Lunching With The Ladies

Meet Arlene. A lady of many talents. DIY’er, graphic artist, designer, mother, gourmand and baker. In this particular category we are kindred spirits. For the last nine months or so, I had the pleasure of working with Arlene on a television show–she as a stylist, me as a producer. Over the course of the nine months we exchanged recipes, discussed cooking and baking methods and even had the odd “bake off.” For this, the rest of the staff was grateful. Since production of the show has wrapped, we have all been scattered like seeds to the wind, keeping in touch primarily through Facebook.  But today Arlene and I, along with Lindsay, an equally talented and fellow show stylist, joined us for a bite of lunch at my place. I provided most of the nibbles, but the topper were the perfectly tangy, sweet and just gooey enough lemon squares Arlene baked. I could have inhaled the entire pan, but that would have been unladylike of me. So I restricted myself to just one, but kept a plateful to eat after my guests had departed. Lemon squares can be finnicky. The shortbread base needs to be baked for a brief period of time before the lemon filling is poured over top. And the filling needs to be baked long enough to set, but not too long. If you overbake the squares, you’ll end up with a burnt base and hard, chewy lemon filling. And if underbaked, the filling just oozes everywhere, making an awful mess. Not the least bit enjoyable to sink your teeth into. Thankfully this was not the case as I gingerly removed the squares from the pan, which came out perfectly, well, square.

 

The lovely & talented Arlene
The lovely & talented Arlene

 

Arlene's lemon square
Arlene's lemon square
 

 

Lindsay, stylist extraordinnaire
Lindsay, stylist extraordinnaire

So Long Weekend

Well our weekend in the Muskokas was cut short. We bailed after less than 24 hours at the cabin. Upon arrival we were literally swarmed by mosquitoes and black flies. The minute we opened the car doors, the bugs began to pour in. Without bug repellant (it was on the other side of the lake in the cabin), I looked like a crazed woman swatting at the air at imaginary demons. My husband doesn’t seem to react to bug bites. I, on the other hand, swell up like a balloon at the tiniest little nibble and then proceed to complain about the constant itchiness. While my husband unloaded the half ton of food and multiple bags from the car, I did manage to get the kids across the lake in our dandy new pedal boat, which is not nearly as efficient a mode of transportation as a canoe. Once across, we reached the safety of the cabin. The next couple hours were spent cleaning up (including the discovery an old mouse carcass), putting the food in the battery-powered fridge, which was getting its “juice” from the solar panel, and setting up the beds for the kids. We barbequed that night and had a lovely meal of burgers, corn on the cob and raw veggies & dip. While all of this was going on the kids played out in the forest seemingly unphased by the biting bugs, although they’ve got the welts to prove it. When nightfall came, things changed. The kids eventually fell asleep, but when it was my turn I couldn’t. Somehow the mosquitoes had infiltrated the cabin and spent the entire evening accosting me. I tried hiding out under the bed sheets but began to suffocate. And it didn’t stop the blood suckers from making that awful whiny droning sound in my ear. Then the kids woke up around 3 complaining about the bugs so we moved to a different room WITH both kids in the bed and hoped that a closed door would keep the pesky pests out. By the time morning came, my hands were sore from being bitten and I was exhausted from little to no sleep. And it was raining. And cold. I felt like Susanna Moodie in Roughing It In the Bush; A civilized woman in an inhospitable land suffering from cabin fever.The kids woke up early as usual. My husband built a fire in the stove to heat up the place while I made breakfast (bacon and eggs–as a kid the breakfast I always smelled at the neighbour’s cottage and wished I could have, but never did). My husband apologized and suggested we leave, given the bugs and the weather. I didn’t say no. The kids amused themselves while we tidied up. They even got to go out on the pedal boat with my husband while I cleaned up. So after lunch, in the misty rain, we paddled back across the lake, loaded up the car and the kids, but not before my youngest fell into the lake fully clothed. So my vision of a romantic holiday weekend with the family was not to be fulfilled. Rather than head back to the city, we cut across cottage country to my in-law’s “country condo” where I managed to get a good night’s sleep. In the end it wasn’t a completely wasted trip. I did clean up the makeshift kitchen, which you can see in the pictures. No matter what space you give me, I try my best to make it as homey as possible.

