Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Great Houseplant Census of 2010

I am having garden withdrawal symptoms today. I am reading garden blogs to help me get over it, since my garden is covered with 18+ inches of snow. I decide to take part in the Great Houseplant Census of 2010, suggested by Mr. McGregor's Daughter.

I don't do well with houseplants, or with any plants not installed in the ground, really. If I take a potted plant home with the intention of planting it in the near future, it has a 50-50 chance of actually surviving until I get it planted. We call the landing spot for these poor devils "The Patio of Death."
As far as indoor plants, so far this year I have killed (or neglected to the point that my DH took the poor thing and put it out of its misery) a rosemary plant and a poinsettia. This is a story of the Survivors.

I have a pot of amaryllis-- a neat small-scale bloomer in a soft orange color-- that was passed along to us by a friend, who is an old-fashioned gardener with the experience to prove it. It just quit blooming this past week and my DH cut it back and watered it. Not much to look at right now, but a knock-out when it blooms!
I have a Thanksgiving cactus that I keep in the guest room (a room where we keep the heat and light off when nobody is visiting) and water when I think of it. It actually has a few buds on it right now, but they usually fall off before they amount to anything at this time of the year. It is my oldest houseplant-- probably 10 years old at this point.

Two pothos hanging baskets flank the bay window in the living room. This window faces north and is quite cool, and provides a home for most of my indoor plants in the winter. (The rosemary died here.) The pothos are losing a lot of leaves right now, and I'm beginning to worry about them, but for now they are alive.

I have a bay plant that spent the summer on the patio and is still looking good in the bay window. (Oh! Bay plant in a bay window!)

I have a navel orange plant that I hope will become a patio specimen plant at some point is doing pretty well in the bay window. It survived a hail storm on the patio this past year, and deserves to make it! Some of the leaves are a little chopped up, but until I put it back outside I am reluctant to cut off the damaged parts.

And, finally, I have two actual "houseplants" that I bought in a moment of weakness at a garden center owned by some friends. They are a sanseveria cylindrica, an unusual style of "mother-in-law's tongue" that looked like I couldn't kill it, and an unnamed succulent I just liked.

So that makes a grand total of 8 plants that are living indoors with me right now.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Nanaimo Bars: Daring Bakers Challenge for January

Yes, I know I am way late for a January Challenge. DH and I are trying to eat less sweets, you see, and our business is closed, you see, and there is no hungry group of staffers to help us eat them. So I waited to make them until I had a hungry group of friends that I could share them with, at a get-together that happens the first Friday of each month. Foiled again! It snowed 8 inches by the time I was supposed to leave to go to the meeting (and an additional 10 inches since then) and I didn't get to go after all. So now I have 12 more yummy nanaimo bars calling to me from my refrigerator. (Sigh...)
Anyway, to get to the Challenge...
The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and

The nanaimo bar (pronounced nuh-ny-moh) is a traditional Canadian cookie. (The Daring Bakers chose this bar in honor of the Winter Olympics slated to begin soon in Vancouver.) It is a 3-layer bar cookie built on the first layer which is a combination of butter, sugar, cocoa, egg, graham cracker crumbs, almonds and coconut. But the Daring Bakers never do anything the "easy" way, so the first step is to make the graham crackers. You can find the recipe for the graham crackers here. The recipe called for making gluten free graham crackers, but gave us the option of making them with wheat flour if we wanted. Since unusual flours are hard to come by in my area, I chose to do them with wheat.

For Gluten-Free Graham Wafers

1 cup (138 g) (4.9 ounces) Sweet rice flour (also known as glutinous rice flour)

3/4 cup (100 g) (3.5 ounces) Tapioca Starch/Flour

1/2 cup (65 g) (2.3 ounces) Sorghum Flour

1 cup (200 g) (7.1 ounces) Dark Brown Sugar, Lightly packed

1 teaspoon (5 mL) Baking soda

3/4 teaspoon (4 mL ) Kosher Salt

7 tablespoons (100 g) (3 ½ ounces) Unsalted Butter (Cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen)

1/3 cup (80 mL) Honey, Mild-flavoured such as clover.

