Thursday, November 28, 2013

Baking Cookies Ain't What it Used to Be

Now that the season for holiday baking is upon us, I wanted to share a recent escapade of mine concerning this new gluten-free flour blend from Robin Hood. It was on sale in my local grocery store, and I thought I would try it and see how it compared to Pamela's gluten-free mix that I had been using. (The Robin Hood was half the price of Pamela's.)

Let me digress slightly and say that I'm not following a gluten-free diet, but so many people are that I have been making the odd batch of gluten-free cookies for friends when they come over for tea. Personally, I think that the reason so many are finding that they are sensitive to wheat is because the poor old wheat plant has been bred and hybridized and genetically modified and sprayed with chemicals for so long that our bodies no longer recognize it as edible. I prefer to stick with organic grains, preferably heritage varieties, but god knows that's a trend unto itself and maybe we should just be thankful that we have food to eat at all.

As I warned you, a digression. Sorry.

Back to Robin Hood's fancy new product. My first quibble was with the packaging. A plastic bag? Well, maybe it is more resistant to the carelessness of box-cutter wielding stockboys, but really, I like paper better. Slightly less harmful to the planet and all... ooops, digression nipped in the bud. (Pamela's also comes in a plastic bag, but one that is recyclable.)
But no, this package is not a mere bag! It is a grip-lock system!!! A velcro-like band seals the bag closed. Thank God! After years and years of struggle with rolling up paper bags, or wasting precious minutes transferring flour into a canister, I am ushered into a care-free new age courtesy of the patented Grip-Lock System!

Huh! I thought I would try the flour in a recipe that I had made many times and knew was a good one. I substituted the  gluten-free flour 1:1. The dough was suspiciously dry and crumbly, but I baked the cookies anyway. They came out of the oven looking like rocks. Sampling revealed an unpleasant gritty texture, a mouth feel of sawdust, and an oddly synthetic sweet taste.

The label says the flour is made with rice and sugar beet fibre. Sugar beet fiber?

Well, to back up a little, the venerable company of Robin Hood is now owned by Smuckers, one of a select group of conglomerates that control most the processed food available in North America. I would be willing to wager that another of Smucker's subsidiaries happened to find itself with a surplus of sugar beet fiber and head office got the guys in the lab to come up with some sort of flour-y substance that could be marketed as gluten-free.... But that would be cynical of me.

So, back in my kitchen, being the good little consumer Mrs. D'Avignon trained me to be in Grade 10 Home Ec class, I decided to call the 1-800 help number printed on the bag, er, excuse me, Grip-Lock System. I reached Emily, a lovely, very professional, customer service agent. She listened to my complaints, suggested perhaps I would have better success following the recipes developed specially for this flour blend, and offered to send me some coupons, which arrived yesterday.
Woohoo! Two $10 discount coupons for any of these products!! Well, it appears that not only Robin Hood, but Brodie, Purity, and Monarch flours are all part of Smuckers's empire now. And my childhood staple, Red River Cereal. And Golden Temple, which I am not familiar with but sounds like Asian noodles or rice. As well, Carnation and Eagle Brand milk, Crisco shortening, and Sugar in the Raw are in the Smuckers fold. And Folger's coffee. The list continues on their web site, listing fifity-two companies and product lines, including some that surprised me: Santa Cruz Organics, Crosse & Blackwell, Habitant, and sadly, since I almost live on the stuff, Adams Natural Peanut Butter.

To think it all started 115 years ago with apple butter sold out of the back of a wagon. I wonder what founder Jerome Smucker would make of where his company is now (taken from their Wikipedia page):
Throughout 2012, Smucker's contributed $485,000 to a $46 million political campaign known as "The Coalition Against The Costly Food Labeling Proposition, sponsored by Farmers and Food Producers". This organization was set up to oppose a citizen's initiative, known as Proposition 37, demanding mandatory labeling of foods containing genetically modified ingredients. Approximately 70% of the funding for the initiative was provided by a PAC and by companies with financial interests in the organic foods industry, with most of the remainder coming from a handful of wealthy individuals.[11] Following rejection of the proposition in the November 2012 referendum, organizers called for a boycott of companies funding the campaign to defeat the referendum.[12]
Chances are that I won't be buying Nutri gluten-free flour again. Or any of that other stuff. Sorry, Emily.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Day in the Life

Welcome to another episode in the ongoing saga of "Tripping Down the Well-Trod Path", wherein Heather embarks on an easy project and proceeds to screw it up in every way possible, but eventually manages to make it all work.

Today our intrepid heroine decides to take a thrift store shirt and some scraps of curtain fabric and make a knitting bag, thus creating beauty and usefulness where previously there was none. In her eagerness to put it together, she accidentally cuts one piece of flowered cloth upside down, necessitating an on-the-spot re-design.
Then, in splicing the scraps of quilt batting for the interlining, she manages to join one of the pieces topsy-turvy. With an ironic bit of timing, just before discovering her error, she announces to nobody in particular that she is an idiot. And then sees her error: "Proof positive!"
She is able to redeem herself somewhat with an inspired label design, stitching her own name over the Banana Republic label that came with the shirt that is to be the bag's lining. No matter that the sewing machine is in dire need of servicing and skips a few stitches - it's still a fun idea!
The racy red interior of the bag is made from the front and back of a size small linen shirt. No need to remove the chest pocket - it becomes a handy repository for a few notions or even a cell phone. Never mind that it takes hours longer than it should have - the show ends with Heather squealing with glee at her finished creation.

