Monday, February 28, 2011

Recipe & Ingredient of the Day: Pure Bean Soy Sauce

What is sauce for the goose may be sauce for the gander but is not necessarily sauce for the chicken, the duck, the turkey or the guinea hen. – Alice B. Toklas 

Screen shot from
Has everyone seen the TV series Diary of a Foodie? If not, you should look for it. It was (is?) a travel food show where we were taken to exotic locales and introduced to the ingredients and methods of unfamiliar cuisines. It was presented by PBS in the United States. 

It's one more reason that funding for Public Broadcasting in the US should be supported… If you don't know, a bill was passed last week to axe ALL funding to PBS by the new Republican Congress. The bill is now before the Senate, which is Democrat controlled. Fingers crossed. US Federal funding amounts to only 10% of their total, but would you like to have 10% of your earnings taken away?

I say "was" a travel food show because it was a by-product of the now defunct Gourmet Magazine, published by Condé Nast. Part way through the current "recession" they had to make a choice between keeping Gourmet or Bon Appétit. They kept Bon Appétit. A shame to lose Gourmet, but what do you do? Luckily, the website is still up, as are ALL of the episode—in their entirety— of Diary of a Foodie.

There are three seasons, but I'm not sure if there will be a fourth. All the episodes are fantastic, but one in particular made me change my buying habits for one common  ingredient – Soy Sauce

Sounds a bit run of the mill on the surface, but making soy is an art, and some makers are artisans in every sense of the word. I had never paid attention to the label when I purchased before watching the episode, Hidden Hong Kong. To view the show I'm referring to, go to It's 26 minutes of your life that you won't have wasted...

About Soy Sauce

Dried soy beans in pods, Wiki
Soy sauce is a condiment widely used in Asian cuisine. It has a strong salty taste, and is used to contribute flavor to a wide variety of foods. Soy sauce is believed to have originated in China, and to have later spread to Japan and other areas in Asia. Use of soy sauce has since spread beyond Asia, and is even featured as an ingredient in western dishes and condiments, such as Worcestershire sauce.

Though recipes for soy sauce differ among regional producers, the primary ingredients are soybeans, roasted grain, salt, and water. The soybeans are steamed and mixed with ground roasted wheat. Yeast, or koji is usually added to the wheat-soy mixture, and then combined with water and salt to form the liquid, moromi. Once the moromi is formed, the culturing process begins.

The moromi is allowed to ferment for a time, and is then pressed to separate the liquid from the solid constituents. The remaining liquid is then heat-sterilized and inspected for quality. If the liquid, now soy sauce, is of acceptable quality, it is bottled and shipped.

As is the case for many traditional foods, advances in production technology and widespread demand for exportation of goods has affected traditional methods of making soy sauce. The fermentation process, which is essential to creating the unique flavor of soy sauce, was traditionally carried out by placing the moromi in large urns, and allowing the sun to do the work. Due to demands for mass production, this method is often replaced with machine-controlled fermentation.

Soy sauce fermenting outside. Photo: P Yew
In addition, new methods of producing soy sauce have brought about the need for additives. For example, soy protein is often used in place of whole soybeans, which yields a moromi lacking in color and flavor. In this case, caramel coloring and artificial flavoring must be added to bring the bland sauce up to speed with its authentic cousin.

Regional recipes for soy sauce include added ingredients to alter the taste, color, and consistency of soy sauce. In some Chinese soy sauces, for example, molasses is added to lend a thicker, sweeter quality to the sauce. Indonesian soy sauces, in comparison, are given different names according to whether they are salty or sweet. Kecap manis is an Indonesian soy sauce with a pronounced sweet flavor, whereas Kecap asin is saltier, and similar to Chinese soy sauce. Other distinct flavors emerge in Hawaiian, Taiwanese, and Korean soy sauce. 

Ever since watching the Foodie episode, I have been purchasing YHY Pure Bean Soy. It's just a little more cost than other brands, but the difference in taste is noticeable (and it's guaranteed free of melamine…). Melamine is sometimes illegally used as a food additive to increase the apparent protein content. 