5 tablespoons (75 mL) Whole Milk

2 tablespoons (30 mL) Pure Vanilla Extract

If making the graham crackers with wheat, replace the gluten-free flours (tapioca starch, sweet rice flour, and sorghum flour) with 2 ½ cups plus 2 tbsp of all-purpose wheat flour, or wheat pastry flour. Watch the wheat-based graham wafers very closely in the oven, as they bake faster than the gluten-free ones, sometimes only 12 minutes.


1. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, combine the flours, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Pulse on low to incorporate. Add the butter and pulse on and off, until the mixture is the consistency of a coarse meal. If making by hand, combine aforementioned dry ingredients with a whisk, then cut in butter until you have a coarse meal. No chunks of butter should be visible.

2. In a small bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk together the honey, milk and vanilla. Add to the flour mixture until the dough barely comes together. It will be very soft and sticky.

3. Turn the dough onto a surface well-floured with sweet rice flour and pat the dough into a rectangle about 1 inch thick. Wrap in plastic and chill until firm, about 2 hours, or overnight.

4. Divide the dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator. Sift an even layer of sweet rice flour onto the work surface and roll the dough into a long rectangle, about 1/8 inch thick. The dough will be quite sticky, so flour as necessary. Cut into 4 by 4 inch squares. Gather the scraps together and set aside. Place wafers on one or two parchment-lined baking sheets. Chill until firm, about 30 to 45 minutes. Repeat with the second batch of dough.

5. Adjust the rack to the upper and lower positions and preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius).

6. Gather the scraps together into a ball, chill until firm, and reroll. Dust the surface with more sweet rice flour and roll out the dough to get a couple more wafers.

7. Prick the wafers with toothpick or fork, not all the way through, in two or more rows.

8. Bake for 25 minutes, until browned and slightly firm to the touch, rotating sheets halfway through to ensure even baking. Might take less, and the starting location of each sheet may determine its required time. The ones that started on the bottom browned faster.

9. When cooled completely, place enough wafers in food processor to make 1 ¼ cups (300 mL) of crumbs. Another way to do this is to place in a large ziplock bag, force all air out and smash with a rolling pin until wafers are crumbs.

I put them a little close together on the baking sheet, and ended up with one giant graham cracker, but I was able to cut them apart where they were "scored" and since I was going to use the crumbs anyway, the shape wasn't really that critical. If you decide to make the graham crackers to eat as cookies, though, you need to put them an inch or so apart on the baking sheets.

After they cooled, I put them in my food processor and ground them into crumbs. Then I proceeded with the nanaimo bar recipe, which you can find here.

For Nanaimo Bars — Bottom Layer

1/2 cup (115 g) (4 ounces) Unsalted Butter

1/4 cup (50 g) (1.8 ounces) Granulated Sugar

5 tablespoons (75 mL) Unsweetened Cocoa

1 Large Egg, Beaten

1 1/4 cups (300 mL) (160 g) (5.6 ounces) Gluten Free Graham Wafer Crumbs (See previous recipe)

1/2 cup (55 g) (1.9 ounces) Almonds (Any type, Finely chopped)

1 cup (130 g) (4.5 ounces) Coconut (Shredded, sweetened or unsweetened)

For Nanaimo Bars — Middle Layer

1/2 cup (115 g) (4 ounces) Unsalted Butter

2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons (40 mL) Heavy Cream

2 tablespoons (30 mL) Vanilla Custard Powder (Such as Bird’s. Vanilla pudding mix may be substituted.)

2 cups (254 g) (8.9 ounces) Confectioners Sugar

For Nanaimo Bars — Top Layer

4 ounces (115 g) Semi-sweet chocolate

2 tablespoons (28 g) (1 ounce) Unsalted Butter


1. For bottom Layer: Melt unsalted butter, sugar and cocoa in top of a double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, nuts and coconut. Press firmly into an ungreased 8 by 8 inch pan.

2. For Middle Layer: Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light in colour. Spread over bottom layer.

3. For Top Layer: Melt chocolate and unsalted butter over low heat. Cool. Once cool, pour over middle layer and chill.

They turned out to be really good, sweet and rich, as much like a candy as a cookie. Make them as a Winter Olympics Party treat. (You can start with store-bought graham crackers to make it simpler, of course, but where's the "challenge" in that?)