Destination: Manhattan

We’re in Manhattan for a mini vacation, just me and Dave. These opportunities to have what I call a “couples-only” or adult vacation are few and far between–scratch that–they NEVER happen. Or at least they haven’t happened since we decided to go forth and multiply. So here we are, staying with Dave’s aunt and uncle on the Upper East Side. We arrived after a rather turbulent and jolting commute in the air and on ground that left both of us feeling rather green. But after regaining our appetites we grabbed a quick bite to eat and then marched across Central Park to my number one destination: Zabar’s. Yes, I know, I’m in New York City and where do I want to go? A grocery store??? Yes, and I was in absolute heaven when I saw that Orange sign….off to Rectangle’s (Middle Eastern) for dinner. Stay tuned. More to come!

Buzz Off!

Last night friends of our came over with their kids for dinner. We were going to eat inside, but the kids decided to run around in the garden before the pizza arrived and the weather was actually perfect for dining al fresco. While the waning days of summer are ideal for outdoor dining, they are also rife with ornery bees just looking for their next fix. And let’s face it: no one enjoys having a yellow jacket hover over their food. They may be harmless, but they’ve got a bad rap for hanging around where and when they are least wanted. So we moved all the necessary acoutrements to the table on the deck but before a single crumb of food left the house I insisted on rigging up our bee catchers. My mother-in-law hangs these out on her deck and I’ve seen them at several restaurants. I finally snagged a couple at the Superstore in late winter in the clearance aisle for some silly price (in our house we call these a “deal of the ‘centch'”–as in century) and by gosh, they work! You simply fill it up with a bit of juice (we used orange) and the bees fly up the centre, the cork at the top prevents them from flying out and within seconds they start doing the backstroke in the juice! They are worth the investment–a whopping $1.79 I think it was–if you enjoy taking your meals outside.

Glass bee catcher
Glass bee catcher

Just Peachy

You know it’s harvest season in Ontario when the peaches are out at the Farmers’ Markets. I like a good juicy peach to sink my teeth into at this time of year, but what I love even better is the peach crisp I make with them. In years past I would buy a basket or two, wait to for the fruit to get nice an ripe and that have at ’em but always with some apprehension? Was the fruit ripe enough? Would I be able to get the peel off easily when I blanched them? Would the fruit come away from the pit easily? Well, any misgivings I had about the success rate of my peeling and pitting process are now a thing of the past. I learned from a very helpful lady selling peaches at the market that I needed to wait for the “Freestone” variety, and not use the “Clingstone” variety. So I waited a week and picked up a couple baskets at the Metro Square Farmers’ Market this past week. As the name would suggest, the flesh “clings” to the pit, whereas the freestone variety comes away from the pit with ease. And rather than blanch the fruit in hot water for 30 seconds followed by a quick dip in ice water, I pulled out my handy dandy Zyliss serrated peeler, which made the entire peeling and pitting process an absolute dream. I think I cut down the entire prep time by at least half. I peeled and sliced about a dozen peaches into a corning ware dish. To that I added a 3/4 cup mixture of granulated and light brown sugar along with a couple tablespoons of flour to absorb the liquid. For the crisp I combined half a pound (yes, that’s half a brick) of butter with a couple cups of flour, a cup of quick oats (not instant), another half cup of the light brown sugar and just a smidge of salt (I use sea salt). I baked it until the fruit essentially starts to bubble up through the crisp, but I usually know it’s ready before I’ve even laid eyes on it because my entire house smells like the aroma of butter, sugar and baked peaches….mmmmm! My first crisp of the harvest season must have been a hit at my nephew’s birthday party, because most of it was gone. I even got complimented on the crisp by Alannah, a professional baker, which made me feel pretty darn good. I wish you could smell and taste this crisp through the screen it really is that good and I really don’t take credit for it; the peaches do all the work. I just put the ingredients all together. You’ll have to try it while Freestone peaches are still in season, or you could be mishugina like me and make a whole wack of them assembly line-style and stick them in the freezer (unbaked) until you need them for a special occasion. Nothing beats a fresh Ontario peach. Nothing.

