Late Summer Garden

Right now my garden is bursting at the seams — okay, well, all except the peas, which have died back somewhat. My potatoes are starting to pop out of the ground (they don’t grow down very well because of the hard clay under the garden), and I have to keep re-covering them with soil so they are not damaged by the sun. Before I planted the garden this year, I doubled the amount of soil, which seems to have delayed potatoes popping up, but didn’t keep it from happening.

Even tied back, my tomato plants have passed “threatening to take over” and are now simply the rulers of the garden. When I look out the window behind them, it’s like looking through a jungle to the back yard. If you can see me hiding back there, you’ll get an idea of how tall the plants have grown — and they’d be taller if I had taller stakes to support them, but their fruit is weighing them down.

Today’s harvest included a whole lot of cherry tomatoes, banana peppers, jalapeno peppers, and hot peppers — along with handfuls of herbs to use in cooking tonight.

New Cookware

When it comes to garage sale and thrift store shopping, my mother is my role model. Actually, that’s true when it comes to shopping in general. My mom can go into a clothing store and find three pairs of trousers and a shirt, all that fit well, all for 75% off or greater, in less than fifteen minutes. I will go into the same store and come back with maybe one of those pieces. It’s as if she has some kind of supernatural ability to sniff out bargains.

Case in point: my mom bought me some new cookware at garage sales this past month, both for about $2.00 apiece. The first was a pretty vintage 1970’s-ish Dutch oven. I love this style of enameled piece, and although my mom gave me her old one a while back, she was not ashamed to admit that this one was in better shape. As a bonus, it’s also bigger.

Mom also found me this adorable pumpkin pie plate, virtually brand new; it still had the cardboard insert to protect between the top and bottom parts from each other. I doubt it has ever been used. I think it will be perfect for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, when pumpkin pie is often my main contribution to the meal. The temperature at night is telling me that fall isn’t far off, so it won’t be long until I get a chance to use this dish.

Birthday Dinner

Yesterday was my husband’s birthday, and the tradition at our house is that you get to eat whatever you want (within reason) on your birthday. This often involves going out to a restaurant, but this year my husband asked me to make his dinner instead. His choice of dinner necessitated a special trip to T&T Supermarket for ingredients, which was, as usual, an event in itself. Every time we go, we have a meal in the cafeteria, and then the kids have to check out all of the samples and go watch the live fish and seafood in their tanks. We also have to peruse the produce and packaged goods sections for food we’ve never tried before, and for ingredients for new recipes we’d like to try. There is no such thing as a quick trip to T&T with my family.

The main meal that my husband requested was California Ramen from page 86 of Simply Ramen (Amy Kimoto-Khan of easypeasyjapanesey.com, 2016). My copy of the book was actually a birthday gift to me from my husband a few months back, and I feel this may have been a not-so-subtle hint on his part. This dish is based California roll sushi, with toppings of avocado, cucumber, and crab. The recipe recommends fresh Dungeness crab, but I had never cooked live crab before, and I have to admit that I chickened out and used frozen crab instead. I distributed one package of frozen crab meat out around our family of four, but I admit that I probably could have used half as much crab and been just as happy. I also ended up using soft-boiled eggs instead of the marinated half-cooked eggs recommended, mostly because I misread the directions and didn’t realize they had to start marinading two days before the dish was to be made. Whoops.

The standout flavour of this dish, though, was the shoyu base broth. I’d never made it before, but it was both delicious and very simple. It packed a huge amount of flavour and tasty aroma into what I would have thought is just another slow-cooker broth. The recipe calls for dashi granules and soy sauce (both of which are high in sodium) and salt, but I had to take into account my family’s tastes. I left the salt out, and I am glad I did. The broth was just fine without it. In addition to the broth, I ended up with a lovely cooked chicken and melt-in-your-mouth oxtail (both of which are supposed to be discarded after being strained out of the base), so that’s two meals in one, really. All in all, it was a 10/10 recipe, and I will definitely make it again after I use up the leftovers that I froze! Now I want to try all of the bases in this book, especially the tonkotsu — my absolute favourite when I go to a ramen restaurant.

Of course, no birthday in our house is complete without dessert, and as my husband is not a big fan of sweet dishes, I made him up a fresh reduced-sugar blueberry pie. I cut down the sugar from the recipe by a third, but the blueberries were so sweet by themselves that I could probably have reduced it by a half or more. Once again, I used the Purity Pastry crust from page 73 of the Purity Cookbook (2001 edition), and the fresh fruit pie filling formula on page 228 of The Canadian Living Cookbook by Carol Ferguson (1987). I made a latticework crust, which turned out pretty well considering that a) it was only my second time making one, and b) Thing 2 somehow managed to step on the edge of uncooked pie while I was showing it to her, and I had to totally reassemble it. If you’re pondering the logistics of that, be aware that there was a stool involved so she could see what I was working on at the counter, and that the pie’s innards all fell out onto a clean baking sheet.

As many of my pies do, the blueberry one did not stand up well to a serving knife… It kind of crumbled and fell apart. I figure that’s not so bad because that means that the crust is nice and flaky. And yes, I did keep thinking of The Frantics’ A Piece of Pie while I was making this dessert. “Great big blueberries!”