Next week: Heather displays her wares at the local craft market and mayhem ensues.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Treasure Hunt

Just another drive-by posting to show off my finds from a visit to the local recycling depot yesterday. A Chinese workbasket, a beaded evening bag in perfect condition, two spools of thread - one silk!, and a stoneware jug made by Gordon Reisig - a Yarrow, BC potter who I remember visiting with my Grade 11 ceramics class! He appeared to be living the rock star lifestyle I aspired to at the time - little house in a small rural community, making art and hosting gaggles of adoring 15-year-olds. (Hmmm, I may have achieved my dream. Hardly a rock star though. But I wouldn't want to be visited by a bunch of teenagers anyway!)
The beaded bag inspired me to get out my little collection of fancy evening bags, most inherited from my Great-Aunt Margie. (And I am reminded that my friend Jean posted about such lovely little bags a while ago on her blog One Small Stitch.) Aunt Margie may have actually had the opportunity to use them. I, alas, don't get invited to the high society events that she did.
My favourite is this hand-beaded silk satin reticule. (The straps have fallen over each other, so this picture doesn't give the full effect. Maybe I can re-shoot with a model.) Quite old, I think.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Eating Local

Today was the last day of the season at Good Earth Farm, so I stocked up on squash, kale, carrots, beets, lettuce, turnips and parsnips. Yum! Roast veggies for supper tonight! Also picked up eggs from the friendly hens at Blue Sky Alpacas.
And, I got a 40 pound box of apples for juicing from Berry Point Orchard. Fodder for my new-to-me pre-loved Omega juicer.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Pincushion Frenzy

About 9:00 last night, I was suddenly seized with the impulse to make a biscornu-type pincushion. Following Kathryn Youngs's guidelines, and using some of the same fabrics from the previous tin-can pincushion, I began cutting and stitching. Even with all the dithering which is normal for the first time I make something, I was finished within an hour. It was fun to figure out the eight-sided construction, and I was pretty proud of my nice sharp points. Not a bad bedtime project at all!
 I used a sweet little button in the centre that reminds me of an amanita muscaria mushroom.
The other Victorian-style pincushion in the upper right of the top photo was made a couple of weeks ago. Just a simple circular cushion, with another fun button in the centre. And you can see that I am making good use of the remaining bits of pom-pom fringe.

Without consciously deciding to, I have created kind of a "line" of soft, pastel, vintage-y goods. I think they will look distinctive on my little table amongst the jumble of the craft fair, and it makes it easy to style a display. For the pillows and hot water bottle cosies I made up a hang tag with the story of the cloth, and I will do something similar for the pincushions.  Here's the hangtag (without the formatting):

Many years ago, in Saskatchewan, Hilda Armstrong made quilts for her family, thriftily using their old clothes to create warmth and comfort anew. Some of Hilda’s quilts came to me, and when I moved to B.C. I brought them along.  Years of use have left the fabric soft and worn, some parts tattered and threadbare, but other bits still with life. I have turned the best bits of these old quilts into one-of-a-kind pillows and other cosy items that I hope will continue to bring comfort to those that use them.
Love, Heather

The photo is of my great-grandmother, Sophie Ayres, taken in 1960. There really was a Hilda Armstrong, but I have no photo of her, so Granny is playing her part! I like the idea of telling the story of each piece, because that's really why I made them, not because I want to make money. I suppose it is marketing, but hopefully done ethically and with proper intention.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sweet L'il Thing

 Besides standing in front of the grocery store gathering signatures on petitions, I have been indulging a secret vice - a soft spot for cute little handmade things. I saw a tutorial for tiny zippered bags that look like macarons and couldn't help myself.

As it happened, that very day a package had arrived from my friend in Japan, Jean-Pierre. It contained some lovely bits of antique fabric from HIS friend Mrs. Mandu (#4 on the list of highlights of my visit to Japan, back in 2007). One of the pieces was a silk twill print that just murmured elegance, and I had a scrap of burgundy silk charmeuse to use as a lining, and the right zippers were on hand (the stash provides!), so I was off to the races.
 There will be just three of these little beauties, available at the Christmas craft sale. Enough to get my "cute" craving out of my system, and soon I will be back on the straight and narrow with the Codex. (The Codex!?! Remember that? Seems like years...)

Gray-Haired Lady

Photo by Byron Robb
What does one do when the world seems to be ever more quickly going to hell in a handbasket? Currently we have the B.C. premier blithely agreeing to fracking and welcoming the transportation of the dirtiest oil in the world through our pristine north. The Canadian Prime Minister can't keep his stories straight; over in Toronto there is a Mayor whose behaviour becomes exponentially more freakish on a daily basis; there is unimaginable destruction in the Phillipines; the leaky reactors in Fukushima are a complete horror show - the list just goes on and on. The other day I'd had enough of my safe little bubble and decided it was time. To do something.

