Teapot Herbs

A couple of months ago I was in the middle of selling a lovely Sadler “Brown Betty” teapot to a customer. I had already made the sale, had cash in hand, and was just wrapping it up in paper for safe transit. We were chatting while I packaged, and she said, “Oh, I have a teapot just like this at home, but I dropped the lid and smashed it. I just had to get a replacement.” To which I replied, “Oh yes, it’s always the lids that go first.”

And then I dropped the lid.

Of course, it fell straight down onto the concrete floor and smashed into tiny little pieces. The customer and I stared at each other mutely for a moment, and then I asked her, “So… Do you want the brown and green one instead?”

So I returned home that day with a pretty little teapot with lots of life left in it, but that is unsalable because of a lack of lid. “What am I going to do with this?” I thought. But then it occurred to me that Mother’s Day was coming up, and that my mother loves tea, so maybe I could make her something? I ended up using the teapot as a little herb planter. I planted basil inside, two different varieties.

Mom liked the gift so much that I’ve started hunting down lidless teapots to use as planters for different herbs. So far I’ve found her a metal one that obviously used to be used on an open fire, and one of those vibrantly-painted ones that’s a tea-for-one set with a pot on the top and a matching cup on the bottom. I think that after a while we’ll have a full-fledged herb garden, possibly even branching out to flowers or seasonal arrangements after a while. It really pleases me that we now have a use for these otherwise-unusable items — and now the hunt is on for more teapots to rescue. This should be fun!

In the Back Yard

This Sunday was Father’s Day, and our family had the chance to spend the day primarily out on the new back deck. You see, as of two weeks ago our back yard looked like this:

You see, we had a deck when we first moved in, but the previous owners had done everything wrong. They’d tied it into the house, they’d painted it with interior paint, they’d lined the ground underneath with plastic causing water to pool there… So much poor construction. There are all kinds of pictures of the original in my post about building a garden, when I took the old deck out to make room for my vegetable garden. But when that deck was gone, we didn’t have the funds to build a new one right away, so that section just became a mud pit for a few years (the ground here is mostly clay and is slick when wet). My husband used a few salvaged paving stones to keep the barbecues from sinking too badly, but that’s all we were able to do for a while.

Last week, though, my brother-in-law built us a deck. The actual work only took a couple of days, and with all of his experience in the trade he made it look so easy! (It would have taken me a month, and much frustration and swearing.) Not only did he build the deck, but he re-leveled the ground underneath so that now it drains away from the house instead of toward. He also put in gravel with a layer of landscape fabric underneath, creating better drainage and resisting weeds at the same time. (You would think that the lack of sun underneath would keep plants from growing at all, but I have been waging war against an ivy vine since I moved into this house.)

So no more mud pit, proper drainage, and a lovely deck upon which to spend the summer! We’re just waiting on the delivery of some new boards for the stairs so that they match, since I’d salvaged old stair brackets we wanted to use. But for now it’s totally functional, and still beautiful. I am so happy!

Having a brand new lovely deck encouraged me to get off my butt and plant my main vegetable garden, too. My tomatoes actually self-seeded this year — not in those nice straight lines, I picked the best ones and arranged them how I liked. Now we’ll have to see how well they fruit. I also planted white radishes, eggplants, onions, beets, and potatoes. The potatoes are where nothing has sprouted above-ground yet, but I find they can be slow starters.

The weather was so lovely this weekend that we ended up spending most of our time in the back yard. Sunday was especially warm, and I didn’t want to cook indoors, so my husband did the stereotypical thing of grilling up some hamburgers on Father’s Day. It was so nice to be able to just sit outside and enjoy the summer — although there was a fair amount of goofing around too, and my hubby playing soccer with the kids. All in all, it was a lovely, low-key Father’s Day.

Now to plan a nice barbecue for next week so that I can have my BIL over for a thank-you meal!

Russell Flea Saturday June 16th

So it looks like tomorrow will be the last Russell Flea of the season! Originally there was supposed to be one more on June 30th, but the school where it’s held couldn’t get a janitor to work that day (not surprising, as it’s the holiday weekend), so it had to be cancelled. I’m not terribly upset, since this means I’ll get to spend all of Canada Day weekend with my family. That being said, this means I have to cram all of the new-to-me summer items into my stall tomorrow! I’ve been doing some serious hunting for vintage housewares, so there’s all kinds of new things to see. Given the beautiful weather today and the completion of my new deck, I had to head out to my back yard to take some pictures.

