Gifts for Kitchen Dwellers & An Easy DIY Gift

I don’t think it is any secret that I love food. I also love to be in my kitchen cooking – and sometimes baking. And having amazing kitchen tools is essential for me. I’m definitely not one of those home cooks who has to have every gadget – there are a few deciding factors when it comes to bringing tools into my kitchen: 1) They need to be totally functional. Multipurpose is a plus. 2) They need to be really good quality and most likely last forever. 3) They need to be beautiful.

So with all of that said, I put together a round-up of my favorite kitchen must-haves that meet all of my high kitchen standards:


1. Rolling Pin $105.00, Herriott Grace – I absolutely love everything that Herriott Grace does – they are truly one of a kind pieces. I’ve been pining over one of these rolling pins for quite awhile as a replacement to my Ikea one (which has served me just fine, but the handmade ones are just swoon-worthy!).

2. Beeswax Wrap $21.31, Kaufmann Merchantile – I love the idea of this re-usable wrap and I’m a sucker for anything made in part by busy bees!

3. Iron Utility Scissors $18.00, Anthropologie – I splurged on a pair of these scissors last year for my birthday and I do not regret it one bit. I used to have a pair of kitchen specific scissors but they were awful (Cuisinart – their products keep failing me). I love this pair so much. Plus they are one of the prettiest pairs that I own (I have a bit of a thing for beautiful scissors).

4. Callebaut Dark Chocolate Pepins $6.00, Duchess Provisions – This is some of the best baking chocolate on the market, in my opinion. Did you know you’re not supposed to store chocolate in the fridge or feezer? Store it in a dark, cool location away from the elements, it will keep the true flavor preserved and prevent the chocolate from discoloring.

5. Marble & Wood Boards $54.00, Drake General Store – These are some true beauties! They would look beautiful hung on a pretty hook in the kitchen when not in use.

6. Fancy Olive Oil $29.95, Old Faithful Shop – I usually select my olive oil based on the most attractive packaging (yes, I am one of those people), but I’ve found that anyone who puts effort into an attractive package usually has an equally good quality product. I’m sure it isn’t true for everything, but it has seemed to work for me so far. Feel free to present arguments against me on this one, it is stupid logic, I know!

7. Heirloom Recipe Box $145, Rifle Paper Co – My husband bought this recipe box for me for Christmas several years ago and it is so, so beautiful and good quality.

8. Noble Bourbon Maple Syrup $34.95, Old Faithful Shop – I bought one of the small sampler bottles initially because I didn’t want to shell out for the big size before trying the product, but that little one got me hooked. This syrup is so good in cooking and baking or just poured over top of some fluffy waffles.

9. Little Deer Wooden Spoon $29.95, Williams-Sonoma – We were gifted a couple of Little Deer wooden spoons for our wedding from some foodie friends and I used the gift card that they’d also given us for the Cookbook Co. to buy more of these spoons since I loved them so much. They get used daily in our house and are probably near the top on my 10 favorite kitchen tools list. Even after over 6 years of heavy usage and abuse they have only gotten better within time.

And if you’re looking for an easy DIY that any cook or baker is sure to love, here is my favorite simple and fairly inexpensive gift idea:


Left: Freshly made extract which needs to steep for a couple of months. Right: My supply that is very well steeped, smelling and tasting amazing.

Homemade Vanilla Extract


– 3 whole vanilla bean pods (Shop around for these – some places seem to charge an arm & a leg but I was able to purchase mine for $2 each from Planet Organic)
– Vodka (I use Prairie Vodka but you can use any type of plain vodka you want)


– Use a sharp knife to cut the vanilla pods open to release more flavor.
– Put the vanilla pods (every part) in a clean sterilized jar with a lid.
– Fill the jar with vodka, seal the jar and shake
– Store the jar in a cupboard at room temperature, shaking daily, until you are ready to gift the extract (vanilla extract needs about 3 months to “steep” before it is ready to be used, so just make sure to instruct the recipient of this).

You can fancy up your jar with a pretty label and some baker’s twine.

Homemade vanilla extract will last a really long time – I’ve been using mine for about 3 years. You can add extra vodka and replace the vanilla pods as your supply begins to diminish.

As with all of my gift guides, the items are carefully selected by myself and all opinions are my own. I am not receiving compensation for any of these products – I just love them!

2014 Garden Successes & Failures

One of the really important skills of being a gardener is the ability to look back on the season and reflect on what worked and what didn’t work. And I will freely admit that I am not the most compliant person when it comes to this task. A few years ago I dedicated a notebook to keeping track of things as they would come up – it worked for a season and then I just didn’t really bother picking it up again. Another thing I am guilty of is the “I’ll remember that” statement – and of course I always forget. So I’m saying it right here – I am going to change. I will keep gardening records and I will stick to it. Frankly, it is silly not to. How am I going to remember which green tomato I liked and which one I didn’t? It is best to save myself the effort of growing them both again if I just make a note of which one I liked and which one was a waste of precious growing space.

The season started off a bit slow. We decided to do a home renovation right at the beginning of the gardening season (so smart!) and then instead of spending the long weekend working in my garden, I took off to help my sister plant her garden. Then when I finally got around to the garden, it was the end of May going in to the first week of June. Luckily I didn’t pile on too many big garden projects so I wasn’t feeling too overwhelmed at the beginning. Here are some reflections for the season:


A tiny bit of success with my first cauliflower grown from seed – unfortunately the rest looked nothing like this one.


– Dealing with Sod Mountain. It was one day of really hard work but it paid off. And I’m looking forward to utilizing this area a bit more next year by growing some squash in the raised bed. I will need to remember to build some chicken wire domes to protect young squash seedlings though.

