Na na na na na na na na Bat Pie!

Tonight I’m off to another friend’s birthday celebration, and I think it’s safe for me to write about his gift since so far as I can tell he doesn’t read my blog. At least, he seemed genuinely surprised when I asked him if he’d like a pie for his birthday and, if so, what kind is his favourite. He did say that fruit pies, especially strawberry-raspberry-blueberry or strawberry-rhubarb were his top-ranked. However, rhubarb is almost impossible to get this time of year (although knowing this now, I’ll freeze some in advance next year when it comes in season). And red fruits just didn’t seem dark enough for what I had in mind.

You see, my friend is a huge Batman fan, and I wanted to make him something appropriate to his fandom. After all, as LEGO Batman says, Batman “only works in black, and sometimes very, very dark grey” — although I’d go so far as to say that Adam West’s cowl was a deep purple or blue, depending on the lighting. Since I didn’t want to add food colouring to the filling, so I went with blackberry-blueberry. As usual, I used the Purity Pastry recipe from page 73 of The All-New Purity Cook Book (Elizabeth Driver, 2001). As my father and his mother before him taught me, I made the crust using lard instead of vegetable shortening, which I’ve always been told makes the crust flakier. The filling was 3 1/2 cups of blackberries, 2 1/2 cups of blueberries, 1 cup of sugar, 3 Tbsp corn starch, and 1 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice.

At first I thought I might make the top crust with a large cutout so that it looked like the Bat Signal, but a friend had linked to a recipe for Rustic Cast Iron Skillet Peach Pie on social media, and I really liked how they’d made their top crust. I thought that cookie-cutter cutouts would look a bit like a cloud of bats against a night sky, which is an image used repeatedly in Batman media. Of course, the fruit filling isn’t totally flat and the bats warped a bit during baking, so they look their most bat-like from directly above. It’s a really simple technique and can be achieved using any shape of cookie cutter, although I have a feeling that the simpler the shape, the more recognizable it will be when cooked. I do have a feeling that I’ll be using this technique in the future to customize my pies. If you don’t like making crust from scratch, I see no reason why it wouldn’t work equally well with store-bought dough.

Polly Put the Kettle On

I got a box of old kitchenware to go through recently, and at the bottom of that box was a vintage (1976, if I’m reading the label right) whistling tea kettle. I gave it a scrub and put it on the stove to boil some water to clean the inside, and I was struck by how at home it looked there. I mean, obviously it belongs on a stove, but how much it fit in with my idea of home.

You see, when I was a kid this was exactly the kind of kettle we’d have permanently set on our kitchen stove. My parents are inveterate tea-drinkers (orange pekoe only, thank you very much), and there was always a pot of tea on the stove or a kettle on the boil. The kettle only left the stove on special occasions when Mom was cooking an extremely large or complicated meal. One of the first things I learned how to prepare was tea to my parents’ specifications. To this day, “Put the kettle on!” is slang for, “I’m coming over for a visit and a chat!”


The engraving on the bottom reads “Product of West Bend Company, West Bend, Wisconsin, Made in U.S.A., SINGING TEA KETTLE, Stainless steel with solid copper bottom, 2 1/2 quart, 7 76”

When I was really little, we had a kettle similar to this one but without the whistle. Apparently at one point my father forgot that it was on the stove and left the room, and the kettle boiled dry and then melted. So my mom bought a kettle with a whistle as a replacement. This kettle (or ones like it, since they do sometimes develop leaks) lasted for some years until my father filled the kettle, put it on the stove, and then went out to the garage for some reason. The kettle screamed away until it was boiled dry, and then it too melted down. Exasperated, my mother went out to the store and bought an electric kettle with an automatic shut-off. Dad, being a creature of habit, soon filled the brand new plastic kettle and put it on the stove, then turned the burner on. He didn’t leave the room this time, but he didn’t notice the mistake he’d made until the plastic melted. Don’t ask me how he didn’t smell it.

Since then, my parents have bought other kettles, all of which live on a counter that’s not near the stove and all of which are totally different shapes than the whistling kettles that I remember them having as a child. Dad learned his lesson, we hope, and has not melted a kettle since, and never will again, knock on wood. Despite the kettle saga, to me the “proper” kind is a stainless-steel whistling kettle that just covers the larger burner rings. The kettle singing is a cue that I am home, and Mom and Dad are home, and things can’t be all that bad because someone is making tea.