I’ve found a lovely handmade pottery bowl set from 1978, which includes six salad bowls and a larger serving bowl. Perfect for hosting summer barbecues!

There are some fun metal 1970’s canisters that would protect your coffee, tea, and sugar from insects and rodents at the cottage or camp.

Lots of melamine picnicware up for grabs, including cups, mugs, plates, and bowls. They’re lightweight, hard-wearing, and great for camping or just lounging near the pool.

And of course I always have classic Tupperware! I grew up with this style of colourful bell tumbler and juice jug. At my house, they were mainstays of the kids’ table.

Of course there is a lot more that I haven’t taken photos of (yet)! You can see it all at Russell Flea tomorrow. Hope to see you there!

Overnight at the Cottage

As I mentioned previously, last week I had the chance to take my kids up to the cottage that my parents rent for an overnighter. It was our first trip of the season, and we arrived in time for a late dinner the first day (a big thank-you to my mom for cooking!), and we only stayed up until mid-afternoon the second. We still managed to have a nice, relaxing time, though.

We started the morning of our second day began with a hearty breakfast that, timing-wise, was really more of a brunch. The meal consisted of bacon, eggs (scrambled or over-easy), fresh fruit salad, potato bread toast, and home fries.

Then it was time for the kids and my dad to break out the fishing rods and head down to the water to try to catch the ever-elusive lake trout, while my mom and I cleaned up. I don’t think anyone caught anything that time.

Highlights of the day included shooing a decent-sized painted turtle off of the road so it didn’t get squished by passing cars…

And making my first attempt at teaching the girls how to play marbles. The version I grew up with is what we called “pit marbles” or “hole marbles”, and the rules are similar to these. However, in our version the winner gets all of their marbles into the pit first, and billiards- or curling-like tactics are perfectly acceptable.

The lake wasn’t really warm enough for a swim, and the air never got above 20°C (68°F) or so anyway, so even the kids weren’t really pushing for a jump in the lake. But I did paddle the girls out in the canoe over to a shallow, marshy area of the lake where they could peer under the water and observe the life below. What with busy end-of-school schedules, it doesn’t look like there will be another trip to the cottage for our family before the start of July — but I know we’re all looking forward to the next one!

Healthy Summer BBQ

We are almost done having a deck installed in our back yard, covering the mud pit that used to be there where the old, rotten deck used to be that we hadn’t had the funds to replace. The new deck was supposed to be done last week, but some of the deck boards in the package that was bought were warped or otherwise damaged, and we’ve been waiting since last Wednesday for Home Depot to deliver the replacements. Two delivery dates have come and gone, and the delivery never showed up… Needless to say, we are not amused.

But most of the deck is done, which means the barbecues are back in place and it’s time to cook outside!

Dinner started with a lovely fruit smoothie: banana, peach, strawberry, mango, and orange juice, with all the fruit other than the banana coming out of a package in the freezer that I really needed to use up. The kids loved it.

Dinner for me was quite filling, although you’d never believe it from the look of it! It was salmon in a honey dijon marinade, which I bought grill-ready from the grocery store, and zucchini cooked with a bit of olive oil and salt. I made it all up on the wood pellet barbecue, which added a lovely smokey overtone to the whole dish.

Of course, the kids wanted — and received — hot dogs made in the microwave. You can’t win them all.

Sun Noodle Brand Instant Shoyu Ramen

My trip to T&T last week resulted in me bringing home a whole load of new things I wanted to try, of course. The first one that I broke out was Sun Noodle Brand Instant Shoyu Ramen. It’s about $6.50 per frozen package, but each one serves two, so even though it’s not as cheap as the dried, instant stuff, it’s still a pretty darned affordable meal.

I’ve had shoyu broth, which is predominantly chicken and soy sauce flavoured, in Japan, and at Ichiko Ramen (formerly Ginza Ramen), and I’ve made it at home as well. (The fantastic — and easy! — homemade soup base recipe can be found on page 8 of Simply Ramen by Amy Kimoto-Kahn (2016) or at easypeasyjapanesey.com.) Although I’m by no means an expert, I think that I can at least tell what shoyu ramen is supposed to taste like, for the most part.

The package only contains the noodles and the broth, though; the instructions on the back of the package recommend adding your favourite toppings. I needed to make a quick meal, so I went with what we had in the fridge/freezer/pantry: soft-boiled eggs, narutomaki, enoki mushrooms, dried shrimp, and nori.

