Monday, 23 December 2013

Merry Christmas from the Bees

We're just a few days out from Christmas, so we thought we'd share some holiday cheer with you! As we all prepare for the upcoming flurry of parties and general yuletide coziness, we found some time to get together and get festive! We've begun an annual tradition of making wreaths out of fresh greenery sourced by our favorite local flower shop, i fiori. It's always a really nice night, and it's such a treat that we all get to go home with something that will add some gorgeous festivity to our homes.

If you want to see more about how we make these wreaths, feel free to check out our post from last Christmas. This year we got bigger frames (20" instead of 18") which we found to be a bit more difficult, so our hot tip for you is to keep your wreaths on the smaller side! We think you'll find it more enjoyable and satisfying, and it will be a lot easier to make your wreath look nice and full.

Now that we've done this two years in a row maybe we'll try something different next year - perhaps we'll venture out into boughs and garlands! Or maybe we'll try incorporating some other elements into the wreaths - pine cones, dried flowers, twigs, or maybe some crafted materials like felted wool or crocheted bits and bobs. Let us know if you have any suggestions!

Here are a few of our wreaths in place:

Meg's wreath!
Jen's wreath!
Hollie's wreath!
Speaking of boughs and garland, we saw a LOT of those last night! We took the Christmas Tour at Dundurn Castle, and spent the evening learning about how the holidays were celebrated around the year of 1855 by Sir Allan MacNab and his family.

It was amazing for our collective to see how self-sufficient this family needed to be, as we explored the in-house brewery, candle-making room, pickling stations, and learned about how much intentionality was required to create the Christmas meals for the family and the servants in the home. Items like chocolate and oranges would need to be ordered 3-6 months in advance, but most food items were grown on site, to be harvested and preserved in time to be ready for the holidays. To keep things cold, ice blocks were cut out from the Hamilton bay each January, and stacked between layers of sawdust and straw, and the ice would stay frozen all year in the home's ice pit.

Holiday decor was taken to an amazing level, with natural garlands and arrangements everywhere you looked. Oranges, a sign of wealth, were incorporated into the holiday decor, and were given as gifts adorned with cloves. The tour was amazing, and we highly recommend it to anyone looking for something unique to do over the holidays with friends or family.

So from our hive to yours, as it was so aptly written on the wrapping paper by Stay Home Club at our Beehive Secret Santa:

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Block Printed Wrapping Paper

About a month ago we were asked by Etsy to contribute a DIY blog post to their 2013 International Advent Calendar. Everyday between December 1st and 25th, the Etsy Blogs will feature festive how-to as part of their DIY Advent Calendar Series, and the Beehive is honoured to be a part of it! Our blog post is featured today on Etsy's UK, France, Germany and Australia blogs.  It's fun to see the Beehive in French and German, and we send a big collective hello to our friends in Europe and the Commonwealth!

Check out our DIY blog post below, or visit the following links to see how we look in other corners of the world.

Etsy France blog:
Etsy Germany blog:
Last year we were all quite taken with the beautiful wrapping paper that our Scout Bee Jenna made by carving her own stamps and printing them with white ink onto kraft paper. We just had to try it for ourselves! This is a simple, beautiful way to spruce up your holiday gifts with a handmade touch. Using a variety of household objects to create patterns, these instructions will guide you through a few different methods - but feel free to play around, and come up with wrapping paper that really reflects all the thoughtfulness that you’ve put into the gift you’re wrapping. Warm holiday wishes from our Hamilton hive to yours!

Materials needed: 

kraft paper
ribbon or cotton twill tape
 utility knife or scalpel lino or woodblock carving tools
paring knife
good white glue or carpenter’s glue
scrap pieces of wood, foam board or polystyrene craft foam
string, twine, raffia, pipe cleaners or elastic bands
various found objects such as wine corks, bubble wrap, jar lids
acrylic paint
paint brushes
old cookie sheet/ flat bottomed plate for paint
sponge, paper towels or old towels

Prepare the amount of kraft paper and ribbon that you would like to print onto. We used three different kinds of crafted blocks to print our wrapping paper and ribbon. Scraps of wood, foam board or polystyrene can be used as the base for blocks with foam, string and string-like materials.

