Friday 26 November 2021

Caveman Candles

Are you looking for something to make with the kids during the Christmas holiday? This is one of my favourite winter-time craft projects.

I learned to make these candles in Girl Guides. It was a simple enough project that it could be completed within the course of a single meeting and still have time left over to do other stuff, but to 10-year-old me it was pure magic. 

I've been making them ever since, and that's a LONG time!

Back in the day, we began our project by sprinkling glitter over the inside of the candle mold, and we made the candle with Parowax; a petroleum product. Parowax has a low melting and setting point and it's pure white, giving the candles the appearance of melting ice. These days I leave out the glitter (it's not biodegradeable) and I use beeswax instead of Parowax. The finished candles aren't as sparkly or pretty looking as the Parowax ones were but they sure smell wonderful, scenting the air with honey as they burn. 

The colour of the beeswax and the holes that honeycomb the finished candles reminded my husband of Tafoni, a coastal sandstone formation. Tafoni stone is intricately carved by the ocean into organic shapes with round or hexagonal indentations. (You should Google it and look at the photos. It's really cool.) With stone in mind, he dubbed these "Caveman Candles." The name stuck.

The supplies for this project are really basic.  You'll need:
  • beeswax and a tin to melt it in
  • a saucepan
  • a milk carton 
  • a pencil 
  • a candle wick
  • scissors
  • ice cubes
Ordinarily, I use braided cotton candlewick that comes in a coil. Unfortunately candlemaking supplies are really hard to come by here right now.  I did manage to find wax coated wicks with the little metal tabs on the bottom. They worked.

Begin by melting the wax. Put the wax in the tin and put the tin in a saucepan with some water.  Heat the water to a simmer and keep the tin in the water until the wax melts.

I used a pair of pliers to make a spout on the tin before putting the wax in. It's totally optional but my hands are very shaky so the spout makes pouring much less messy.

While the wax is melting, cut the top off the milk carton so you have a rectangular container with roughly level edges all around.  

Wind the wick around the pencil and then use the pencil to suspend the wick at mid-point in the carton.

Carefully fill the carton with ice cubes, being careful not to displace the wick. The ice cylinders with hollow middles that you buy in a bag from a freezer at the grocery store work best for this project but, really, any ice cubes will do. The effect will vary according to the shape of the ice cubes you use.. 

I don't have an icemaker and my freezer is too small to accommodate a bag of ice so I had to improvise. When the wax was melted, I left it in the hot water to keep it liquid while I ran to the MacDonald's on the corner and got a cup full of ice. MacDonald's used to use those hollow ice cylinders, but no more.  Now they use small flat chips of ice. They leave smaller holes in the wax so the finished candle is a little different but still not awful.

Pour the melted wax over the ice until the carton is almost full. The wax will begin to set up almost immediately and should harden completely within an hour.  

When the wax has hardened, unwind the wick from the pencil and cut away the milk carton. There will be water inside from the melted ice so it's probably best to do this step over a sink. 

Once the candle is unmolded a put it on a rack in the sink to dry. 

Once all the water has drained out and the candle has dried, it's ready to use. When you light it and let it burn down so the flame sinks below the top of the candle, the light will carry through the holes in the wax, making a soft and varied light.  Kids love that.  

Happy crafting!  If you make some of these candles over the holidays, I'd love to see them. You're welcome to share photos of your projects on my Facebook page.

Friday 19 November 2021

My Big Fat November Grocery Shop


Every year, around the middle of November, there comes a day when herd mentality seems to kick in and the holiday shopping season begins. Store parking lots fill up, road traffic increases, and shoppers are less genial. When that day comes, I make a point of going to the grocery store one day soon after and doing a big, early morning shop. I stock up on enough food that, other than buying milk or eggs, I don't have to darken the door of a store again until the new year.

This year, that beginning-of-holiday- shopping feeling happened last Saturday and I did my big shop on Tuesday. The storm that happened in the days between, and the infrastructure damage that resulted from it, made it feel more urgent but I'm not a panic buyer so I stuck to my tried and true shopping plan, polished over years of practice.

It's always been my habit to keep a well stocked pantry with enough dry goods and non-perishable food to feed me for at least two weeks. In the normal course of things, when I use something from my pantry I add it to my grocery list and replace it the next time I go to the store. There have been times in my life, though - when I haven't had money for groceries or when I've been unable to leave home because of illness or weather - when I've eaten from my pantry until the shelves were bare.  Those were the times it stood m in good stead. I was very grateful to have that food on hand. The meals might've gotten boring but I was able to eat nutritious meals despite the challenges I was facing.When times got better again, I worked to restock my pantry, even if I had to do it bit by tiny bit.

Which brings me back to this year's pre-Christmas shop. My pantry was already in pretty good nick but I eat a lot of vegetables and knew I'd need more on hand to get through December without shopping. I bought veggies chosen for their long shelf life; mostly cole crops (cabbage, both red and green, and Brussels sprouts) and root vegetables (onions, carrots, beets, rutabaga, potatoes, and parsnips). I supplemented my fresh veggies with canned, which I'll use once the fresh veggies are gone.