The Canada Food Inspection Agency had been examining products entering Canada since 2008 but, and I qoute the CFIA site: "Due to the high rate of compliance in the food samples tested, the border lookout requirement for food products was removed on February 16th, 2009." Hmmm… OK….

Buy YHY does comply. From a YHY press release:
YHY Soy Sauce Factory was established 100 years ago in Hong Kong. Although YHY persist in traditional production, it meets international standard such as ISO 9001, ISO14000, HACCP. YHY is also a recipient of the "Excellent Brand" award by the Oriental Food Association. YHY voluntarily took a series of exams on all ingredients to make sure all were melamine contamination free. The results were all negative. YHY leads to its competitors in public health and safety.

I purchase it at the local Asian grocery. Here's a recipe that showcases the flavors of real brewed soy sauce. I can only dream what artisanal outdoor vat brewed soy sauce would be like.

YHY Pure Bean Soy Sauce Chicken Wings

Photo: beautifulcataya, Flickr ccl 
16-24 chicken wing pieces
1/2 cup YHY Pure Bean Soy Sauce
1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
1 tsp crushed red pepper (optional)
pinch of salt
1/4 cup corn starch

1 1/2 cups of vegetable oil
Wok for shallow frying

Wash and pat dry the chicken wings. Marinate the chicken wings with the soy, ginger, salt and pepper flakes (if using) for 1 hour on the counter.

Remove from marinade, place in a bag with the cornstarch and shake to coat. This helps give a bit of crust to the wings and minimizes frying splatter.

Heat the oil in the wok until a water drop sizzles. Reduce heat slightly before adding chicken wings. The object is to keep the oil hot enough to fry while not burning your house down.

Alternatively you can use a deep fryer. The oil will be flavored and won't be able to be used for any other frying. So either keep it for soy wings only or dispose.

Shallow fry the chicken wings in batches at medium heat until both sides are golden brown and cooked. 


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Gardening: Host a California visitor in your North Eastern Garden

Through the dancing poppies stole, a breeze most softly lulling to my soul. – John Keats

Eschscholzia californica. Photo: danlharp, Flickr ccl
It may be sunny now, but just wait. Another storm on the way for Nova Scotia today, so let's do some dreaming of warmer regions…

If you want a nice little plant to brighten your garden why not try California Poppies this growing season? They are readily available in seed packets at almost anywhere that offers annual seeds. Although a perennial in their native habitat, they are most probably a self-seeding annual in Nova Scotia. As such they will bloom the first year from seed. 

1896 illustration. Wikimedia Commons
I say a borderline perennial because the USDA rating is Zones 6a to 10b. I grew them in our garden several years ago, in less than ideal soil. Some came back from self seeding the following year, but a particularly vicious winter finished them off. Never mind, the seeds are inexpensive. And how can you not love a plant that likes crappy soil?

The descriptive content below comes from Wikipedia. It has been edited.
The California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) is native to grassy and open areas from California, Oregon, southern Washington, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Mexico.

It can grow 5–60 cm ( 2-24") tall, with alternately branching glaucous blue-green foliage. The leaves are ternately (3 leaved) divided into round, lobed segments. Single silky flowers bloom on long stems, with four petals. Flowering is from February to September (in their native habitat. Here more like June through September - D). These delicate beauties reward you with colour ranging from glowing yellow to orange. 

The petals close at night or in cold, windy weather and open again the following morning, although they may remain closed in cloudy weather. The seed pods are lance shaped capsules 3–9 cm (1-3") long, which split in two to release the numerous small black or dark brown seeds. It is perennial in mild parts of its native range, and annual in colder climates; growth is best in full sun and sandy, well-drained, poor soil.

It grows well in disturbed areas. In addition to being planted for horticulture, revegetation, and highway beautification, it often colonizes along roadsides and other disturbed areas. It is drought-tolerant, self-seeding, and easy to grow in gardens. 