Chocolate Fudge Zucchini Cookies

I recently discovered that the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum has a whole list of recipes that it provides free of charge in PDF format. There are a number of what I would consider typical, traditional Canadian dishes on there — but there were also a number I’d never heard of as well. So of course I had to check them out.

I’d been craving sweets, so I decided that the first recipe I’d try from this collection was the Chocolate Fudge Zucchini Cookies. Also, although I didn’t grow any myself this year, zucchini is in season and hence is really affordable at the moment. And wow, was I ever happy with how these cookies turned out! They were soft and moist without falling apart, and incredibly rich. The recipe called for the cookies to be dropped by tablespoons onto the baking pans, but although the composition of the dough was too thick for this and each cookie had to be hand-formed, I don’t think that this affected the final product in a negative way.

I think that the only thing I’d change about this recipe is how the zucchini is prepared. The recipe calls for it to be finely shredded, but I found that this still left a few stringy bits in the otherwise-soft texture of the cookie. In the future, I might try peeling the zucchini first, or running it through the blender to change the texture. I wouldn’t want to get rid of it, though, as that’s what makes it so moist!

Campfire

The formula for a perfect night at the cottage is as follows:

One small campfire, plus:

Jumbo sparklers lit in the campfire, plus:

Perfectly toasted marshmallows on green sticks, plus:

S’mores!

(For those not in the know, that’s a toasted marshmallow and a square of chocolate sandwiched between graham crackers, called “s’mores” because you always want “some more”.)

Stormy Supper

The other day we had a couple of friends over for dinner at the cottage that my parents are renting, which is always a lovely way to spend an evening. I feared that our plans may have been dashed when a harsh wind blew in from the west, raising whitecaps on the lake, and causing the power to flicker. I was afraid that I wouldn’t get the chance to finish cooking dinner before the incoming storm knocked the power out entirely, and we might have to serve our guests peanut butter and banana sandwiches and leftover salad.

Luckily, although the power went down for a few seconds here and there, it was on for long enough to prepare a decent meal — even though we kept candles lit and flashlights on hand anyway just in case. We had a plethora of leftover salads to choose from: potato salad, macaroni salad, coleslaw, kale and cabbage salad, and some spinach & fruit & goat cheese salad like I’d had a few days previous. I picked the spinach and macaroni salads for myself, along with a sweet mustard baked sausage, and some boiled baby potatoes.

Once the storm blew in, the wind let up a little bit, with torrential rain, lightning, and thunder taking the center stage. My photos are exposed so that it’s possible to actually see what was going on outside, but to the naked eye it was as if dusk had arrived hours early.

I felt truly lucky to be indoors watching the weather under a good, stout roof — even a roof with gutters plugged with pine needles so that the water cascaded over them instead of flowing down the pipes. Instead of enjoying a lovely dinner at the cottage watching nature’s show, we could have been on a family camping trip.

Breakfast Visitor

Breakfast at the cottage this week (well, more like brunch) consisted of pancakes with fresh fruit. The pancakes weren’t from scratch; when traveling and cooking, commercial mixes mean that you have to bring along about half as many bulky containers. My favourite pancake mix since childhood is Aunt Jemima Complete Buttermilk Pancake — the kind where you just add water. We used to use this mix all the time when my family went camping when I was a kid, so the flavour and texture are very homey to me.

The fruit mix was grapes, apples, oranges, strawberries, and there might have been a peach there too. Of course, we had to serve it with real maple syrup. That’s Canadian cottaging/camping for you: the pancakes may be an instant mix, but the syrup has to be real.

We also had a visitor for breakfast this morning. A great blue heron stopped on the cottage’s dock, which we could see from the dining room. This large wading bird fished off of the dock calmly for a few minutes, courteously allowing me enough time to grab my camera and change my lens to a telephoto so I could snap a few pictures.

Patience exhausted (or possibly just not finding any fish nearby), the heron took off to make its rounds of the lake to hunt its own breakfast.

Summer Supper

Yesterday’s supper was very simple and was also completely based on what I found on sale at the grocery store over the weekend. A decent steak was on sale for less than the going rate for ground beef, so we had steak. Corn on the cob was only $0.15 per ear, so we had corn. Peaches and strawberries are in season and I had a few too many in my fridge, so I made pie for dessert.

Since I was busy making the pies indoors, my husband cooked the steaks (with a sprinkle of Montreal steak spice) and the corn (still in its husk) on the barbecue. The steak was melt-in-your-mouth tender, and the corn, while not the sweetest, was still tasty. In retrospect, the steaks were a little large. Okay, they were huge. I cut off about a third of mine to give to Thing 1, and my husband shared his with Thing 2, and we still were stuffed before we got to the corn. That’s okay, we had the corn as a night snack, along with some pie.

If you’re wondering what the brown lumps are at the end of my corn cobs, they are corn holders shaped like beavers eating corn. I thought that they were cute in the store, but they aren’t dishwasher safe so I wasn’t going to buy them. Surprisingly, it was my husband who fell in love with them and insisted that we bring them home (on my condition that he can hand-wash them if he likes them so much).