 

My sink, sans running water
My sink, sans running water

 

My stove
My stove

 

The Pantry
The Pantry
 

Cozy cabin living
Cozy cabin living
Country grub dining
Country grub dining

 

Cabin kitchenette
Cabin kitchenette

The Long Weekend Ahead

It amazes me how much work is involved in packing for three days up in cottage country. The to-do list is endless. This coming weekend is the Victoria Day Long Weekend in Ontario and, like so many other families, we are heading to the cabin. I call it “the cabin” and not “cottage” because right now it’s more akin to a wooden tent than a summer getaway with all the comforts of home. Only recently did said cabin acquire a self-composting toilet, solar panel, and solar powered fridge. Still to come: solar powered water pump and four light fixtures. Right now our source of lighting appears in the form of candles and hand crank LED lanterns. This is all the handiwork of my husband who has dedicated hours of work and hard, physical labour to make the cabin habitable (to more than just the furry rodents who settled down there while the place sat empty for many years). Oh yes, and did I mention the property is water access only? That’s right, upon arrival we must steady ourselves for a short paddle across the lake, canoes fully loaded–children, dog, food and clothing. Believe me, I’m no princess, but I do feel the need to have certain comforts and amenities even while roughing it in the bush. There is no shower or tub, so all bathing must happen in the lake. However, in cool weather, such as we are expecting this weekend, we all stink together. A wood-burning stove remains our sole source of heat, along with a fireplace we have yet to use. The only downside to this is our clothing ends up smelling like a campfire, which for some brings back fond memories. I’m sure I will grow to love this place, particularly as the weather warms up and I put my own personal touches into the cabin. That’s something I’ve begun to do, but it is a gradual process and one that requires being budget conscious in the truest sense. In principle I agree with the off-the-grid ideology. In practice, it requires effort and I don’t know that I’ve fully committed myself to it just yet. I’m no Les Stroud. This weekend will be a real test of my mettle. I’ve been doing some reading about cottaging off-the-grid in Cottage Life Magazine, and I believe there is a way to do it without feeling as though you’re really going without. Being a bit of a foodie, I do miss having an oven, but maybe I’ll master the barbeque and won’t miss the oven when it’s 35 celsius outside.  And maybe we’ll get creative and install an outdoor shower one year, able to forgo the indoor plumbing altogether. And candlelight is far more romantic than any LED bulb. Hey, maybe I can do this off-the-grid thing afterall! Now if only we could get rid of the damn bugs.

In Bloom Now

Another day spent toiling in the garden, creating a new flower bed next to the path I carved out of  the front lawn and tending to the existing beds. Whether it was reseeding the bare patches of my lawn or planting carrots and basil, it was a productive day. And when I looked up to survey what was growing in the garden I was astonished to see so many plants in full bloom (or very close to it). I still feel as if it’s too early in the growing season for plants to be flourishing. Particularly with the temperature dipping so close to the freezing mark at night. But today we had optimal Spring weather–the temperature hovered around 20 celsius and the sun was out all day. I was pleased to see my native plants, Jack-in-the-pulpit, red trilliums and bleeding hearts thriving. One of the rhododendrons was also beginning to show its soft pink blossoms. The lilac is bursting with blooms as is the purple sand cherry. The show stopper has to be the clematis sitting growing beside my garage. It got blown over in the hail storm we had this past weekend, but this plant is a fighter and once I staked it, all the crimson blossoms opened up. I’d love to see some pictures of your garden, so send them to me if you get a chance!

My "work-in-progress" front garden
My "work-in-progress" front garden

 

Red trillium
Red trillium

 

Jack-in-the-pulpit
Jack-in-the-pulpit
Bleeding heart
Bleeding heart
Purple lilac blossoms
Purple lilac blossoms
Purple sand cherry
Purple sand cherry
The showstopper clematis
The showstopper clematis

A Mother Of A Day

I try not to set any expectations when it comes to Mother’s Day. Yes, it’s a holiday that recognizes the hard work, effort and love that knows no bounds of a mother, but it is hardly a holiday from mothering. But I’ve got to hand it to my husband–today was a great day. It started with a “sleep in” until 7:40. Yes, believe it or not, that is sleeping in around these parts. I was woken by a soft kiss on the cheek from my 5-year-old and a beautiful tray full of yummy breakfast; a perfectly cooked 2-egg omelet with a fanned strawberry atop, two slices of cinnamon raisin toast with blueberry jam, fresh mixed berries, a mug of tea and some juice. The presentation was impeccable, as evidenced in the picture below.

Breakfast In Bed
Breakfast In Bed

 

Then came the gifts. Both my boys had made me gifts at daycare. The elder made me a lovely jewelery box and necklace, and the younger, what appears to be a hanging mail holder. These are by far the best gifts a mom could ever receive because there is no monetary value attached to these, just pure sentiment and that’s exactly what every mother covets from her children.

Jewellery Box
Jewellery Box
Mail Holder
Mail Holder

The rest of the day was spent with family celebrating mothers and grandmothers and even one great grandmother. I even had an opportunity to share some one-on-one time with my Mom. I decided to take her to the nursery to pick out flowers for her planter, which I offered to buy and plant for her as a combined Mother’s Day and birthday gift (her birthday is a few short days away). While it may not sound like a glamorous outing, it was what I like to call “time well spent.” I consider my Mom to be my close friend, and any time spent together is a good time. I think it’s safe to say that mothers and daughters tend to have a special bond that’s different from the bond shared by mothers and sons. However I do hope that I remain close with my boys as they get older.