Photo: retro traveler, Flickr ccl
Medicinal Uses
California poppy leaves were used medicinally by Native Americans, and the pollen was used cosmetically. The seeds are used in cooking. Aqueous extract has sedative and anxiolytic action.

Extract from the California poppy acts as a mild sedative when smoked. (Now don't be doing that… I'm sure it's unhealthy.– D) The effect is far milder than that of opium. California poppy contains a different class of benzophenanthridine alkaloids.

California Poppies are a sow and forget flower that will reward you with bloom well into September. I think some will make their way back into my garden border this Spring. (Which, by the way, starts March 20, 2011 7 :21 pm, not to put too exact a time on it.)


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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Recipes: Best Ever Old-time Tollhouse Cookies & Devil “Doo” Dogs

Marge, it's 3 AM. Shouldn't you be baking? – Homer Simpson

The foot of the lake in the village where I grew up.
Have you ever noticed how some things remind you instantly of your childhood? It can be a walk on a favourite beach, or a woodland trail, springtime birds singing, or the sounds of your parents starting the day downstairs while you are still in bed. 

These are favourites of mine, but the ones that bring memories of home the strongest are the smells and taste of old time baking. Don’t get me wrong, I love new recipes and their unfamiliar aromas and exotic tastes. But baked goods from when you were a kid… they’re in a whole other league.

Part of "the coner" in the village.
This post gives you the opportunity to go back with me to Elementary school. The village where I grew up had (and still has) an exceptional two room school; when I went there Primary to Grade 3 was in one room, 4 to 6 in the other. My mother taught P-3.

Some of my fondest memories were the days we brought in home baked goodies. It wasn’t a fund raiser, as such. Our parents sent freshly baked squares, cookies and cakes for us to enjoy. Honestly, I can’t remember if we had to pay anything or not. If so, it was a pittance.

All the offerings were great, but one of the star attractions was my cousin’s grandmother’s treats. Dot Bolivar was an amazing baker, among many other things. There was great anticipation for whatever she made. Would it be Doo Dogs, or those fabulous chocolate chip cookies? It really didn’t matter. 

The recipes were closely guarded secrets for many years, but as she grew older the recipes began to trickle out to those of us who were no longer in Elementary, but missed those wonderful recipes and all they meant to us. 

It's important to preserve the past, and one such way is to pay homage to our favourite recipes. Protect your culinary heritage and keep those recipes in reverence. That is why I am sharing these with you. I’m certain they may stir a memory or two in you as well.

Dot Bolivar’s Delectable Toll House Cookies
Prep: 15 min  |  Baking: 12 min  | Quantity: about 24, but I wasn’t given a number

photo: fritish, Flickr ccl
There’s two secrets here. Both seem absolutely wrong, but it works. The first is using margarine, not butter. The other is  to not cream the margarine and sugar until light and fluffy. If you do, this recipe won’t work. Follow the directions and your reward will be a pliable, chewy masterpiece.

1/2 cup margarine
6 tbsp sugar
6 tbsp light brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup + 1 tbsp flour
1/2 tsp each salt, baking powder and vanilla
1 small bag semisweet chocolate chips (175 g)

Preheat the oven to 350°F and adjust your oven rack to the centre.

Combine the margarine with the sugars. Cream only for 2 minutes. Add the egg and mix well. Add the flour, salt and baking powder. Then beat in the vanilla and chocolate chips.

Drop by heaping teaspoons onto a cookie sheet. These will spread a lot so space out accordingly.

Bake for 12 minutes, buck check at 10 minutes. Do not allow to dry out. Place cookies on a rack to cool, if they last that long.

Dot Bolivar’s Devil “Doo” Dogs
Prep: 20 min  |  Baking: 7-8 min  | Quantity: I wasn’t given a number

Photo: joyosity, Flickr ccl
If you like chocolate cake and marshmallow “Fluff”, you’ll love these filled little cakes. These also go by the name of "whoopie pies", but we never called them that. They're "doo" dogs to us. I'm sure you won't eat just one!

1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup milk
1/2 cup baking cocoa
1 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup butter
1 cup icing sugar
1 cup marshmallow fluff

Preheat the oven to 400° F.

Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat until smooth. 

Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add in 3 portions to batter. Sti in the milk. Add sifted cocoa and vanilla and beat well. 

Drop batter by tablespoons onto a baking sheet. Bake for 7-8 minutes. They will be rounded, but not browned. Remove to a rack and allow to cool.

Combine butter, icing sugar and fluff. Spread on the underside of one “dog” and top with another to make a sweet, sweet sandwich.

I hope you enjoy these recipes as much as I do.


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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Recipes: Experience Trinidad through Food - Pow and Macaroni Pie

Food is our common ground, a universal experience. – James Beard

Photo: anymouse1, Flickr ccl
Trinidad. Warm breezes, salt air, the scent of flowers. Palm trees rustling overhead sandy beaches... But we’re stuck here with howling wind, blowing snow and icy cold. Why not capture the flavour of the tropics for dinner tonight? How does a Trinidadian feast sound? These two recipes, for Pow and Macaroni Pie, will be sure hits. There’s nothing better on days like today than preparing the tastes and smells of faraway exotic lands. 

Don’t be intimidated by the Pow. They’re really easy to make; the baked Macaroni is as simple as you can get. Together they make a wonderful meal. You should check out the site the recipes came from. There's more amazing things there.

Trinidad Pow
Total time: about 2 1/2 hours which includes rising  and filling  |  Makes 12

If you’ve never had Trinidadian Pow you’re missing out on something very special. Apparently it is something that is loved by most, if not all, Trinidadians. They are basically steamed buns filled with a savoury filling (usually pork), but other meat or just vegetables can be substituted. 

The recipe seems a little involved, but it actually isn’t when you get into it. What you’re doing is making  dough, filling each piece and steaming. I cannot tell you how delicious these are. Well worth the (minor) effort. What else do you have to occupy your time on a cold Saturday.

Although the recipe below is for a meat pow, you can replace it with assorted vegetables. The sauce and great dough is really what makes these such a delight.

The ingredients are in three sections, so you can keep things straight.

2 1/4 tsp yeast
1 cup warm water
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp salt
3 1/4 cup all purpose flour unsifted
margarine, for greasing bowl

1 1/2 lbs pork (or veggies) cut into small cubes (1/4”-1/2”)
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves crushed garlic
1 tbsp minced fresh ginger
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp soy sauce

Sauce for filling:
2 tsp sugar
1 tbsp cornstarch
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sherry (or dark  rum)
1/4 cup water

In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in water. Add sugar, oil and salt. Let stand in warm place until bubbly (15 min.)

Add flour and mix to make a dough. Place on lightly floured board and knead until smooth and elastic (8-10 min.). Place in greased bowl, cover and let rise until doubled in size (about 1 hour or more).

While dough is rising prepare the filling and sauce. Combine the sauce ingredients in a bowl and set aside. In a frypan, cook the pork in 1 tbsp oil over high heat until no longer pink, add onion, garlic, ginger sugar and soy. Cook 2 minutes. Stir in cornstarch mixture. and cook stirring until sauce thickens. Remove from the heat.

When risen, knead the dough for about 1 minute. Then divide the dough into 12 equal balls. Allow these to rest for 10 minutes. Roll each out to a 5” circle, with outer edges slightly thinner. The object is to have thinner dough on the top when you seal the POW.

Place 2 tbsp filling in centre of each circle. Pull edges up over, gather and give a pinch and a twist to seal. Place each bun on a piece of foil or parchment paper. Cover and let rise for 30 minutes. While they are raising, you can put the macaroni pie in the oven to bake.

Once risen, steam the Pow (covered) for 12-15 minutes. We use an Asian bamboo steamer over a pot of boiling water, which works perfectly. If a steamer is unavailable use a colander over boiling water. Just ensure they don't touch the water surface or they'll get soggy.

Important: Don’t crowd the Pow in the steamer, or they won’t cook properly. Do in two or 3 batches if necessary. 

Serve warm or cold. Freeze if desired.

Trinidad Macaroni Pie
Total time: about 1 hour  | Makes 8 servings

Macaroni comes in various lengths. The image shows scoobidoo, because I had them. But you can use short macaroni or rigatoni, essentially any with a hole in it that the sauce can seep into.

Take care with the scotch bonnet pepper. If you touch your eyes, or anywhere sensitive before you throughly wash your hands, you will regret it. The end result is not fiery hot, though. It’s more of a delicious tinge of the exotic.

1 lb macaroni
2 eggs
1/2 lb cheddar cheese, grated
1 can evaporated milk
1 onion, finely minced
1/2 scotch bonnet pepper, finely minced

Preheat oven to 350°F. Boil macaroni in salted water. Drain and let cool.

Beat eggs in a large bowl, then add in the onion, pepper, cheese, salt, pepper, and evaporated milk. Place macaroni in an ovenproof dish. Pour the evaporated milk mixture over the macaroni.

Bake for 30-40 minutes. Let cool to set up for 15-20 minutes before serving.


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Friday, February 25, 2011

Recipe: Greek Shrimp Pasta Salad. Quick & Easy.

Those who forget the pasta are condemned to reheat it. – Unknown

Photo: billyandcathy, Flickr ccl
Sometimes I'm inspired. Sometimes I'm lazy. Sometimes I'm both. 

This recipe came from one of those times. If you want a really nice, tasty meal that's quick to prepare (say on a Friday night…) then this is it. No muss, no fuss. On the table in about 1/2 hour.

 I have a recipe from a friend that is similar but is definitely more on the North American side of the Atlantic. I know, pasta isn't really associated with Greece, but I dreamed this up because I bought some Mediterranean style yoghurt at the grocery store. 

Mediterranean yoghurt is at least twice as thick as regular yoghurt, and makes a great base for this oregano/honey dressing.

The original recipe makes enough for an army. This will comfortably feed 4 as a main course. This pasta salad can be served still warm or chilled, so it's also a great make-ahead recipe. For example, make it Saturday morning to be enjoyed after a day of errands/shopping. Take your pick.

By the way, shrimp are half price at the Atlantic SuperStore this week. I'll see you there.

Greek Shrimp Pasta Salad
Prep: 15 mins  |  Total: 35 mins

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
6 sun-dried tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 cup black olives, sliced
1 large green pepper
1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 lb pasta, rigatoni or any other shaped pasta
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup yoghurt, plain (Greek style - I use Liberté Mediteranée)
1/2 cup sour cream, restaurant style
3 teaspoons oregano, dried
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pepper, freshly ground

Peel and devein the shrimp and set aside.

Heat oil in sauté pan. Add onion, garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, olives and green pepper. Add the salt and pepper. Sauté until the onions and peppers begin to soften. Cook longer for softer vegetables, less for crisper.

Cook pasta according to package directions. While pasta is cooking, mix together the honey, yoghurt, sour cream and oregano in a bowl. Set aside.

Add shrimp to onion mixture and cook until just cooked through, about 7 minutes for large shrimp. Less time for smaller.

Drain pasta and add to shrimp mixture. Toss with the dressing. Taste and adjust salt and pepper if desired. Serve warm or chilled.

I posted this recipe on on January 3. To view the original recipe, go to


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Dogs: Feel Good Story - Pound Dog Rescues Lost Dog

Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole. – Roger Caras

I found this story recently and thought it bore posting. It's a heartwarming tale that reinforces why we love our canine companions so much. This story is so much more touching because not only was the hero from a shelter, but so was the rescued dog until recently. 

Nala is a pit bull mix. I know there is a lot of discussion about pit bulls currently and in some parts of Canada the breed is outright banned. I cannot tell you how wrong I feel that is. There are no bad dogs—only bad owners. How our dogs behave is directly related to how they are raised. We only need to look at how some human children behave to see this is true...

Nala is also an older dog. Mature dogs are difficult to place but are every bit as deserving of a caring family. Hopefully this compassionate animal was able to find a loving home.

This story originally appeared last December on KTVZ in the US. I have posted it exactly as found. It has an accompanying TV clip. To view it, where the stills originated, go to

Redmond Shelter Dog a Tail-Wagging Hero
Nala Rescues Another Dog From Ditch
By Homa Quazilbash, KTVZ.COM
POSTED: 5:54 pm PST December 9, 2010
UPDATED: 8:48 am PST December 10, 2010

REDMOND, Ore. -- It's a heartwarming story about an unlikely hero --- and a dog's rescue of a former shelter mate.

But in this case, the hero is apparently one nobody wants.

Nala, a pitbull-lab mix, has been at the Humane Society of Redmond since April.

On Monday morning, Allan Borland, a shelter volunteer, took Nala for her regular walk east down Hemlock Avenue in Redmond.

But when they got to a spot near 17th Street, Nala alerted to the south --- and stopped dead in her tracks.

Borland said he tried calling her back, but for once, she didn't listen.

"Usually, she comes back to me when I call her, or give her a little tug on her collar," Borland said. "This time, she wouldn't. She kept pulling me, so I just let her pull me."

Borland said Nala then pulled him into a nearby ditch, about 200 yards down.

And that's when he saw the little dog.

"It was very filthy -- at first I thought it was dead," Borland said. "Then I took a second look and saw it was breathing."

Borland headed back to the shelter and alerted a staff member, and the two went back to rescue dog.

"It came around right away, it only took a few seconds and it was able to stand on its own feet," Borland said. "That's when I noticed it had ice balls frozen to all its feet."

The rescued dog is a 10-year-old cocker spaniel named Chadwick, adopted out of the Humane Society of Redmond just recently.

Shelter officials said they don't know if the two dogs knew each other during their time there, but it's likely Nala alerted to the scent of another dog nearby.

Chadwick, who's also blind, had escaped from his owner's property --- and was missing for a week before Nala's heroic discovery.

"Nala is a big hero --- she deserves all this credit. I would have never looked into that ditch if it hadn't been for her dragging me to it," Borland said.

But despite her heroism and sweet nature, shelter Manager Chris Bauersfeld said Nala has three strikes against her --- which contribute to her shelter stay of nearly eight months.

"She's a pit bull mix, she's black, and she is a little bit older, between five and seven years of age," Bauersfeld said.

Bauersfeld said that's because people typically bypass black dogs and pitbull mixes --- and most want a dog that's younger.

"Because they don't want to anticipate the inevitable end coming as quickly as it does," Bauersfeld said.

But Bauersfeld said Nala is a delightful dog, and shelter officials are looking to find the hero a happy home.

Nala is available for adoption, as are many other animals, at the Humane Society of Redmond on 1355 NE Hemlock Ave.


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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Gardening: Corydalis "Blue Panda." Be blue but not sad...

Flowers are the sweetest things God ever made and forgot to put a soul into. – Henry Ward Beecher

Corydalis flexuosa
This is another flower that I believe will be AWOL from our garden come Spring. So I guess I may be a little sad. It was awfully leggy last season (nearly twice its normal height) and looked like it was trying to tell me something… That never bodes well. All that extra effort proves to exhaust some plants to extinction.

Corydalis (Greek korydalís "crested lark") is a genus of about 470 species of annual and perennial herbaceous plants in the Fumewort family. It is native to the Northern Hemisphere and the high mountains of tropical eastern Africa. They are most diverse in China and the Himalayas, with at least 357 species in China alone.

In Western medicine, corydalis are used to treat shaking and involuntary tremors and are used in treatment of Parkinson's Disease. Corydalis derivatives are also used as painkillers, diuretics, sedatives, and circulatory tonic. Occasionally it is used to treat mild forms of depression.