Wonton Soup

Last night the girls were off to Guiding, so I needed to make a quick and easy dinner. It was still wet and rainy, so I thought that it would be a nice idea to have some soup. I’ve been making a point of turning my frozen stockpile of bones (left over from roasts and rotisserie meals) into broth, so I used some of my recently-made chicken broth to make up some wonton soup.

There wasn’t really a recipe as such. I threw some of the leftover chicken from Family Day, some baby bok choy, and a generous sprinkle of salt into the broth while I brought it to a boil. Then I added a couple of handfuls of fully-cooked chicken & cilantro mini wontons (bought at Costco) and cooked them for about two minutes. The broth didn’t need much seasoning because the wontons themselves are bursting with flavour — a very cilantro-based flavour, so I’m really lucky that none of us have that gene that makes cilantro taste like soap. And that was that!

Family Day Chicken Dinner

Yesterday was Family Day, which is neither a religious nor a festival holiday. Rather, it is mostly an excuse to have a day off in February (a month with no other statutory holidays in Ontario) when you are nominally supposed to spend doing fun things with your family. This year I didn’t even get to spend it with my entire household, since my husband was off to Sweden on business, the lucky duck. I’ve never had a job where they flew me halfway around the world to attend meetings, I’ll tell you that right now. So while he was visiting the Arctic Circle…

And driving on ice roads…

And eating smoked moose and visiting fortresses, I am here at home with the kids. I might just be a little bit jealous.

(From his photos, Sweden during the winter looks a heck of a lot like it does here in Canada, so I’m not as jealous as I might be if he were in the Bahamas or something. And to be fair, the only time he had to go explore was the weekend, since he is working. I’m trying to talk my way out of jealousy here, and it’s not working very well.)

I’d hoped to take the kids to Winterlude and possibly skating on the canal, but it’s been unseasonably warm since Sunday and it started pissing down rain about halfway through Monday. So instead we went to the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum for the afternoon. The highlight was all of the baby animals — most of whom, like the calf above, didn’t want to stay still long enough for a good picture. But the kids were thrilled to be able to pet the sheep and the goats and the calves, so it was a win. The calves were big favourites, since they were very sociable and leaned right into a good scratch. A few of them made my kids laugh by licking their hands and arms; I’m not sure whether they were looking for food, or tasting salt, or just investigating, but by the time we were out of the cow barn all of our winter coats needed a wash. After raising children and small animals, cow slobber doesn’t bother me that much, but that doesn’t mean I want to be wearing it any longer than I have to!

Given that we were out and about well after I’d usually be starting dinner, I needed something easy to feed the family when we got home. In the oven, I reheated the Costco rotisserie chicken that I’d bought the day before. I pricked a few potatoes with a fork and microwaved them until they were soft for easy “baked” potatoes. And then I steamed some spinach. Not the fanciest meal in my repertoire, but we had all worked up an appetite from our adventures, so it went down well.

A Piece of Pie

Recently, my husband and I were playing Borderlands 2 online with another couple who are good friends of ours. At one point I had to take a brief AFK break to take a pie out of the oven, causing our friends to jokingly lament that they didn’t have pie too. At that time, their birthdays were swiftly approaching, so I promised them that I’d make them pies for their birthday. Well, their joint birthday celebration (their birthdays are only a couple of days apart) was this past Friday, so on Thursday night I had to make their pies.

I decided to make two totally different kinds of pies, and I started with a lemon meringue. I used the crust recipe from page 73 of The All-New Purity Cook Book (Elizabeth Driver, 2001), the filling from page 687 of the Joy of Cooking (Rombauer & Becker, 2006 edition), and Soft Meringue Topping #1 on page 798 of the Joy of Cooking. I’ll confess right now that I had never made lemon meringue pie before, even though I quite like it. I’d only tried a meringue once before and that failed spectacularly. I don’t know what I did, but no matter how hard I whipped it, the meringue never formed peaks at all, it just stayed runny. I was really worried that it wouldn’t turn out right.