Freestone Peaches
Freestone Peaches
Peach Crisp
Peach Crisp

Sippin’ in Style

My husband never fails to continually surprise me, hence why I love him so much. And he did this the other morning when he asked me if we had any orange juice. An innocent enough question, but the answer was no. He then asked “do we have any fizzy bubelach?” to which I also answered no. For the uninitiated, fizzy bubelach, is a fictitious drink referred to by Adam Sandler’s character in the movie Zohan. You have to see it to appreciate the reference, but I digress. Dave clearly wanted something to drink so I said there was some lemonade in the freezer. I offered to make it, but Dave was on the job. I couldn’t quite figure out why he wanted lemonade until I saw him pull out our white ceramic pitcher and these two beautiful crystal glasses that belonged to my grandfather. All of a sudden the kids’ pink lemonade was transformed into this dainty summer bevy. I asked Dave what prompted the early morning indulgence and apparently he was inspired by a bit article in one of my design mags that he happened to be flipping through (I won’t tell you where–you can guess). Needless to say, it put a smile on my face and really, truly don’t you think it’s a great way to start the day? (hint: next time make it a mimosa)

Virgin Lemonade Cocktails
Virgin Lemonade Cocktails

Summer Harvest: Tomatoes & Herbs

All that rain and cool weather we were complaining about just days ago seems to have disappeared and been replaced with….how do you say it? Oh yeah, summer. And now everyone is complaining about the oppressive heat and humidity. But not my vegetable garden. No sirree! In fact all this heat is finally making my tomatoes blush. And all that rain? Well it made my herbs go haywire. As such the garden resembles more of a jungle than a cute backyard veggie patch. The sunflowers are towering over the tomatoes almost ready to burst with yellow blooms the size of dinner plates. The tomatoes look like something out of the Little Shop of Horrors–scratch that, the pumpkin plant has taken over and wended it’s way across the patch, over the deck stairs and back down into the grass (can you say, “Feed Me Seymour?”), and if it’s possible, my parsley, sage, thyme, basil and chives are producing too much! One should only be so lucky, right? So I had the pleasure of going out to the garden first thing this morning and while the kids munched on their breakfast outside on the deck. To my delight there were tomatoes aplenty to pick! I actually made a tomato and cucumber salad tonight, simply tossed in olive oil and balsamic vinegar. When the tomatoes are this fresh, there’s no need to dress them up. The freshness speaks for itself. Ialso took cuttings of the herbs into the office the other morning to share with my co-workers. I’m not sure everyone likes cooking with fresh herbs, but they are there for the taking. Might as well share the wealth.

Yellow & Red tomatoes from my garden
Yellow & Red tomatoes from my garden
Herbs from the garden
Herbs from the garden

Crafty Dreams

I’ve been reading this book called Craft Inc. Turn Your Creative Hobby Into a Business and it’s got me daydreaming about a life where my days are whiled away in a beautifully decorated craft room. In that beautiful room I’d be inspired to make precious heirloom baby quilts and hug pillows. I’d make a name for myself in the crafting world and people would seek out my wares. Some rich, famous and beautiful celebrity mama would be photographed on the pages of a mag with their celebrity offspring clutching one of my handmade blankies and then I could start charging top dollar for custom made blankies and hire a partner to adopt my techinques and share in the spoils….Alas, I am not independently wealthy and therefore unable to make this dream a reality (yet). But reading this book and looking at inspiring craft rooms, like that of Alicia Paulson , Jenny B’s All Sorts, FroggyMonkey or HappyZombie among others, is almost enough to make me get off my behind and create a special space for myself in my home. Well, one of these days my threats might actually convert from idle to real and I’ll follow through. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the eye candy.