Research scientists have isolated several potent alkaloid compounds from corydalis. The strongest of these is corydaline. It has the ability to block certain receptors in the brain associated with the sensation of pain.

Common Types of Corydalis

Photo: framboise, Flickr ccl

Corydalis cheilanthifolia, ferny corydalis. 12". This corydalis has foliage resembling a delicate leafed fern. Bright yellow flowers appear in the spring. Plants come back readily from seed. Zones 5 - 6.

Corydalis elata, blue corydalis. 16". This upright corydalis has fragrant, cobalt blue flowers in May and June. Unlike C. flexuosa it does not go dormant in summer. Zone 4 - 8.

Corydalis flexuosa, blue corydalis. 12". Blue corydalis is a wonderful plant, as long as it is happy where it is growing. Plants often go dormant in the summer. Flower colors range from blue to purple with names like 'Blue Panda', 'Blue Dragon', and 'China Blue'. Zones 5 - 7.

Corydalis lutea, common corydalis. 12". This is the most common corydalis. It has lacy foliage and bright yellow flowers in early summer. 'Alba' is a white version. Zones 5 - 7.

Corydalis scouleri, purple corydalis. 20". This corydalis is a wide spreading plant in cool, moisture retentive soil. It has purplish flowers above finely divided, lacy leaves. 'Blackberry Wine' is a selection with nice purple flowers from spring to frost and 'Berry Exciting' is a yellow leaf form of 'Blackberry Wine'. Zones 6 - 8.

Photo: jacki-dee, Flickr ccl
From my experience and/or poor soil Corydalis seldom reach much over 12" tall. The leaves are reminiscent of Bleeding Heart, although much finer in cut. If anything they more closely resemble Dutchman's Breeches (reviewed in a previous post).

For me the most stunning of all are the blue Corydalis. 

Panda Blue was the first to reach North America. Plants form a clump with dangling tubular flowers in the most amazing electric-blue shade. The flowers of Blue Panda are like little 1" parrots, flying on the thinnest of stalks above the foliage, and they are fragrant. Corydalis do best in cool spots, where the plants have been known to flower from spring through to late fall. 

In warmers areas plants generally go dormant in mid summer, sometimes coming up again in the fall, or otherwise in spring. They require rich, woodland soil that remains evenly moist. They dislike drought, and appreciate part shade to full shade, which helps with keeping them moist.

Blue Panda shows up in Nova Scotia as both seed and plants, so check the local Garden Centres when they open on two months (at the beginning of May or earlier usually). Can you believe it, Spring actually IS coming. I can't wait.

If ours does make a reappearance this year, it will be moved to a well prepared spot and treated with more respect. I promise...please...


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Object of Lust 7: DIY Butcher Block Harvest Table

Their kitchen is their shrine, the cook their priest, the table their altar, and their belly their god. – Charles Buck

Butcher Block from Lumber Liquidators, Maine
This post verges on Objects of Necessity as well. Butcher Block is one of the must-have surfaces in any good kitchen.

When we updated our kitchen several years ago we decided to put in maple butcher block counter tops. We went to one of the kitchen cabinet stores in Halifax. 

We wanted one piece 8' long and counter width. We almost fell over when we were quoted (not installed - just for the wood) $1600.00!!! Apparently that's normal. I can tell you they did not get our custom on that day.

Being a bit of a DIY'er I set forth to hunt down how much butcher block actually cost; if not to buy, to prove that kitchen stores are ripping all of us off.

I found exactly what I wanted and at close to 1/6th (yes, that's one sixth) of the cost we were quoted in Halifax. It was from Lumber Liquidators in Maine, and they ship to Canada. Even with Day & Ross trucking and brokerage it didn't cost $600. 

I was told by the very helpful representative that it was unfinished and would need to have that done. No prob, I thought. I have a sander. When it got here we didn't even have to do much of that. A light go-over with 120 and then 220 grit, and we were varnishing. I've rarely been more pleased with a purchase in my life.