Photo by Karen Turnbull.

In the end, I’m quite proud of my first lemon meringue pie, even though I singed the topping a bit. I have got to remember that my oven heats unevenly and that I need to check on my baked goods more often. I mean, I set a timer for the minimum time recommended and then checked it with five minutes to go, and it was still a rather dark brown (I was aiming for a toasted gold). If I’d left it in five minutes longer, it would have been burnt. Luckily, the colour was only on the surface, and my friends said it tasted just fine. They served it up to their gaming group when playing D&D on Sunday night, and everyone liked it, even one person who generally doesn’t like lemon meringue. I’m wondering if that’s because I used fresh lemons and lemon zest when I made the filling from scratch, instead of using canned filling.

For the second pie I went with a fruit-filled pie, which something I’ve done successfully a million times before, just in case. I mean, given the disaster with the bitter pumpkin pie at Christmas, experience doesn’t always mean mistake-free. But I’m fairly confident that it will taste fine (especially since you can honestly completely omit sugar in most fruit pies and it’ll still be palatable). For kicks, I rolled the top crust using a laser-engraved rolling pin that I received as a gift a while back. It features the hazard symbols for poison, ionizing radiation, high voltage, and biological hazards. Something tickles me about using this on food.

What with a fruit pie crust never baking flat, it’s hard to see the design, but it is there. I also vented the crust using a 8-Piece Pie Divider for the first time, which was a gift from another friend. It is honestly the weirdest-looking gadget in my kitchen, but it works quite well. The recipe for apple-strawberry pie that I used can actually be found on the back of its packaging box — although I did use the same Purity Pastry crust for both pies, since it’s just easier to whip up one big batch instead of multiple small ones. I used leftovers of that crust, along with some extra fruit from the fridge, to make the fruit tarts that night as well.

Honestly, I’m kind of hoping that this baking-as-a-birthday-gift idea becomes a regular thing. As my friends and I get older, I find it harder to shop for presents, since I know the things that they really want is way out of my budget, and we all have more clutter than we really need. But food is a necessity of life. And just maybe on our birthdays we deserve to be able to elevate a basic need to something a little more special.

A Year Gone By

The one-year anniversary of this blog (blogiversary?) slipped by on February 13th without me really noticing it. Sitting down at the computer to write a blog post before I shut down my computer and crawl into bed has become a part of my daily routine. It has given me a chance to reflect on the things I’ve worked on or that have interested me. On a more practical note, blogging has allowed me to keep track of what I’ve done, where I got the recipe/instructions/pattern, and how it turned out — and in a searchable format. I can’t count the number of times I’ve grabbed my phone and used the search function on this blog as a quick memory aid.


Kirkland Asian Beef Noodle Soup kit with added soft-boiled eggs. It looks reasonably appetizing, but it tastes powdery and somehow more artificial than an instant ramen packet. Thumbs down from me.

Have I learned anything over the last year? Well, I’ve expanded my cooking skills considerably. I no longer rely on the same repertoire of a few reliable recipes day in and day out. I mean, of course I still have some that I go back to over and over again, but that’s interspersed with trying new things. And trying new things has started to help me get over the fear of failure when learning. One of the great things about cooking is that even if you mess it up, it’s only one meal. It may seem like a big deal at the time, especially for the more difficult dishes, but in the grand scheme of things it’s not so bad. The important thing is that I learn from my failures.


Homemade chicken noodle soup with half an avocado filled with ranch dressing, and a Dad’s Biscuit. I may have added a few too many noodles to the soup this time, but it tasted fine.

I’m also enjoying how blogging has pushed me to try new foods and new techniques — and that, by extension, has influenced how my children experience the culinary world. So long as it’s not burned to a crisp, my husband will eat just about anything so long as he doesn’t have to cook it. (That’s not to say that he doesn’t have his preferences, but he’ll still eat stuff he’s not fond of.) But my kids, though, are more resistant to culinary change. They’re not super-picky eaters (and boy, have I heard stories about kids like that), but they tend to complain when a food isn’t one of their favourites. I think that exposing them to new foods so often now has taught them that just because a food is new, that doesn’t mean they won’t like it. There’s still resistance there, but not at the same level as this time last year. And I have to say it’s heartwarming when I overhear my kids brag to their friends about my cooking — and then try to persuade their friends to try something new.