I do plan to do some holiday baking, not nearly on the scale I have in past years, but some. I was low on flour and sugar so I bought those too, and enough butter for both the baking and for day to day use.

My average monthly grocery expenditure over the past 6 months has been $156/month. So far this month I've spent $279. That's a big jump but it'll be offset by spending almost nothing at all for the rest of the month and all of December.

Now I'm reading posts about panic buying like we saw at the beginning of the pandemic. **sigh** Some people never learn. That kind of behaviour is awfully selfish.

I guess some people - those who don't know me - might interpret my big November shop as hoarding but ky response to that is a big fat "nope!"  If you keep your pantry well stocked, there's no need for panic buying. My pre-holiday shop is a component of good planning and it may serve me even more well than usual in the coming weeks.

For those who are interested, here's a list of the dry goods, non- perishables, and household goods I regularly keep on hand in at least a two week supply:

  • all purpose flour
  • bread flour
  • sugar, both white and brown
  • molasses
  • honey
  • yeast
  • baking powder
  • baking soda
  • cornstarch
  • herbs and spices
  • salt
  • canola oil
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • vinegar (white, cider, and red wine)
  • raisins
  • dried apricots
  • dried cranberries
  • dates
  • prunes
  • pot barley (whole grain barley)
  • a variety of rices (white, brown, red, purple, and black)
  • cornmeal
  • oatmeal
  • dried beans (navy, garbanzo, pinto, lima, and black)
  • lentils (red, green, black)
  • mung beans for sprouting
  • radish seeds for sprouting
  • sunflower seeds for planting so I can use the shoots
  • peas for planting so I can use the shoots
  • walnuts
  • cashews
  • raw, shelled sunflower seeds
  • assorted pastas
  • cocoa powder
  • canned vegetables (beets, corn, green beans, whole tomatoes, crushed tomatoes)
  • canned convenience foods (soup, chili style beans, sauerkraut)
  • canned fruit (peach slices, applesauce, crushed pineapple)
  • evaporated milk
  • coffee, tea, and herbal teas
  • toilet paper
  • laundry soap
  • dish soap
  • basic toiletries
I'm interested to hear what you keep on hand.  Are there things on my list that you'd never use? Do you have items you'd like to add? Please stop by my Facebook page to leave a comment.  I learn so much from you guys! Your imput is always welcome.

Friday 12 November 2021

Winning at Dinner

I discovered years ago that sitting down and making a weekly or monthly meal plan doesn't work for me.  I end up buying too much food and then throwing a lot of it away because I don't use it up before it spoils. What does work for me is to make using leftovers into a game. I make a meal with extra portions of the main ingredients and then challenge myself to see how many new dishes I can make from the leftovers in the days that follow.  I call it Winning At Dinner.

I've been posting about Winning At Dinner in my personal feed for a while now and, every time I do that, someone comments that I should be teaching others how to do it. So...Here I am, sharing the idea. 

My thought is that I'll post my week's best series of meals on my Facebook page each Friday and challenge you to share yours in the comments. I'll share the post again each weekday and, when it's time to post the next Winning at Dinner, the person whose comment has garnered the most likes over the course of the week will be announced as winner. There won't be prizes but the bragging rights will be huge.  😉

Here's my Winning at Dinner series for the week:

Day 1: A sheet pan meal of bone-in chicken thighs, cubed acorn squash, and beets, all simply seasoned with salt and coarsely ground black pepper, served with brown rice as a side dish.

Day 2:  A stir fry of onion, carrots, and cabbage in a sauce made from homemade vegetable stock flavoured with a little garlic black bean paste. Once the veggies were tender-crisp I stirred in the meat from one of the chicken thighs, and some canned green beans.  I thickened the sauce with cornstarch, then I served the stir fry over some of the rice from the previous night, reheated in the microwave.

Day 3:  I needed a change from chicken so I had macaroni and tomatoes, with a celery salad.

Day 4: Poulterer's pie: I like a crust on the bottom of my meat pies so I made the pastry from my quiche recipe and used it to form two individual pies in extra large muffin cups. I par-baked the crusts then filled each pie with the meat from a chicken thigh, diced roasted squash and beets, sauteed onion, and the last of the canned green beans, in chicken gravy. (I used a packaged mix.) To encourage the top to brown nicely as the pies baked, I topped each pie with mashed potato brushed with a little melted butter. I had one pie for supper, with coleslaw on the side, and put the second pie in the freezer for another day.

Bonus: I made a soup from homemade vegetable stock, the leftover gravy from the pies, the leftover stirfry cut into smaller pieces, the rest of the leftover roasted squash and beets, finely diced, the meat from two chicken thighs, the last of the brown rice and some poultry seasoning. The soup was divided into three 2-cup portions.  I froze them so I'll have something for lunches or evenings when I don't want to cook.

Please share your best dinner or series of meals in the comments on my Facebook page and then share the heck out of this post so others can like your comment and participate with comments of their own. 

Let the challenge begin!