So what else can benefit from a cheap piece of Butcher Block? How about making your own Harvest Table. It's easier than you think. A harvest table can be the heart of your kitchen, the place where friends gather and good times and memories are created. Purchasing one would be a memory as well; a bad one. The two images below are about as picture perfect as you can get. They will set you back a pretty sum.

Nice tables. Bad price.

How would you like to know how to make your own Butcher Block Harvest Table, for way less than $750?

Stick with me. We'll go far. Follow my plans and you and yours will be gathered around your own butcher block harvest table before you know it. Except for the painting, this is a one day project. The only "specialty" tool you need is a router. Borrow your friend's...

As always spend any money you may have saved on good food, good wine, and good friends!

Cutting the legs.
Click to enlarge.
1. Purchase your butcher block
Here's 2 locations for you. Both in the States, but both ship to Canada:

Lumber Liquidators
Brewer, Maine USA
1-1/2" thick x 25" x 8 lft Maple Unfinished Butcher Block Countertop
* this is counter width so will make a skinny table. They may have wider, or see below.
$259.00 US, plus shipping (which will double it)

Grizzly Industrial, Inc.
Muncy, Pennsylvania USA
T21250 Maple Butcher Block - 72" x 30" x 2-1/4"
* this makes a wider but shorter table. This seller does have 8' long x 30" wide for $499.00 which is still a deal.
$385.00 + Shipping to Canada

2. Purchase legs and skirt wood locally at Kent Building Supplies

Use Deck Posts for legs
4x4 Deck Post (pressure treated, but you'll paint the bottom anyway) $21.67 each (total $86.68)

Wood for side skirts between legs
2 pieces 1" x 5" x 8' Clear Pine $13.09 each (total $26.18)
1 piece 1" x 5" x 6' Clear Pine $9.79

"L" brackets to join base and table
10 pieces 1 1/2" metal angle
$0.69 each (total  $6.90)

Plus 40 screws, get them  from your stash in the shed.

3. How to Make the Table

A table is very simple to make. Click to enlarge,
First step is to trim your deck posts to the proper length. (see image above) Usual table height is 30 inches. Subtract the thickness of your block top. That is your leg height.

Trim the post to the proper length taking care to leave enough room on the top for your skirt wood to slot in. Try to cut the post at an "attractive" place for a table leg. The post in the diagram works quite well.

Next cut slots on two adjacent sides of each post 3/4" wide x 4.5" high and 1" deep, minimum. This is for insetting your side skirt pieces. Although you purchased pine skirt wood that was called 1x5, it's actually 0.75 x 4.5. You'll have to finish the holes with chisels to square them up.

Mark out on the underside of your butcher block where you wish the legs and shirt to sit. From this measure out your side and end skirt lengths. Keep in mind the posts have to fit UNDER the table top and there's usually an overhang on a table top. Cut two sides the same length and two ends the same length.

Slot the 1x5 into the routed table legs and attach through with screws. Do it from the back so the heads do not show. You could get fancy and drill through and peg. Whatever you wish to do. Just make sure it's secure.

You may wish to reinforce each corner with a block so it doesn't warp, but once it's mounted to the butcher block I doubt there's much possibility of that.

Sand and coat the butcher block. There are high gloss products that are food safe or seal it with another type of food safe finish. Remember, it's no good to put on high gloss and then cut on it.

Sand, prime and put multiple coats of paint on the base before attaching it. I would suggest 4 coats. That way it starts life well protected and you won't have to worry about painting again for a while. Remember to use a washable paint.

Invert the table onto the butcher block's underside. Using the metal "L" brackets, securely attach the legs and skirt to the table top. By using 10 brackets you have 2 to secure each end and 3 on each side.

Flip the table over, pull up a chair, and relax. Of course feel free to use other surfaces for the table top if you wish. Just not laminate. Or I will have to find you.

Can you imagine, we now all have places to put our Bigolaro pasta extruders!!!


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