A mosaic of inspiring craft rooms
A mosaic of inspiring craft rooms
Alicia Paulson's Sewing Studio
Alicia Paulson's Sewing Studio

Pie in the sky

I like pies. I especially like making pies. Savoury, sweet, I like ’em all. However, I don’t always have the time to dedicate to pie making. I usually go on a pie making bender when the various fruits are in season, most notably in the Fall when apples are in season. I make them assembly line-style, coring, peeling and seasoning the apples. Setting them aside while I cut the pastry (old school style with two knives) and press it into the pie dish (no rolling pin here, since I make a crumbly version). Then comes the apple filling, followed by the crumble top. At this stage, I usually wrap up the pies and pop them into the freezer until I need to bake one. Right now my freezer is EMPTY of all pies, so it’s a good thing the strawberry season is just around the corner. My most recent pie was a pecan pie. I actually don’t eat this pie because it’s like a giant butter tart, which is good if you love butter tarts–and I do–but for some reason I prefer the small single serving to the slice of pie. Anyhow, my sister-in-law put in a special order for my brother-in-law. He just turned 40 and we had a party to celebrate. Pecan pie is highly coveted by my husband’s family, particularly my father-in-law. So on special occasions like birthdays, I oblige and make a pecan pie. The recipe isn’t too complicated, again it’s just about having the time to make the pastry, cooking the sugar and corn syrup, add the eggs and vanilla and then place the pecans just so before baking it. I do love the way the pie looks so regal, but I can’t attest to the flavour. You’ll just have to make it yourself and let me know!

Homemade Pecan Pie

Homemade Pecan Pie

Summer daze

I failed to inform you all that I was going on hiatus, but have since returned. Maybe that’s because I wasn’t planning on going on hiatus. It just sort of happened. But now I’m back. Without pictures for now, but not for long.

It was strawberry season around the time my hiatus began (it almost sounds like a disease or a terrible medical condition, doesn’t it?). I took the kids strawberry picking at Whittamore’s Berry Farm where we filled a very large bucket full of sweet, ripe red berries. Many were eaten but most were turned into yummy jam, which I love to eat on fresh bread, as do the kids. This activity always brings back memories of summers spent with my grandparents at their cottage in Wasaga beach. I even have a picture of my grandmother and me standing with a big basket full of berries glued to the inside of a cookbook my mother made for me that’s full of my grandmother’s tried and true recipes. We made the jam around the same time that my kids were finishing up their school year (well, more like daycare, but school no less) and I needed good gift ideas for the teachers so I gave each of them a jar of my homemade jam (pictures to come).

strawberry-jam-montage

More recently we’ve been picking and eating raspberries, which I admit aren’t as exciting as strawberries, but they also hold a special place in my heart because my grandparents used to have a veritable forest of them growing in their yard, which has since moved to my parents’ yard. When my parents moved, they took cuttings from my grandparents’ garden and we attempted to grow raspberries at their previous house. When they moved to their current house, they took the raspberries with them and some five years later, the berries are bountiful.  I plan on making a bumbleberry pie with them, but I’m still trying to find a good recipe….let me know if you have any suggestions. I’d prefer only using fruit that’s local and in season now.