Method 1) For blocks with craft foam: cut shapes and motifs and glue them to the block.

Method 2) For blocks with string, you can both wrap the string around the block to create an allover texture, or draw a pattern or motif with glue on block base and lay string into the glue. Allow these blocks to dry thoroughly before using.

 Method 3) For potato printing blocks, first cut the potato in half. You can work with either positive or negative shape on the surface of the potato - cut a basic shape into the potato and cut away excess around your shape, or use the shape of the potato and carve you motif or pattern into the surface of the potato. Using a paper towel, blot off excess moisture from the cut surface and allow the potato to dry slightly before printing with it.

Another idea! Use found objects, such as corks, bubble wrap or jar lids as printing blocks in themselves! Keep your eye out for things that have interesting shapes or textures. See what you can discover...

To print with your blocks, you can either brush paint directly onto the surface of the block, or use a sponge as a homemade stamp pad - just load the sponge up with paint, press your block into the painty surface of the sponge, and print away!

After all of our printing was dry, we wrapped our gifts and tied scrap fabric and ribbon into bows for the final touches. If you don’t print your own ribbon, you can use whatever else you have on hand for this - kitchen twine, raffia, string. You really can’t go wrong - it all looks cute! Play around with different combinations until you have the prettiest patterned packages.

Happy Holidays!

Friday, 20 September 2013

On Fermentation and Failure Part Two

When I initially wrote this post a year ago, it felt like it would be ages before I got a chance to try my hand at fermented cucumbers again - especially since my failure affected me so heavily. But, as it always does, time flew by before I knew it.

I was more cautious this year, less ambitious. I took home half the amount of cucumbers from the farmers' market than I had taken home the previous year. I kept a close eye on my crock, tasting one from my batch daily. Ten days later, I decided that they were ready, transferred them into clean jars and moved them into the fridge to stop the fermentation process.

Altogether I ended up with eight jars of beautiful, cloudy, sour dills that reminded me of my grandmother's old-world recipe. The best part being that I just had to let nature work - no steamy vinegar kitchen, no hot water baths. 

The Bees have been talking a lot lately about the concept of "simple living" and came to the conclusion that our lives are anything but simple. We voluntarily make more work for ourselves because we believe in the importance of making things by hand. I could simply go to the grocery store and buy myself a jar of full-sour pickles. I may have been even more inclined after failing last year to give up completely. But it was important to me to support my local farmer, important to me to provide for myself and my husband over the winter months, and important to me to learn from my past mistakes. Having achieved all of that this year gives me more fulfillment than could ever be bought in a store, and that's exactly why we do what we do.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013


Summer is a busy time for bees, and it's always a busy season for us Bees, too.  I always start the season with an ambitious list of things to accomplish, and in the end, have to concede I can only do about 1/4 of what I planned.

A good part of my summers are always spent trying to capture the fruitfulness of summer, hoping to keep up with the fruits and vegetables as they ripen in the garden and appear at the farmers' markets. Last year while I was away in London, I didn't do any gardening or canning, and I really missed it!  I made up for it perhaps too much this year, having made ten different kinds of jam, frozen and canned tonnes of fruit, and put by so many pickles, that my freezer is full and my store of empty jars is very depleted, and the season not finished yet.  I hope my near and dear ones look forward to holiday gifts of jam, relish and pickles, because I can't possibly consume it all alone!

I planted my own cucumbers this year because I love French cornichons, and wanted to try my hand at making my own.  This entailed picking tiny cucumbers (about 5 cm long) every other day, and storing them in the refrigerator crisper until there were enough to make one jar. I used fresh tarragon from my herb garden in these pickles, as well as in the pickled radishes I made.  Just trying to keep up with the cucumber plants, I made a ton of dills, piccalilli, and mustard pickle relish, just because I didn't want any to go to waste.  In the end I had to stop picking them because there is no way one lady can eat that many cucumber sandwiches!

By late August, the whole vegetable garden, including my patio herb garden, is totally out of control, and I feel a little overwhelmed! I prune the herbs and hang them to dry for later use in cooking, infusions and herbal tea.

