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.
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.
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!
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).
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.Â 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.
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.
Whether it’s a scrap of paper, a worn-out tee shirt or bananas beyond theirÂ ripeness I am not one to simply toss something that appears to have seen better days or lost its apparentÂ 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 beÂ 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, vanillaÂ & 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!
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.Â But today Arlene and I, along with Lindsay,Â 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 platefulÂ 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.Â 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.
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.
Another day spent toiling in the garden, creatingÂ a new flower bed next to the path I carved out ofÂ the front lawnÂ 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 heartsÂ 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!