raspberry-montage

Spring Bounty

Despite the below seasonal temperatures of late, the recent days of rain have given my garden that extra incentive to burst forth with blooms aplenty. Not only is my veggie patch beginning to show signs of life–the sage, thyme and chives are ripe for picking, and the radishes are coming up nicely–but the flower beds are filling in. It gives me such a sense of pride seeing all the vegetation growing so well…as if my hard work had anything to do with it (this is highly unlikely). There’s something novel about Spring gardens. Maybe it has to do with coming out of our winter slumber and hungering for the look and smell of greenery, but the work involved in maintaining a backyard garden is a welcomed task. The cutting of the grass, the pruning of the shrubs the weeding of the beds, the planting of the seeds. Gardening is one of those activities where you literally see the fruits of your labours. It isn’t for everyone–for one, you need to like getting dirt under your fingernails. You also have to be willing to let nature dictate what you can and can’t grow.  And you need to absorb every ounce of gardening knowledge that you can from the people you know. Although I was too young to recognize the value of that knowledge at the time, a lot of it came from my grandfather. I have fond memories of my grandfather puttering around in his backyard–I can picture him standing at the top of his backyard surveying the lay of the land, as if he were a king overlooking his kingdom with pride. He would walk me around the perimeter of the yard pointing out the various plants and flowers (“forsythia,” wigelia,” “begonia….”) as well as the vegetable patch up near the house that was teeming with mint right under the staircase and the wild raspberry forest that he tried so hard to tame from year to year. I’m proud to tell you I now have those very raspberry plants from his backyard growing in my backyard. I remember showing up at my grandparents’ house in the Spring and summer, and my grandmother was usually in the kitchen listening to the radio and preparing a meal. If it was late July she would say with glee “have some razzle dazzles(raspberries), I just picked them!” My grandfather was usually outside, garden hose in hand, watering his flower beds or vegetable patch. He did this very methodically and unhurried. His backyard truly was his escape. When my grandparents moved into their condominium, it was clear my grandfather would deeply miss his backyard. If memory serves me correctly, he even said so. But he tried to continue his love of gardening, transforming his small balcony every Spring into his little patch of gardening paradise.There are days I wish he could see my garden and it would be me giving him a tour of the beds, showing him what I was trying to nurture and grow. If nothing else, he left a very strong legacy of gardening within me. And now I get to share that legacy with my family….and all of you.

Columbine blossom
Columbine blossom
A bumble bee visits the rhododendron
A bumble bee visits the rhododendron
Mounds of sage and thyme
Mounds of sage and thyme
Chive blossoms
Chive blossoms
Radish seedlings
Radish seedlings

Bread Pudding

Whether it’s a scrap of paper, a worn-out tee shirt or bananas beyond their ripeness I am not one to simply toss something that appears to have seen better days or lost its apparent usefulness. The old adage,”Waste not, want not” is alive and well in my household. I often know what new form these items will take; that scrap of paper often becomes a grocery shopping list and that worn-out tee shirt gets cut into dusting rags and those bananas are frozen until it’s time to make my amazing banana cake. Just like the bananas, food in my fridge and pantry often find new life only to be devoured by the family. This past weekend I had the challenge of finding a recipe that would help use up some leftovers in my fridge and pantry; buttermilk and challah bread. A bit of a conundrum to be honest. And then I thought of the perfect marriage: bread pudding. I had recently sampled a delicious version of it at Pusateri’s down in Yorkville. I knew I couldn’t duplicate the recipe exactly since I didn’t pay much attention to the ingredients as I was scarfing it down. So I did a search and came across a fairly simple recipe on Epicurious.com. It’s a low-fat buttermilk bread pudding recipe with strawberry sauce. I omitted the sauce since I didn’t have the time or the inclination to make it. The recipe also called for nutmeg sprinkled on top. I substituted this with cinnamon. So I sliced up the half loaf of challah bread (for those who don’t know what this is, it’s a sweet-ish egg bread that Jews tend to eat on the Sabbath–think of it as the sacramental loaf–perfect for french toast too!), laid it in the bottom of my dish and poured the egg, sugar, vanilla & buttermilk mixture over top. Once set in a pan with water, I baked it for roughly an hour until the custard set. Just to make it a little more interesting, I squirted some chocolate syrup on top. It ended up being a huge hit with the family and friends we had over for a barbeque on Sunday evening, and again for leftovers at my parents’ on Monday night. So I think I’ll keep that recipe handy the next time I am faced with half a loaf of bread and a partially used carton of buttermilk. If you have any good “leftovers” recipes, please share them with me!

Buttermilk Bread Pudding
Buttermilk Bread Pudding