To keep up with the tomatoes, I've resorted to not only canning, but also oven-drying or freezing all those I can't eat.  Oven-drying couldn't be easier.  Simply halve small tomatoes, such as plum, paste or cherry tomatoes, or slice larger tomatoes, such beefsteaks or heirlooms.  Place in a bowl,  drizzle lightly with oil and toss to coat. Spread in a single layer skin-side down over parchment lined baking sheets.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and any herb you desire (thyme, rosemary or basil are my favourites).  Place in a preheated 275 F oven, and leave for 1 1/2 to 6 (yes, six) hours, depending on the size and juiciness of the tomato, and desired dryness.  I like to leave them semi-plump (about 3 hours).  You can pack them in oil, but I prefer to freeze them on a tray and then place them, once frozen, into a freezer bag, to use in sauces and as pizza toppings in the winter for a taste of summer.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Mustard Making!

We made mustard! This was something that had been on our to-do list for a while, and with sausage season just around the corner, we decided it was time to give it a try. How we usually do things in the Beehive is that we choose a recipe, make a list of ingredients, and then call dibs on whatever we have already in our homes. We had everything that was needed on hand except the actual mustard seeds, which were purchased from Dilly’s at the Farmers Market (the yellow seeds) and Nations (the black seeds).

We all sat around the table, passed around the ingredients, and put them into our little jars, each making one cup of each mustard. This whole process took…about 15 minutes. For some silly reason we thought this whole mustard-making-process was going to be intimidating and tricky, but it was literally just measuring ingredients into a jar…and that’s it! So we ordered some pizza, grabbed our crafts, and had an impromptu Beehive meeting.

Then we waited 3-4 days, blended our concoctions at home, and reported on our findings. A few people found the lavender mustard a bit acidic, which might be because we substituted the water for white wine (assuming everything is better with wine – maybe not?), but other than that, the mustards turned out just lovely. I blended the yellow mustard and it was perfect (so flavorful!) but I’ve left my lavender mustard unblended for a few weeks, just to see what happens with some more time.
Here are the recipes we used:
Know of any tried-and-true mustard recipes? Feel free to share them in the comments!

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

A Crafty Long Weekend: Natural Tie-Dyeing at the Cottage

This long weekend I took advantage of some time off and good weather to head up to my family's cottage on Lake Simcoe. I've found that the distractions and responsibilities of everyday life disappear while I'm up there, so it's an ideal place to work on crafty projects. This weekend I decided to focus on natural dyeing!

I've done some natural dyeing before, but had yet to venture into tie dyeing in this medium. When people think of tie dye, they often associate it with psychedelic bright neon colours and the hippy dippy fashions of the 1960s/70s. A few weeks ago I picked up Tie Dye: Dye it, Wear it, Share it, a book by fashion designer Shabd Simon-Alexander. This book is totally inspiring, and shows you how to use tie dye in more modern, wearable ways. I was confident that the soft, often muted colours of natural dyes would result in some lovely creations.

Hollie and Meg joined me on Sunday and Monday, but before they came up I got started on preparing some fabric to be dyed. To create polkadots I wrapped corn kernels (the only small uniformly round thing I had on hand) with fabric, then covered that with saran wrap, then elasticated it in place. I quickly ran out of elastic bands, so I scrunched the rest of the fabric and secured it with elastics.

The wonderful thing about tie-dye is that you can't go wrong! Sure there were some techniques we loved more than others, but everything we did looked great! It was all about experimentation. Some of our favourite techniques were folding and rolling (which creates stripes), and scrunching. "You can't go wrong with scrunching!" was an oft-heard phrase repeated throughout the weekend.

The best thing about natural dyeing at the cottage is being able to rinse everything out in the lake. Easy peasy! 

Peggy was present to inspect (and lick) our handiwork.

We rigged up all sorts of devices to try to get the dye patterns that we wanted. In the case of the above and below photos, Hollie wanted to only dip half of her bundle in the logwood dye bath, so she used a stick and some string to suspend it in place. 

We dyed with logwood (purple), madder (pink) and pomegranate (brown-ish). Using hot plates makes it possible to do this outside, which is great in the summer when the kitchen can be sweltering. It would be amazing to dye over an open fire one day.

Peg is an excellent supervisor.

We had a wonderful productive weekend, and now have lots of beautiful fabric to turn into napkins, scarves, blankets, tanks, and tees.