in the past and it has worked out well. But I am so incredibly busy with the Christmas season at the moment that I might just give up and try again another time.

My hot sauce, however, turned out wonderfully. Since it’s a puree, it’s not like I have to worry about the set. I base my hot sauce on the Essential Habanero Hot Sauce from Genius Kitchen. I got great reviews on the sauce last year. Although the heat of the sauce varies because every summer I grow slightly different peppers, I’m pretty sure that this year’s is at least as hot as last year’s because even just the vapours from cooking it completely cleared my sinuses. Let’s hope the people I am giving it to for Christmas like it as much!

Not-So-Silent Night

Last night was one of those nights where it seemed like all I did was run from pillar to post and back again. It started as soon as the kids got home from school. There was snacks, then showers, then finding all of the parts of their Guiding uniforms (or, in Thing 1’s case, a matching set of PJ’s for her unit’s holiday pajama party), then the kids making their lunches while I whipped up dinner…

Dinner was what I think might very charitably be called deconstructed shepherd’s pie. I had taken the meat out earlier in the day to thaw, but by the time dinner prep time came around I knew I’d never have time to bake it as a casserole. So I prepped the meat as I would for my usual shepherd’s pie (with a few extra mushrooms thrown in because that’s what I had in the fridge), boiled up some baby potatoes, and microwaved some corn. Instead of layering it into a casserole, I just served it as is. The kids ate all of theirs without complaint, and I found it almost as tasty (if not as creamy) as the real thing, so it worked out okay.

Then I had to wrap Christmas thank-you gifts for my girls’ Guiders. Guide leaders are volunteers, and I think it’s important that they know how much my children and I appreciate all of their hard work. Without Guiders, there would be no Girl Guides. I couldn’t do what they do (despite having two children that I adore, my patience levels with children is not great), which is why I try to support them in other ways.

Although the bags look slightly different, that’s mostly because I ran out of white tissue paper near the end. They’re all identical inside, containing Amaretto Cherries and Cinnamon-Scented Parsnip Pear Jam. I am very quick at gift wrapping, having worked the wrapping station in a number of retail jobs over the years, which comes in handy when I have ten gift bags that I’ve forgotten to put together until the last minute. I could have sworn Thing 1 and Thing 2 had one more meeting before the holiday break, but obviously I was mistaken.

Then I had to rush out the door to drive the kids through a snowstorm to their respective Guiding activities for the evening — Thing 1 to her pajama party and Thing 2 to sing Christmas carols at a retirement home. Of course, I got stuck spinning my tires on a patch of ice as I left my driveway, and luckily my husband arrived home just in time to help push the car. Then it was a very slow, cautious drive to the girls’ activities, then another slow and cautious drive to my parents’ place to help them put up their Christmas tree, then back to pick up the girls and get them home and in bed for the night, despite the huge amounts of sugar they had consumed.

When all that was over, I had to relax a bit. I poured myself a lovely glass of rum and eggnog (okay, Earth’s Own Almond SoFresh Almond Nogg, which isn’t a half-bad substitute for the lactose intolerant). I had a real tree twinkling with lights in the living room. And, at least for a few hours, I tried to ignore the fact that I had less than two weeks to go to get everything done before Christmas.

Chicken Bones

Over the weekend I hit one of the local bulk food stores, and while I was there my attention was drawn to what I thought were real Chicken Bones. Okay, not real chicken bones, but the candy named after them. Chicken Bones follow in the grand tradition of naming confections after the parts of animals that they superficially resemble, just like Beaver Tails and bear claws. At any rate, I thought I was getting the Ganong original chicken bone candy, but in retrospect I may have been getting an imitation.

Here’s a video by Ganong about how the real thing is made:

Real or fake, Chicken Bones were an essential flavour of my childhood holidays. Unlike the ubiquitous mint of candy canes, Chicken Bones are a strong cinnamon candy with a touch of dark chocolate at the center. Now, I wouldn’t have known to make this comparison as a kid, but as an adult I can definitely say that they remind me of Fireball whisky.

Chicken Bones are a really Maritime thing, although they’ve made their way to the rest of Canada somewhat sparsely over time. That isn’t to say that they’re universally loved out East; I know a fair number of people who can’t stand them, but they are definitely ubiquitous. My Nan, who was from Britain but lived almost sixty years of her life in small-town New Brunswick, used to buy Chicken Bones around the holidays, along with After Eights and liquorice allsorts. Chicken Bones have a flavour and smell that I most strongly associate with her. Now that she has passed away nobody else around here seems to serve them. So when I saw them at the bulk food store, even if they were imitations, I had to pick up a few. I do miss my Nan around Christmas, since I spent so many of these holidays in her company. But sometimes keeping the little traditions alive helps to bring her back just a little bit, which is especially important this time of year, I think.

Busy Night

I had a billion and one things to accomplish yesterday evening, most of which I can’t even write about because they had to do with Christmas gifts for people that I know read this blog. One thing I can mention is that I did get the chance to put the last finishing touches on the Frankensteined gaming PC (made with excess parts graciously donated by our friends) that my husband and I are giving Thing 1 for Christmas. She doesn’t have Internet access yet, so here I can sigh with relief here about having at least one major gift out of the way.

Dinner was a quick one, since I can only do so many things at once, and for a change the kitchen was not calling me. I wanted to eat at least somewhat healthily, so I made up some soft tacos with a pre-packaged spice mix. Well, I say “made up”, but mostly I just prepped all of the ingredients and set them out on the table so that everyone could fill their own tacos. I fixed mine up with spiced ground beef, avocado, lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, and lactose-free cheddar. Also available on the table were sour cream (which I prefer over mayo, but can’t eat), homemade blender salsa canned earlier this year, and shredded cheddar cheese.

Dinner out of the way, I went on to work on some Christmas crafts. I whipped up my first-ever circle skirt for Thing 1 — which is even easier for a kid than for an adult since there aren’t any seams! A friend of mine recommended the following resources to me, which were invaluable:

Make a circle skirt without a pattern by Costuming Diary
Circle Skirt (and a follow-up instructional video by Made Everyday
The Best Way to Sew Bias Tape by Positively Splendid

I combined the techniques because I wasn’t working with a serger, and because I wanted a finished waistband edge but I also wanted the cute red elastic to show. This skirt will be worn later in the week when the girls go get their pictures taken with Santa. I still have to make a second, smaller one for Thing 2. Hopefully I can make the time tomorrow.

In every spare minute, I’m knitting away on cloths to be given as gifts. I think of this colourway as “Evil Minion“. This is either the last or second-last one, depending on how much yarn I am left with. After that, it’s time to start on knitted owls for my girls’ Guiding leaders.

As we do every year, we have had a guest in our house starting December 1st. Candy Cane will stay until December 25th, at which point she will be whisked back to the North Pole where she will stay until next holiday season. Here she is unpacking all of her copious outfits. I know some people find The Elf on the Shelf kind of creepy, but my kids really love her and look forward to her annual arrival. We’ve never made a big deal of the “reporting back to Santa” aspect of the Elves at our house, so my kids just see her as another piece of Christmas magic.

Frozen/Star Wars Mash-Up Photos

The paint is currently drying in my kitchen, which means cooking is being kept to a minimum for the moment. Instead, I’ve finally found the time to edit the rest of the photos from Ottawa Comiccon: Holiday Edition! All of the photos were taken by Ian Walton, I just played with them a bit.

We started by taking photos indoors by the big windows at the front of the convention center for the best lighting — and look who we found!


Left to right: Darth Sven, Jedi Anna, Darth Vader, Stormtrooper, Jedi Elsa, and Darth Kristoff.

Christmas Darth Vader and the Stormtrooper in their holiday AT-AT were probably the most awesome (and seasonally-appropriate) costumes we saw all day.

I discovered that I need to learn how to pose better in this costume. Also, I need to trim (or re-position) the white streak in my hair, which was a clip-in (the rest is my real hair dyed with Féria C74 Power Copper), so that it’s a matching length.

Elsa’s Force snowflake pops against the indoor backdrop, although it was hard to see outside. I was really happy with how Elsa’s costume turned out, because she made it herself and it was her first time sewing anything so complicated. She put so much hard work into it and she ended up with a great final product!

I absolutely love Sven’s antlers! And yes, the reindeer does have reindeer mittens.

Kristoff’s fantastic makeup was done by the fabulously talented Jessica Harkonnen.

This is probably my favourite photo of the entire day.

Then we moved outside to freeze for our art:

The cold may not bother Elsa, but it definitely bothers Anna.

I hope to use this costume again for the regular ComicCon in May, and this mini-con was a great chance to try it out and figure out what needs to be changed, what can be done better. I definitely want to add some more detail to it with embroidery or maybe paint. I want to alter the obi so that it’s stiffer and has more structure. And I need a better lightsaber, preferably one that lights up on its own. I may have convinced my kids to join in on the group as well, so that’s more costumes to make — but that won’t start until much closer to the date, since there may be some growth spurts in the meantime and I don’t want to have to make the costumes twice.

Last-Minute Costume Revealed

Much to my surprise, we all managed to complete our costumes in time for Ottawa Comiccon: Holiday Edition over the weekend. My friends got some really great shots of our group, but they will have to wait until tomorrow because I spent way too long wrestling with the compatibility of unfamiliar camera RAW formats to finish going through them all. It was also my very first time trying to get edit photos of lightsabers so they look like they’re glowing.

The snowy weather provided a perfect backdrop to our group picture:


Photo by Ian Walton.

Left to right, that’s Darth Kristoff (with Olaf on his back), Darth Sven, Jedi Elsa, and me on the far right as Jedi Anna. Yes, we did do a Disney’s Frozen/Star Wars mashup.

I can definitely say that we had a lot of fun wearing these costumes, even for a con as small as the holiday one (which, let’s be honest, is more of a marketplace and less of a con). After all the work I put into this costume, I am determined to wear it on at least one other occasion, though!

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like…

I finally started to get into the Christmas spirit a little bit this weekend, probably because on Friday afternoon my yard looked like this:

And by Sunday it looked like this:

Many of my friends and family bemoaned the precipitation and freezing temperatures, but I always like a bit of snow before Christmas. A green Christmas just isn’t very Christmas-y to me. That being said, it’s supposed to go up to 9°C (48.2°F) on Tuesday, so it’s not like this is going to last.

It really put me in the mood for Christmas shopping, though. Unlike in the States, where the holiday buying season appears to officially start as soon as the clocks strike midnight the day after American Thanksgiving, we don’t really have a traditional time to begin. Some people shop all year ’round. Some companies put out their Christmas merchandise at the same time as they’re building their Halloween displays (which is a little early to me, but oh well). For me, all of the Halloween debris has to be cleared away and there has to be some snow on the ground for me to feel like shopping for gifts — although I have been known to pick things up six months in advance if the opportunity arises at a great price.

I went with my mother, Thing 1, and Thing 2 to a number of craft fairs on Saturday, but one of my perennial favourites was the one held at Cairine Wilson High School. It’s a huge fair; it packs full the big gym, the little gym, the hallways, and the cafeteria. Given the number of booths, I’m bound to find something that I know someone will like.

But even if I don’t find the perfect gift for someone, it’s a lot of fun to check out the wares of local craftspeople. This is one of the few times of year that a lot of these people make their work available to the public; many craftspeople work all year by themselves to make enough stock for one or two holiday shows.

After hitting a few craft fairs, we rushed home so that the kids could get changed into their uniforms and we could drive out to Epiphany Anglican Church where the Girl Guides’ Holiday Tea is held every year. Since I’d gone to all of the effort of baking brownies for the tea, I pretty much had to attend. It’s always a lovely time, with such cheerful little servers and so many delicious treats on which to nosh.

I may have kind of taken a picture of some of the sweets for our table after I’d already nabbed the chocolate ones. Just maybe. I think that the next to go was that shortbread on the bottom right, since I’m a sucker for those too.