The day concluded with a barbeque right at home. My contribution, other than the venue, was my 1-2-3-4 lemon cake, which was a big hit and looked spectacular (if I do say so myself). In some ways I wish every day was Mother’s Day, but if I really think about it, every day IS Mother’s Day. Not a day goes by that my boys don’t need the comfort or care of their mom, and while there are moments where it gets to be too much I think I’ll take it while I can get it. I already know how fleeting childhood is and while I will always be their mother, I imagine a day when my boys will no longer wish to cuddle in my arms or be tickled. But I do hope they will always seek me out for advice or simply be a shoulder to lean on. Happy Mother’s Day.

Room To Grow

When my oldest son was just two years old, I began planning his move into a “big boy bed.” I wanted him out of his crib before his little brother arrived. Although I wasn’t pregnant with my second child yet, I knew the day would come soon enough and I’d have little to no energy to undertake the project. My husband and I also decided to move our son into a different bedroom. His baby room had a west-facing window, which threw an incredible amount of heat during the summertime and I did not want the little guy suffering through another sweaty summer. The new bedroom has two large north-facing windows looking out to the street and the tree on our front lawn. The walls are painted something akin to a Wedgwood blue from Benjamin Moore’s historical collection (I can’t remember the exact name), with Cloud White for trim. I wanted the furniture and décor to engage a toddler, but also provide enough “staying power” 

so that as he matures, he won’t tire of the colour scheme or accents. In other words, a room for him to grow up. I chose to compliment the blue wall with chocolate brown and deep red accents. I don’t know what planet I was living on when I decided I would sew the curtains for the bedroom, but it spawned the entire design scheme for the room. Furthermore, I had never sewn roman blinds. After endless hours of toil (and much cursing), I produced two serviceable blinds made of chocolate brown corduroy with a red grosgrain ribbon trim. I had my upholsterer make a headboard with the remaining material (it cost me $300) and my neighbour found a coordinating bed skirt for $7!!! Other than the bed, which we bought new, the furniture were both pieces that my husband had as a child, which he reinvented by removing the brass hardware and details. With a fresh coat of paint and new hardware, the nighttable and dresser got a second lease on life. The artwork over the dresser is a homage to my father-in-law. As a boy he collected penants with his brother, which he displayed at the family cottage. When the cottage was sold, we took the penants and I created homemade artwork from some of them, including those of my father-in-law’s high school, fraternity and camp. I imagine my son will tire of the décor one day and ask to paint it black or scrawl graffiti across the walls, but in the meantime I hope the images and colours and even the history of the pieces in his room spark his imagination and bring him comfort when he lays down to sleep each night and awakens each morning.

 

View from the doorway
View from the doorway

 

 

 

The Infamous Roman Blinds
The Infamous Roman Blinds

 

Old penants in frames above dresser
Old penants in frames above dresser

 

 

 

A big bed for a little boy
A big bed for a little boy

 

 

 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

Burgers On The Barbie

Remember I wrote about those hamburger patties I made a couple days ago? Well I finally got to throw some on the barbeque tonight and the votes are in: they’re good. All three taste testers devoured their burgers. The dinner table was the quietest it’s been since I can’t remember. My older son put in a request for a “custom” burger, topped with his favourite: mayonnaise, tomato and lettuce. My husband commented the burgers were “Wendy’s style” because of their slightly squared-off shape. Nobody made any mention of the garlic or onions in the patties, which must mean these ingredients were incorporated well into the ground beef. I served the burgers on whole wheat buns that weren’t too “bready” or big if you know what I mean. Even the kids could get their little mouths around the sandwich and they didn’t fall apart (the sandwiches, I mean). On the side I served the kids’ favourites: steamed green string beans and a salad of mini cucumber coins, tomato chunks and avocado tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette dressing. Everyone knows beer is the classic burger beverage, so Dave and I had Rickard’s White, which is supposed to be the suds of the summer. The company recommends serving it with a slice of orange. The drink itself has a translucent orange colour and apparently has “notes of coriander and citrus.” I’m not sure I was tasting those notes, but it certainly did sing on my palette next to the burger!