– Growing peppers in the greenhouse. I think this was one of my proudest gardening moments from this year. And I’ve got at least 15 new varieties on my wish list for next year! So basically my entire greenhouse is going to be peppers.

– Mulching the front yard. This had been on my to-do list ever since I started digging out sod in the front yard several years ago. We were able to cover all of the beds in mulch and add a nice rock border with collected rocks (my parents have a gravel pit on their property!), so now it is looking much neater and is a lot more low maintenance. The plan for next year is to do a bit of an overhaul of the front yard, moving things around and adding some raised beds – and also removing the remaining sod, so I will need to add quite a bit more mulch, but for now it is looking nice!

– The galvanized steel planter. I was actually surprised at how well the livestock tank worked as a raised bed because I first saw the idea in a gardening magazine and kind of figured it might just be something they made pretty for the photo shoot and then everything died immediately afterwards. I’m so optimistic! Anyway, I really liked the look so I gave it a try and it worked wonderfully. I grew tomatoes in the planter and while I possibly planted them too close together, they did exceptionally well – and seemed to love the heat and reflection from the metal. I’m curious to see how long the tank will hold up for – it is heavy duty as it needs to stand up to cows and other heavy livestock so I feel pretty good about it lasting for quite awhile.

– Corn. I think everyone was a bit surprised that I grew corn. And it was delicious! The key was to start it in the house about a month early (thanks for the tip, Mom!).


Greens are always very successful in my colder climate garden.


– Growing eggplant in the greenhouse. I think I’m done trying eggplant. I grew 3 very very small eggplants (only 1 was actually big enough to resemble an eggplant – shown in the photo below). This was probably my fourth year attempting to grow eggplant and although it was the most successful year because I actually got something more than nothing, it wasn’t enough success to justify trying it again. I just don’t think it was meant to be. And that’s okay – our local farmer’s market has some great greenhouse grown eggplants.


– Dirty disgusting Cabbage Loopers. I wiped out the population when I first discovered them and things seemed to be fine after that – I was even able to harvest two decent sized cauliflower heads from the plants in October! Then I discovered the caterpillars in the community garden when I went to clean out my bed in October – they’d done quite a bit of damage over there and I ended up tossing a lot of the kale. Next year I’m going to be on the lookout for these creatures early on in the season, but I’m also going to either try an all-natural spray to kill them or consider a row cover. The other thing is, I didn’t find too much of a taste difference between the cauliflower I grew and the cauliflower I purchase at the market. Maybe I’m being crazy here, but it might not be worth it to attempt growing cauliflower, broccoli or brussels sprouts again. I will continue growing kale, but I will keep an eye on it for space bugs.

– Carrots. I don’t know what it is, but the last 3 years I have had completely unremarkable carrot harvests. The roots are stunted or insect damaged. Maybe I am not meant to grow carrots anymore until I have a large in-ground garden. I blame myself for this one.

– Mason bees. I don’t know what happened with my bees. What I want to believe is that I released them and they found a better yard to live in and made tons of babies. I guess I will never know what really happened to them, but I’m going to assume that I released them in a crappy location in my yard and they left – they did all emerge from their cocoons and flew away because I did not find any dead bodies in the release area. I’ve got a better location picked out for next year. And I have had some success with mason bees in the past, so I’m chalking it up to poor planning on my part.

– Squirrels. I lost a lot of seedlings (especially tomatoes and squash) to pesky little squirrels. I mentioned it above but I will be constructing some chicken wire domes to protect my young seedlings next spring.

One of the things I am glad that I took the time to do was take regular pictures of the back yard. The intention was to do this bi-weekly, but it turned into once every two months (which is better than nothing!). This gives you an idea of what my garden looks like throughout the seasons:

Processed with Moldiv

Clockwise from top left: March 2014, June 2014, October 2014, August 2014

Even though it doesn’t always seem like it to me, we did accomplish quite a bit in the garden this year and it really does keep getting better with every growing season. I’m really looking forward to what next year has to bring us – trying lots of new hot peppers, a few new tomatoes, and hopefully expanding our edible growing operation in to the front yard. In addition to that, we’re hoping to remove most, if not all, the sod from our front yard (it’s a huge project)! What are some of the highlights and lowlights from your growing season?



Covet – My Imaginary Urban Farm

I’ve got chickens on the brain. Our neighbors, the city of Edmonton, just this week approved a backyard chicken pilot project. If you know me at all, you know that I am a huge supporter of urban farming, including backyard chickens. So this morning when I read that two city councilors from Calgary were hoping to bring a pilot project back to the table in the near future, I squealed in excitement. I may already have Chicken Land plans and a list of hen names stored in my brain – but maybe not because that would be something a crazy person does, right? Anyway, it got me thinking about urban farming, so I put together a little covet (wish-list) of things I would love to have if I had some extra money to blow and I didn’t have to worry about adult things like paying bills.

Copy of 1(2)

1. Overalls – American Eagle Outfitters $76.24CND but on sale right now for 50% off.

2. Raised Bed – Williams Sonoma $475CND

3. Barred Plymouth Rock Chicken – My Pet Chicken $2.45USD

4. Galvanized Steel Trough/Raised Bed – UFA $129.99-179.99CND

Looking back, nothing on this list is outrageously priced except maybe the Williams Sonoma planter (I actually have plans to build something similar with a cold frame attachment for my deck). I already own a galvanized steel livestock tank that I use as a raised bed and I love it, so I highly recommend it to anyone. And I seriously just ordered those overalls because every urban farming girl needs a pair of hip overalls but I’d held off on buying them because I thought they were too expensive (apparently I’m really cheap). Anyway, happy dreaming! Next time we’ll get back to reality with a post about my first ripe hot peppers!