The pie was peach and strawberry with streusel topping, which was still warm and gooey from the oven when we cut into it. As usual, I used the Purity Pastry crust from page 73 of the Purity Cookbook (2001 edition), which remains my favourite. For the filling, I used the fresh fruit pie formula on page 228 of The Canadian Living Cookbook by Carol Ferguson (1987), and the streusel topping recipe on page 226. I cut the sugar back by a third, since I like the flavour of my pies to have a stronger emphasis on the the fruit flavour instead of the sweetness. To be honest, what I’d really wanted to make was plain peach streusel pie, as it is recommended in the meal planning section of the book as part of a typical Ontario country-style feast. However, I didn’t quite have enough peaches, and I did have some strawberries that needed eating, so I improvised.

Link’s Tunic

My eldest daughter’s birthday is coming up, so I wanted to make her something extra-special as a gift. When we went to ComicCon this year, Thing 1 kept spotting foam replicas of Link’s Master Sword (from The Legend of Zelda series) out on the sales floor, and she asked me if she could have one every time she found one. My response was that it was too expensive; I had given the girls a budget of $20 each to buy something, and the swords usually came in between $30 and $35. Instead she came away from the con with a chain necklace with a pendant shaped like a Golden Snitch, which also lit up from inside with a tiny LED, and she seemed quite satisfied.

However, I had two days at the con without the kids along, and in my browsing I managed to find a competitively-priced Master Sword, along with a cheap plastic Hylian Shield. I stashed the sword and shield away for a few months to save them for her birthday. But I also figured that I could take the gift up a notch and make her a play costume to go along with the pre-made items.


McCall’s M6224

To me, a play costume is one that I don’t spend a huge amount of time or money on because there’s a good chance it won’t last all that long, since my kids are allowed to wear play costumes whenever they want and to do whatever they want in them. This is why most of their play costumes are second-hand finds, hand-me-downs, or bought on the 90%-off sales after Halloween. To that end, I used McCall’s pattern M6224, which I already had in my stash from ages ago. (Although I didn’t use this specific pattern to make the girls’ ComicCon costumes this year, I should note that one-piece pajama patterns are great to adapt into costumes.)


Cutting the pattern.

This time I didn’t use the one-piece pajamas and instead went for option C, which is a short-sleeved pajama top reminiscent of the scrubs one would wear for working in a hospital. I lengthened the top a bit to make it more of a tunic than a shirt, which will eventually be belted into place. I used fabric from my stash as well, which was the remnants of a dark green sheet that I’d used parts of for some craft or other years ago.

As the pattern envelope promised, the pattern was really easy to make. I think it only took me about two hours from unpacking the pattern to ironing the final product. Now, it looks a little big to me, but pajamas and tunics both are meant to fit loosely, and anyway it will be belted in. If worst comes to worst, I can always take it in. Strangely, my biggest worry is that the neck hole may not be large enough; the fabric has absolutely no stretch whatsoever, and Thing 2 has a massive noggin, just like both of her parents.

Die-hard Zelda fans probably are looking at the tunic and thinking, “Isn’t that supposed to have lacing, and a collar?” Yes, I suppose it is, if I was going for true accuracy. I kind of went for a look between adult Link in Ocarina of Time (what with the length of the sleeves, not to mention the sword and shield) and Four Swords Link (with the V-neck tunic). As much as I love 100% accurate costumes, I didn’t think it was necessary to play dress-up at home. Also, generally the more accurate the costume, the more time and money it takes, neither of which I wanted to spend on something that would probably get food and dirt smeared all over it.

The next step is to get a belt and a long-sleeved shirt to go underneath, as well as to make Link’s cap. Hopefully I’ll get it all done in time!

Fish Sandwich & Side Salad

Dinner last night was a fresh and summery breaded cod sandwich served with a spinach and goat cheese salad. I’d love to say that this was due to a fantastic advanced planning, but it was mostly because I had picked up both the fish and the salad ingredients at 50% off because they needed to be eaten soon. Also, I’d been feeling like a fast food fish burger, but I thought I could manage something better at home.

The cod was dipped in egg, then in a combination of dried dill and panko (Japanese bread crumbs), then lightly fried in a bit of olive oil. The bread was the lightly toasted basic white bread on page 14 of The Complete Guide to Bread Machine Baking from Better Homes and Gardens (1999). For a bit of additional flavour, I spread President’s Choice tartar lightly on one half of the bread, and for crunch I added some chopped romaine lettuce. This made for a lovely light sandwich that nonetheless was quite filling.

The salad is based on one that I love to buy pre-made at the grocery store (when it’s on sale, of course), which is really easy to make at home. The base is baby spinach, which it topped with quartered strawberries, drained canned mandarin slices (the kind in pear juice, not syrup), sliced cucumbers, and blanched, sliced almonds. My favourite cheese for this salad is Woolwich Dairy Soft Unripened Goat Cheese Crumbles, which are much milder and creamier than most other goat cheeses I’ve tried. As a bonus, goat cheese doesn’t seem to upset my stomach, so yay for dairy I can actually eat!