Gloria Steinem is reputed to have said “One day an army of gray-haired women may quietly take over the Earth!” Well, count me in. I figure gray-haired women are the best chance the Earth has these days.

So I attended a Save Our Shores event that brought together a number of groups concerned about the transport of coal, crude oil and diluted bitumen through our waters. Guess who the vast majority of the audience were? You're right - gray-haired women. And a First Nations chief, Doug White, who spoke so articulately and intelligently about the dangers of allowing coal and bitumen to be transported through our province that I was ready to vote for him to be our next premier. (Unfortunately he's not running.)

But that event was more or less what I expected. What I didn't expect was that I would find myself down in the Village on a blustery Sunday gathering signatures for a petition to decriminalize marijuana. Not exactly gray-haired lady territory, or so one might think. Let me backtrack a bit. A couple of weeks ago I dropped by my neighbour's house and found her enlisting to canvass for Sensible BC. As I was all energized from the recent Save Our Shores meeting, I didn't think for a minute before saying, "Oh, I'll do that too." Not that I'm a pothead, but ..... why do I even feel I need to say that? Recognise that one of B.C.'s main industries is growing pot and the best thing to do is get organized crime out of it. Focus on that and don't ruin the life of a person with a half ounce in their glove compartment.

So there I am, a gray-haired lady, standing in front of the grocery store with Barb, another gray-haired lady, our clipboards in hand. We got over a hundred signatures in less than three hours, and only two people said they didn't want to sign. I was amazed at the wide, wide range of people who stood patiently for their turn to sign. There were the expected gaggles of college students, but there were also business people, librarians, tradesmen, seniors on three-wheeled bikes, and yes, lots of gray-haired women.

This particular campaign has no big political machine behind it, and, to be perfectly honest, it may be difficult to get the required number of signatures in the short time remaining. And, of all the pressing issues that need addressing in this world, is legalizing marijuana really the most important? I don't think so, but it is important for me, and perhaps many other first-time canvassers, because I am exercising my agency as a citizen, something I don't feel particularly recognised as in the current political vocabulary. Conservative politicians have managed to get the terms "taxpayers" and "hard-working families" to the front of the line when talking about the people who voted for them.

I have a low enough income that I don't pay much in terms of taxes. I don't have children (ie. up and coming taxpayers) and I don't work at a wage-paying job. I'm not part of the "system", but that doesn't mean that the future of my country isn't important to me, or that my voice doesn't deserve to be heard. I am still a citizen, last time I checked my passport. This Sensible BC stuff is just a toe in the water - who knows what's next?!

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Hot Water Bottle Cosy

I just spent way too long making a hot water bottle cosy from the last few scraps of the old quilt. I actually had to piece three scraps together, so I covered the seams with giant pink rickrack from the stash. It is great fun using up these odd bits of stuff that I have had for years - stuff that somebody else probably had for years before that, since I pick most of it up at the thrift shop.
Why would such a simple thing take so much time, you ask? Well, first I had to go looking around the internet to see what else is out there (and the various side journeys that entails), and then engineer something from the just barely enough bits of fabric I had. Auditioning various seam bindings and trim takes longer than  one might think, and then searching for just the perfect button adds still more time. If I was going to charge for my time I'm sure this humble little item would cost more than $100! Instead, it's going to the school craft fair where I'll be lucky to get $25, hot water bottle included.

But it will add a priceless amount of love and comfort to the world, which makes me happy. I'll never be a capitalist!

Sunday, November 03, 2013


4:00 this afternoon.

Time Worn

Don't worry, I haven't been pining away for poor old Lou. Between windstorms and power outages things have been a little disrupted here on the island. The fall colours are giving way to subtle shades of time worn beauty. Above, the vanilla leaf mingles gently with the oregon grape and fallen bits of cedar.
I must confess to taking part in an upcoming Christmas craft fair. Not usually my thing, but I am told it is the premiere event of the season.  I'm sharing a table with my neighbour Robin, who is a wonderful quilter in the traditional Mennonite style. She loves using old cloth, particularly men's suits, for her quilts so we hope that our work will be complementary. I've just made a set of large-ish (18") pillow covers out of an extremely well-worn quilt that I brought with me from Saskatchewan. I had mended and re-quilted it, but some of the patches were starting to disintegrate, so I cut out the worst bits and used the rest, edging it with my favourite cotton pom pom fringe that I found several years ago at a Swap-o-rama-rama in California.
The opening at the back buttons up. I used an odd variety from the button jar. It was a pleasure working with the old quilt once again, and I am secretly hoping these pillow covers don't sell, so I can keep them!

Today also marks my favourite holiday of the year, when we turn our clocks back and time suddenly seems like a bountiful, luxurious thing to lazily wallow in. What did I do with my precious extra hour? Cleaned the stove and did the laundry, natch!