Homemade Burger
Homemade Burger

On The Menu: Stir Fry

Stir fry is a crowd pleaser on any given weeknight in our home and tonight was no exception. It’s an especially rewarding meal when the parts of the sum are  ingredients left over from other recipes; not enough to make something great on their own, but united, they make an outstanding entreé. No stir fry can exist without its vegetable component so with half a head of green cabbage I added some celery, carrots, beans and mushrooms. To this I added my protein in the form of a few pieces of chicken and a few pre-cooked shrimp that were both kicking around in the freezer. In my pantry I found a package of green bean thread, otherwise described as vermicelli glass noodles. These are fantastic because they give you that substantial carb kick without the starchiness. According to the Gourmet Traveller they are made from the mung bean and tapioca and virtually flavourless, making them ideal for taking on the flavour of the dish you are cooking. I simply soaked them in warm water and once soft enough, cut them with scissors (they are quite long, like hair). I fried up some garlic and onion, added the protein, followed by the veggies. Pour in some soya sauce for that salty flavour, then add some chicken soup stock, cook until the veggies soften up a bit and toss in the noodles. The kids devoured dinner and there was so much we have enough for lunches tomorrow.

Normally I don’t serve dessert. Rather, I don’t call dessert  “dessert.” I don’t believe meals should always be followed by something sweet, so there are no expectations in my house that after dinner comes something sugary and sinful. Why? Those of you who have children already know the answer, but for the uninitiated it goes something like this: if a young child is aware that something “better” is on the menu, they will eat as little as possible, if anything at all, in anticipation of the sugary treat that awaits. So I set the expectation pretty low–no dessert. Tonight was an exception. As part of my Spring cleaning, I delved into the freezer drawer and discovered a few precious bananas. I immediately knew those pathetic looking brown fruit would soon turn into the most moist and scrumptious cake ever. So I baked a banana bundt cake. Normally I throw in a cup of chocolate chips, but in my haste I forgot. To make up for this oversight I iced the cake in a lovely mocha chocolate glaze. I wish you could taste it through the screen, but alas, the developers at Apple have yet to incorporate all five senses into the online world. For now you will simply have to enjoy the view from your side of the monitor….and if you’re lucky, I’ll post the recipe and you can try baking it yourself. I consider this cake one of my tried and true stand-bys. My mom gave me the recipe years ago and it came to her from a good friend. It never fails to please, and I’m pleased it never fails.

Banana Bundt Cake with mocha icing
Banana Bundt Cake with mocha icing
Banana Cake slice
Banana Cake slice

It’s Patty Time!

To usher in the barbequing season I got ambitious and decided to make my hamburgers from scratch rather than buy the frozen boxed kind from the grocery store. A box of eight costs roughly $1.12 per patty. I figure I can do it for less and they will taste just as good, if not better. So I bought 4 pounds of lean ground beef  for $17.23 and with all the ingredients, managed to squeeze out 16 patties. So that cost comes in at $1.07 per patty. Not bad. I think the two secret ingredients that make these hamburgers moist and tasty are the worcestershire sauce (shakey, shakey, wakey, wakey!) and the matzah meal–yes, matzah meal. For some reason it binds really well with the hamburger meat and eggs and doesn’t dry out the patty nor give it a strange bread-like flavour.

I have yet to throw them on the barbeque and do the REAL taste test with my kids. That comes later tonight. But in the meantime here’s the recipe:

4 lbs. lean ground beef

4 eggs

6 Tbsp. Lea & Perrin’s Worcestershire Sauce

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 Cup matzah meal (you can use bread crumbs if you like)

4 tsp. kosher salt

ground pepper (however much you like)

Early Bloomers

As I write this post, my 5-year-old son is sitting on my lap. He’s home sick today–woke up with flushed scarlet cheeks and a fever, followed very soon after by a bout of, well, there’s no better way to put this, vomiting. So it’s been a low key day around the house. However I did get a chance to wander through the garden to see how everything is growing after a good soak last night from a heavy downpour. This time of year always reminds me of the story of the Secret Garden–a book I intend to read to my children one day. Peaking out beneath the remnants of last year’s vegetation are the delicate shoots and buds about to burst forth in full bloom. For me, an avid amateur gardener, this is an exciting time. And now there is further evidence my garden is waking from its winter slumber. The early flowers of Spring are in full bloom: daffodils, fragrant hyacinths, muscari or grape hyacinths, hellebores and one of my favourites, Snake’s Head fritallaria, which are a relative of the tulip. This flower gets it’s name from the delicate pattern on the petals, which are reminiscent of a snake’s skin. I tend to gravitate towards flowers in the blues, purples, pinks and whites in my garden as you will see from the pictures below.

I’d love to continue the conversation about my garden right now, but the 43-pound child on my lap is becoming restless, and it seems watching me type and click the mouse is less than thrilling for him, so this conversation will have to continue at a later date.

White and peach daffodil
White and peach daffodil
Snake's Head Fritallaria
Snake's Head Fritallaria
Close up of fritallaria blossom
Close up of fritallaria blossom
Muscari
Muscari
Hellebore
Hellebore
Hellebore blossom
Hellebore blossom