When I opened the front door this morning I was hit by a wave of hot air not unlike that which escapes from the oven when I’m baking cookies, except this was the air outside. Everywhere. The air we breathe. The forecast called for temperatures in the mid-30’s with a Humidex in the mid-40’s. Ugh!
Even thought it was morning I was already thinking about what to make for dinner. The last thing I wanted to do was turn on the oven IN the house. And I certainly didn’t want to fire up the barbeque and stand in front of a flaming hot grill.Â
So I decided to make my version of a Nicoise salad. Nice and simple but hearty enough to fill the belly–and super easy.
First the fresh stuff: blanched green beans, sliced cucumbers, sliced tomatoes. and sliced red peppers.
Then the proteins and canned goods: a tin of tuna, a tin of chick peas, a tin of corn niblets, a tin of artichoke hearts and some sliced hard boiled eggs.
And finally I roasted some mini red potatoes, but I only used the toaster oven so my kitchen remained at a comfortable temperature.
I think a true Nicoise salad also includes anchovies but I can’t count a single person in my household who would eat those salty suckers so I didn’t even consider it.
The boys gushed over the meal (they love hard boiled eggs and canned corn) and not a single bead of sweat was required in the preparation of this meal so I think I’ll be making this again soon.
Next time I might throw in some golden beets and avocado–other favourites in our household. If you’ve made your own signature version of a Nicoise salad let me know what you put in it.
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.Â 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.
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.Â 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 theÂ 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 breakfastÂ 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 notÂ 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.
It amazes me how much work is involved in packing for three days up in cottage country. TheÂ to-do list is endless.Â This coming weekend is the Victoria Day Long Weekend in Ontario and, like so many other families,Â 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 nowÂ our source of lighting appears in the form of candles andÂ hand crankÂ LED lanterns.Â 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).Â 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 withoutÂ 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.Â 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.
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!