A quick dinner of fried rice using whatever leftovers were in the fridge. Ingredients included roast chicken, roast beef, red onion, green onion, potatoes, corn, peas, mushrooms, garlic, and eggs, cooked together with a bit of soy sauce and miso broth. Tasty.

Where do I want to go from here? Well, I have a whole list of dishes I want to try, and a stack of new cookbooks from Christmas that I’ve barely cracked. My friends bought me a copy of The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen by Sean Sherman (2017), and I am highly intrigued. I also want to dive into How To Cook Indian by Sanjeev Kapoor (2011), which my husband bought me. Although these books are from completely different cultures and corners of the globe, they do share a commonality in that I’ll have to learn where to source some of the ingredients that are less common around here (or common, but only seasonally). I also want to improve my breadmaking skills, and learn to make rum balls and pavlovas.


Fresh fruit tarts made from crust leftover after making full-sized pies. The filling is basically a peeled, chopped apple, strawberries, and blueberries, with a bit of white and brown sugar and a dash of cinnamon.

Mostly, I just want to keep learning. There is so much out there to try! I want to push my personal boundaries when it comes to cooking, and try new techniques when it comes to handicrafts, and start my own small business when it comes to thrifting. I want to challenge myself. I want to expand. I want to grow. And I want to keep writing about it.

Valentine’s Day Sweets

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day, which for me meant that the day before was spent in the kitchen baking. Okay, well, not the whole day; some of my time was spent in the kitchen dealing with a leaking dishwasher. That slowed things down immensely. Luckily, the issue was a slightly-clogged drain pipe and dirt in the door seal that kept it from being watertight, and a good cleaning of the machine fixed the leak. If your dishwasher is going to leak, a fix without having to purchase expensive parts is best, really. Also, there wasn’t enough water that came out to cause much damage. The basement ceiling is a drop ceiling and the walls and floor are only half-finished, so there’s not much there for the water to damage anyway.

When I did get to bake, the first thing I tried was a double-batch of White Layer Cake found on page 110 of Essential Cooking Basics: The New Cook by Mary Berry & Marlena Spieler (1997). I used crab apple jelly that I’d made back in the fall as filling. This recipe was very nicely illustrated and easy to follow. It yielded lovely cupcakes that had a crumbly, buttery texture, which were similar to a good cornmeal muffin on top but with a softer middle. The recipe does call for self-rising flour, which I’ve come to realize is a really common ingredient in British recipes, but isn’t something the average cook would have in the pantry around here. Heck, not all grocery stores carry it. Fortunately, it’s easy enough to make with all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt: directions here.

As I discovered, a single batch only yields about a dozen cupcakes, and I wanted to make 48 (half for Thing 1’s Guide troupe, and half for Thing 2’s Sparks troupe). By the time I’d figured this out, I’d run out of a few ingredients; this recipe takes a lot of eggs. I was getting a bit pressed for time, so I dug out a package each of IKEA Muffinsmix Choklad and Muffinsmix Citron (just-add-water chocolate and lemon cake mix, respectively). Thing 1 got the IKEA cupcakes and Thing 2 got the Mary Berry ones, and I honestly think that Thing 2 got the better end of the deal by a long shot.

Next came the treats for the treats for the girls’ homeroom classes at school. I’d planned on making orange sugar cookies for which I’d found a vintage Bake King recipe sheet tucked into an old cookbook, but those required the dough to be chilled and I had simply run out of time. I fell back on a recipe that I’d used successfully in the past for Fudgy Pumpkin Coffee Brownies (minus the coffee, since the intended audience was children). This recipe can be found on page 222 of Purely Pumpkin by Allison Day (2016). Once again, I substituted whole wheat flour for einkorn or light spelt flour, and even with this change, the brownies turned out great. This recipe invariably yields moist, rich brownies with just the right level of sweetness. As a bonus, I got to use up some of the Halloween pumpkin puree that’s still in my freezer. And none of the brownies came back home, so I figure that at least some of the kids (and/or the teachers) liked them.