The verdict on this quick dinner was pretty positive. Sure, it’s not as good as homemade, and definitely not as good as restaurant fare. But it’s miles better than the dried instant kind. The noodles have a better consistency, which in the case of ramen means that they’re chewier (dried ones have a tendency to be soggy when cooked). The broth had more depth of flavour, although the one complaint I did get is that it was a little bit too salty. That might have been because of the dried shrimp, which are quite salty in and of themselves. Usually I add them to my homemade broths, which are very low in salt, and that works well, but they may not be a great combination with packaged stuff. It also could have been because I didn’t water down the broth enough. The instructions gave a range of the amount of water you could use, and then said “to taste”, so I guess our “to taste” is a little more watery than the official directions.

That being said, they were definitely good enough to try again! Maybe I’ll switch up the toppings next time; we could definitely have used more vegetables that night.

The Passing of a Legend

I took one twenty-four hour period away from the Internet last week and took the girls up for their first visit to the cottage that my parents rent for the summer, and it seems like in that time the world decided to fall apart. The local and world political stages became even more polarized, interpersonal crises reared their ugly heads… And on Friday June 8th, Anthony Bourdain, one of my absolute favourite celebrities, committed suicide.

I’m having a very difficult time articulating why the death of this man has hit me so much harder than the passing of other famous people. It’s definitely not because I had any kind of personal relationship with the man; in fact, I had never even met him (although it was kind of a personal goal to get him to sign something at some point). Perhaps part of it is because he was not yet old, and still very vibrant. After all, he was working on Parts Unknown when he died. Perhaps part of it is because of the way that he died. Depression affects many of those that I hold nearest and dearest, and so it is brought up to the forefront of my mind that I might lose loved ones the same way.

So I sat in my favourite corner of my house — the end of the living room couch that I have claimed as mine — with copies of the Bourdain books that I own and an iPad running the old episode of No Reservations about Quebec. I poured myself a stiff drink and listened to his voice over — and honestly, the attitude that came through in his voice overs (and in his non-fiction writing, which played in my head in his voice) were the best part. For example, when describing poutine: “I’d like to introduce you to that most magical and indigenous dish for which every Quebecker holds a rightfully special place in their heart. It’s called poutine, and it’s as unlikely a melange of ingredients of any of the other incongruously bizarre yet much loved national dishes. To experience this conceptually nightmarish yet thoroughly wonderful gastronomic trainwreck, my friend Ian takes me to La Banquise, where demand for this stuff is such that it necessitates staying open twenty-four hours a day.”

It wasn’t until then that I could put into words why Anthony Bourdain’s death devastated me in a way that David Bowie’s, or Alan Rickman’s, or even Carrie Fisher’s never did. You see, although I love music, I will never be a great musician. I love film and television, and even though I worked in the industry it was always behind the scenes — I just don’t have the right stuff to be an actor. But I can cook — not always successfully, not always beautifully, and definitely not professionally, but I can cook. And I can explore. And I can travel. And I can meet people and learn about cultures and traditions and life.

That was what Anthony Bourdain, his writing, and his television career were to me: an inspiration, and a gateway to the world. He traveled and ate and wrote and I could live vicariously through him. Not only that, he didn’t just travel to the hot spots and eat in fancy restaurants, he visited peoples’ homes and ate home cooked food. Heck, he even had a soft spot for street meat. Haute cuisine or a family dinner, he saw it all as important, and he forced us all to see that for all of our differences, we all have at least one thing in common: we all have to eat.

Anthony, you will be greatly missed. The world is lessened with your passing.

Good food is very often, even most often, simple food.
(Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly)

But I do think the idea that basic cooking skills are a virtue, that the ability to feed yourself and a few others with proficiency should be taught to every young man and woman as a fundamental skill, should become as vital to growing up as learning to wipe one’s own ass, cross the street by oneself, or be trusted with money.
(Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook)

Unless you’re one of us already, you’ll probably never cook like a professional. And that’s okay. On my day off, I rarely want to eat restaurant food unless I’m looking for new ideas or recipes to steal. What I want to eat is home cooking, somebody’s — anybody’s mother’s or grandmother’s food. A simple pasta pomodoro made with love, a clumsily thrown together tuna casserole, roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, all of this is pure exotica to me, even when I’ve been neck deep all day in filet mignon and herb-infused oils and all the bits of business we do to distinguish restaurant food from what you get at home. My mother-in-law would always apologize before serving dinner when I was in attendance, saying, “This must seem pretty ordinary for a chef…” She had no idea how magical, how reassuring, how pleasurable her simple meat loaf was for me, what a delight even lumpy mashed potatoes were — being, as they were, blessedly devoid of truffles or truffle oil.
(Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly)