My Food is Problematic

So the thunderstorms that they were predicting throughout the day yesterday never happened. Instead, we had drizzle all day that just upped the humidity so that when the sun finally came out, your clothes stuck to your skin and your face became greasy with sweat almost instantaneously. Well, at least the heat and humidity were predicted correctly, and I had planned a meal that could cook out in the garage where it wouldn’t heat up the house: pulled pork in the slow cooker, fresh white bread in the bread machine (simply the herb bread recipe minus, well, the herbs), a few slices of lactose-free cheese, and a grocery store salad. Easy peasy.

Except that at about 4:40pm, right before the bread was scheduled to start its baking cycle and near the end of the pulled pork’s cooking time, the power went out. Blips being what they are, that didn’t concern me too much until 45 minutes had passed, at which point I realized that it wasn’t going to come on again any time soon.

We looked into multiple options, such as borrowing a neighbour’s power (that wouldn’t work, the coverage on this outage was pretty large and affected 1,000+ people), cooking on the barbecue (with nothing thawed and nothing that I had started being barbecue-friendly), and going out for dinner (just like the other 1,000+ people who suddenly couldn’t cook dinner). Eventually we settled on driving over to my parents’ place and finishing cooking dinner there. Of course, to do that I had to wait until my husband got home so we could all go together, which added to the wait. By the time we arrived, the capacitor or backup battery in the bread machine had flattened and it couldn’t be re-started from the same point in the cycle. I mean, at least it hadn’t started baking, since it’s more or less impossible to finish cooking a half-baked loaf over an hour later… So I had to bake the bread in the oven, which was totally opposite of the point of using the bread machine in the first place! And I had to finish the crock pot meal inside my parents’ house, when the whole plan was to cook outside to avoid the heat. Not only that, but in all the hooferah I forgot to pick up the salad!

In the end, almost two hours late, the dinner was the pathetic-looking thing pictured above: bland and boring and entirely without even the semblance of vegetables or fruit.

My string of bad cooking luck definitely needs to end soon. I am becoming disheartened.

On the bright side, at least the power was back on for us by 8:00pm or so, when they’d predicted it wouldn’t be up before 1:30am Friday. But I understand that at least half of the 1,000+ customers affected by the outage didn’t get their power back until the wee hours of the morning, so it could have been much worse.

Preparing for the Storm

We’ve been getting dire warnings from the Weather Network over the past week that yesterday and today will be all about thunderbolts and lightning, and then the storm will pull in a massive heat wave behind it. I’ve been trying to plan my cooking to keep that in mind, but nothing seems to be going quite right.

On the hottest days, I try very hard not to cook indoors or, if that can’t be arranged, at least I try not to use the oven. So I figured that on Wednesday night I’d make the last “comfort food” for a while and throw on some pork loin, mushroom gravy, Dad’s biscuits, and steamed carrots. This is a meal that I’ve made a million times, so you’d think it would be easy, no?

Well, everything going well until I tried to get the biscuits on. That’s when I realized that I’d left my bag of all-purpose flour at my in-laws’ cottage; I’d intended to bake bread on the day that was predicted to be really rainy, but the weather never got bad enough to totally pin us inside. All I had left at home were the dregs left in one storage jar. I ended up combining those dregs with some multigrain bread flour that had been languishing in my cupboard for quite some time. (I’d bought it to make a specific kind of bread, and the package contained way more than I’d needed.) The multigrain flour actually worked out okay in that the biscuits rose and baked properly, but it did mean that they had a whole different texture than I was used to. Usually these biscuits are soft and fluffy, but the multigrain flour has crunchy bits and doesn’t rise as well.

Then last night it was supposed to be hot and humid, so I wanted to cook the majority of the meal outside. (It actually didn’t end up being that bad, with the storm pushing the cold air in front of it so that it actually cooled down around dinnertime, but I didn’t know that was going to happen.) Actually, “cook” is probably stretching it a bit, more “prepare”. I had bought a rotisserie chicken at Costco earlier in the day, which I’d just planned on reheating on the wood pellet grill. So I turned on the machine, preheated it, put on the chicken, and waited… And waited… And waited… But it didn’t seem to be heating up. It turned out that wood dust had clogged the auger that feeds the fuel pellets, so no fuel was burning. My husband took the grill halfway apart to figure that out, and he was still cleaning it out when it started to rain. He threw the cover over the grill and promised to finish cleaning it at a later date.

But that still left us without dinner. And a pre-cooked chicken is supposed to be easy, right? Not so far, not this time. We also have a propane grill, which I then tried to start, but nothing happened at first. Turns out the hose had somehow become loose and the fuel wasn’t getting to the grill. (This seems to be a theme.) A quick tightening did the job on that one, and I’m happy about that because I first assumed that the tank was empty — which would have delayed the meal even further.

Finally, I was able to reheat my chicken (and crisp up the skin — throwing a rotisserie chicken on the grill or in the oven is good for that). While it warmed up, I cooked up some penne and coated the noodles with basil pesto that I’d made and frozen last summer. At least that part was easy. By the time supper was finally complete, we were easily an hour and a half past our normal dinner time, so I didn’t even get a chance to take a picture with my good camera before the food was devoured — I had to use my phone, which I almost always have on hand.

Hopefully my cooking over the next few days will go a bit more smoothly.

Playing Hooky

We played hooky on Monday and spent an extra day at my in-laws’ cottage. This close to the end of the school year, the report cards are already written, so it’s not like the kids were missing any important content. So we explored the lake:

And enjoyed a trail hike:

And Thing 1 and Thing 2 peered into the depths in search of minnows.

Our trip wrapped up with a visit to the Whitewater Brewing Co. Lakeside Brew Pub in Cobden. We’d been to their Riverside Brew Pub some years ago (Thing 2 was just a toddler), and we’d been impressed by their fare, so we wanted to give their newer location a try.

The place definitely has a hipster vibe; for one thing, there are very few plates, with most of the meals served on wooden planks. I know they’re trying to appeal to the white water rafting crowd that dominates those parts in the summer months — young, athletic twenty-somethings out to have a good time while “roughing it”. The food is anything but rough, though, so it kind of sends mixed messages.

Lack of plates and faux-rustic decor aside, though, what I really come to this pub for is the food, and that was exceptional. (I know most people go to pubs for beer, and I’m told that Whitewater’s brews are exceptional… But I don’t drink beer.) The Things and my husband had the Whitewater Burger, which was smokey and juicy and overall delicious. I went for the fish and chips, which I honestly would have been satisfied with at half the size (and I have a big appetite). I guess the intended customer would have been out in the sun all day doing lots of physical activity — which I most definitely did not. The fish was tender inside and crispy outside, the house tartar sauce was full of tangy dill, and the thick-cut fries were lovely. I didn’t even get the chance to try the grilled toast or the mushy peas, I simply ran out of room!

That fullness was due, in part, to having split a Scotch egg with my family. I only had a few bites, but it’s not a light dish! I’d never had one before, but they seemed like the kind of thing that I would like: essentially, it’s breakfast in one deep-fried package. The smoky bacon aioli was a nice touch.

I especially liked the runny egg in the middle, which was soft-boiled to perfection.

Now that I’ve tried a proper Scotch egg, I want to try to make a Pork Belly Onigiri, which Tasty Japan made look so, well, tasty… (You can find the English translation in the video comments.)

Spelunking

We started Sunday with a hearty brunch eaten out on the porch at my in-laws’ cottage. I had bacon, eggs over easy, an everything bagel, apple slices, and a banana.

With this fuel under our belts, we made the drive out to the Bonnechere Caves, which are caves carved by the Bonnechere River into limestone deep underground. I’d been there once as a child, and again as an adult bringing my eldest along, but this was the first time that both kids had been old enough to partake in the tour. I think that it was an experience that they won’t soon forget!

The tour started outside along the Bonnechere River (you can actually see the natural entrance to the caves on the left).

Then you take a man-made staircase down into the bowels of the caves as part of a guided tour. We’d been to the Lusk Caves a few years ago, where the caves are left au naturel (although there is a trail leading to them) and there is no guide, so this was a very different experience. There is a boardwalk over the naturally jagged stone floors, and the caves are lit.

Despite the somewhat staged air that the man-made additions add, they did allow me to get a much clearer look at the rock formations.

For the last section of the tour, the path runs under the water table, so concrete barriers and pumps are put to use to make the area dry enough to walk through. This lets you see exactly how deep these caverns really go. Although if you’re claustrophobic, I can see how the idea of all of that ground above your head would be difficult to deal with. One lady kept making comparisons to The Cave…

It was a very neat experience. Maybe one day I’ll be lucky enough to take yet another generation of children to explore this enthralling natural formation.

Of course, after all of our spelunking we were ravenous, so we headed back to the cottage for dinner. We chowed down on grilled chicken legs with hot sauce, roasted fingerling potatoes, and a salad of mixed greens, red grapes, and ground cherries. What a great way to round out the day!

First Weekend of Summer

We spent this past weekend at my in-laws’ cottage, enjoying the fact that the weather had finally warmed up a bit. We spent the days looking out the window to views like this:

And enjoying the lake like this:

And partaking in meals on the porch like this:

It’s a good time.

When we arrived on Friday evening, my in-laws had supper waiting. We dined on smoked salmon, corn chips, fancy crackers, pickled beets, grapes, grilled pineapple, salad, and coleslaw. It was a truly eclectic meal, but a healthy one, and it was conducive to lingering to have conversation and laughter.

Glico Curry

One of the foods that I fell in love with in Japan is Japanese curry. It’s very different than any Indian, Thai, or even British curry I have ever tried. It’s generally a lot of rice, a lot of creamy sauce, and a tiny bit of meat — and it doesn’t have to be very spicy at all. It’s the kind of thing that you can find as cheap street food or sold out of tiny little take-out shops. When you make Japanese curry as a homemade dish, it’s a comfort food, and it’s generally prepared with boxes of pre-made sauce cubes with the spices suspended in a kind of solid roux that melts with the addition of heat. It’s really very easy to prepare. There are a number of companies that make this kind of thing in Japan, but the easiest to come by both there and here in Canada is Glico Curry.

We were having my brother-in-law and his friend that helped with the deck, so I wanted to make something that I hadn’t cooked for them before. I also wanted it to be a hearty meal that would satisfy two men who did physical labour for a living as well as our family of four. Given that we only had one guy over instead of two, I may have gone a bit overboard; I used a whole pan of veggies and meat, and the sauce that I made was supposed to serve ten. We ended up with lots of leftovers. Ah well, it reheats well.

It’s always slightly disappointing to me how unappetizing this kind of dish can be once cooked, because it’s so chock full of delicious, healthy ingredients — and it’s really, really tasty. I used potatoes, carrots, baby bok choy, and steak, but it kind of turned out looking like brown glop. Aesthetics aside, everyone ate their share and some came back for seconds, so the flavor must have made up for the looks.

Working on the Yard

I spent the majority of the last two days working on my back yard. First I put in the garden along the fence I’d been wanting for the last few years:

I’d had one there before, and I’m pretty sure the previous owners of the house had one too, since the soil was black and rich instead of being just clay, at least for the first few inches. I hadn’t done anything with that garden since the old fence started to fall down, but this year we have the new one up, so I don’t have to worry about either a pile of wood or contractors squashing my plants. I planted Jerusalem artichokes, pumpkins, Hubbard squash, butternut squash, cucumbers, zucchini, and asparagus, alongside the rather tiny rhubarb plant I planted years ago. I tried putting down landscaping fabric to prohibit the weed growth, but we’ll see how that goes.

I cut back the apple tree, although it’s still pretty huge, all in all. There were a bunch of dead limbs and I ended up losing almost a whole one of the major subsections closest to the house. I really hope that whatever killed those branches doesn’t spread to the rest of the tree, though. One of the reasons I got a deck (instead of a patio like originally planned) is to accommodate the apple tree’s roots. It would really suck if the tree then ended up dying. Also, I just plain old love that tree, especially every second year when it blooms.

In my main veggie garden, I’m happy to report that the potatoes are starting to sprout — alongside a bunch of tiny weeds. I only just weeded that bed, I’m a little annoyed that the weeds are already returning. Hopefully the plants I actually want will grow tall soon and start choking out the plants I don’t.

A friend of mine gave me a black tomato plant to add to my cherry tomatoes, and I’m curious to see how the fruit turns out.

My pear tree is flourishing, despite still being shorter than me. I might get twice last year’s harvest, so… Ten fruits, maybe? I always like how pears grow up while they’re tiny, but then the weight of them drags them down to hang how you’d normally expect over time.

I also had to mow the grass, at which point I discovered that apparently I have wild strawberries growing in my front lawn, which surprised the heck out of me. I don’t care much about my lawn so long as it is green — grass, clover, strawberries, it’s all okay by me, so long as it’s not thistles, which are painful to step on. After a quick Google, I discovered that wild strawberries are perfectly safe to eat, especially if you know that the ground they grow on is pesticide- and herbicide-free, which mine definitely is. They’re not really big enough to make much of a crop, but they are definitely more flavorful than the commercially-grown variety.

I finished the day with a barbecue dinner for my family, my parents, my brother, and his friend. I made salmon on the smoker barbecue — not burned, just a little ashy — with a glaze of maple syrup and a sprinkle of salt. My mom brought over her famous potato salad with bacon, and I grilled up some zucchini and steamed asparagus. I also made some rice to serve on the side, at my kids’ request. All in all, it was a lovely meal, and I’d eat it again in a heartbeat.