My Greenish Thumb

“Do you actually like gardening?” Jeremy asked, while we stood outside looking at the backyard.

The truth is, I don’t.

Although I talk about it a lot, and it consumes so much of my free time, for me it’s actually just a means to an end. What I really love is having flowers, trees, fresh herbs, and vegetables right off the vine, all summer. Unfortunately, having these things requires a lot of work.

There are aspects that I do enjoy.

I love spending time outside and the way my arms look after a summer’s worth of cutting the grass with my little manual mower. People think I’m nuts for pushing that thing around, but it really sculpts the guns. I also love shopping at the garden center. Most of all, I love that feeling of pride and satisfaction when I drive up to our house and see our beautiful garden, knowing that I did this.

On the other hand…

I don’t like being attacked by swarms of angry Japanese beetles (which happened to me last year, when I was trying to save what was left of a birch tree they’d devoured while we were at work) or being stung by bees, ants and thistles. Furthermore, I don’t particularly care for cleaning up turds from the neighbourhood cats – three cats, that don’t belong to us, regularly use our garden as a litter box. I also do not enjoy finding carcases from deceased birds and small animals in our flower beds (the later, I thankfully, have not encountered yet this year).

Then, there’s the time. Whenever I step outside, I feel like there are always weeds to be pulled, shrubs to be trimmed, or grass to be cut. I spend so much of my summer up to my elbows in dirt, when I’d rather be on the deck with my feet up, with a magazine and a glass of wine.

I’m still relatively new to gardening. I don’t really know what I’m doing, so I don’t always approach it as efficiently as I could. It’s getting easier every year though. With every passing summer I learn a little more and gain that much more control over our suburban jungle. I’m confident that someday soon I’ll get to spend more time enjoying our yard than working in it.

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Cranberry and White Chocolate Chip Cookies

Alternate title: Gluten Free Cookies That Don’t Taste Like Ass

I baked some cookies for my book club this week.

They’re gluten free and delicious – a rare combination, in my opinion. I wanted to pass along this recipe because, as someone with a sensitivity to wheat, I’m often asked for treat recommendations.

1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cups almond meal
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
2/3 cup rice flour
1/2 cup cornflour
3/4 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to moderate, 350°F.

In a bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter, almond meal, sugar and vanilla until creamy. Add egg and beat well.

Stir in flours, chips and cranberries. Roll tablespoonfuls of mixture into balls and flatten with a fork or spoon. Arrange 5cm apart on parchment lined trays.

Bake for 20 minutes, until golden around the bottom. Allow to cool on trays.

Original recipe found here (I just North Americanized it).

I wanted to share this particular recipe because the ingredients are minimal and easy to find. That’s not always the case with gluten free recipes. Many call for complicated combinations of obscure flours and starches. Finding them can be time consuming and expensive. Last year, it took me two weeks, and at least a dozen grocery stores to find a bag of Amaranth flour. By the time I actually tracked it down, I’d completely lost interest in the loaf of bread I’d intended to bake. I still have the flour, but I’ve haven’t given the bread another thought since.

Also, Xanthan Gum is not required for this recipe. Xanthan gum is an additive commonly used to replace gluten in wheat free baked goods. It’s a little pricey and generally sold in a larger quantity than the occasional gluten free baker will likely ever use in a lifetime. Since the average recipe calls for only a fraction of a teaspoon of Xanthan Gum, it’s tempting to leave it out. Baking is chemistry though. You just can’t leave out a crucial binding agent.

That being said, in this case, you can. I don’t know why this recipe works without it. It just does.

So, bake, and enjoy.

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Amineko!

It began two weeks before Christmas with a panicked message from a friend.

There was a crochet emergency!

She bought this book:

Basically, it’s a story book with a crochet pattern for the feline character, Amineko (Japanese, meaning crochet cat). It’s absolutely adorable and her nephews love it. She wanted to surprise them with Amineko dolls for Christmas but her skills were a little rusty and she wasn’t sure about the instructions. Plus, time was running out.

I knew I could give her a refresher on crochet basics, but I wasn’t sure how helpful I’d be deciphering the pattern. Instructions aren’t really my thing. I’m much more inclined to create my own pattern, rather than summon the patience to interpret someone else’s. I figured between the two of us, we’d figure it out though.

As soon as I could, I stopped by her house with my yarn and hooks. The only way I could explain the pattern to my friend was to actually make an Amineko along with her and I also intended to give mine as a gift.

She was an excellent student and the pattern was pretty straightforward. By the time I left her house that night, we’d made considerable progress.

Still, time was not on our side. When we parted ways at the end of our second crochet marathon, two days before Christmas, we were still several limbs and appendages short.

Between last minute gift wrapping, food making, and other Christmas preparations, I managed to finish the necessary pieces. Then, just after breakfast, Christmas morning, it was stuffed and assembled.

Finally, the Amineko was wrapped up to be opened later that day by our niece.

That concludes my holiday toy making adventure. Now I know how it feels to be a elf at the north pole!

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