A Rainy Trip to the Cottage

Our last trip to the cottage my parents are renting was cut short by some rainy, stormy days. Not that I’m objecting to the rain! But when you have access to a cottage for the entire summer, you don’t feel the need to stay even when the weather’s not great.

The first night we arrived late, and so had a very simple dinner of hot dogs and sliced watermelon. Yes, I like mayonnaise on my hot dogs, which I know some people find disgusting!

When we got up the next morning, my mother made us all some blueberry pancakes, one of my favourites.

Because the weather was not supposed to be so great (although it turned out to be just fine), we headed into Shawville for ice cream and a trip to one of our absolute favourite stores, Renaissance Variety. This store is in and old house and is stuffed to the rafters with used books, video games, and movies. I could spend hours in there happily although, as usual, the kids have less patience.

Next we went to Mill Damn Park, which has a great playground for the kids to run off some energy. I was most interested in the peace and quiet of the babbling brook…

But the kids were more interested in the splash pad. Thinking the weather was going to be bad, we were woefully unprepared and the kids ended up playing in the water fully clothed… Oh well. No harm done.

After going back to the cottage to get dry clothing, we went to a local gourmet chip truck for dinner, courtesy of my parents. Then, thanks to all the rain that week, we were actually able to have a campfire, toast marshmallows, and make s’mores for the first time all summer! All fires still had to be contained, though, so we built it inside an old washing machine drum and covered it with a grate.

Then we got to go down to the dock and play with sparklers! The kids really liked playing with long exposures on my camera.

Thing 1 even learned how to spell “hi” in the air.

That night and the next day chucked down rain as predicted, so we left by lunch on our last day. We still had a lovely time!

Garlicky Pasta Primavera

Last night I was inspired by Delish to make their Bowtie Primavera recipe. It was originally posted back in 2016, but the video popped up again on my Facebook feed, and, well, I had lots of cherry tomatoes that needed eating, so I figured it was timely.

This dish features a lovely rainbow of vegetables: asparagus, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, and mushrooms. I find it funny that it’s advertised as a “spring pasta” because really the only spring part is the asparagus; the zucchini, cherry tomatoes, and most mushrooms are late summer/early fall produce. I actually couldn’t find fresh asparagus at the grocery store right now and so had to use frozen, but that works just fine cooked in a sauce anyway.

My cherry tomatoes were really juicy and released a lot of that juice when cooking, so I found that 1 cup of reserved pasta water was excessive. I ended up having to boil down the sauce in order for it not to be, well, soup. Additionally, I used lactose-free sour cream, which I don’t think make a huge difference to the consistency but it did mean that I could actually eat it. (I would assume that, to make this dish vegan, a cream cheese substitute could be used effectively.) I also didn’t garnish with chopped basil because, to be completely honest, I forgot to buy any.

All that being said, I was really happy with the end result. This dish was creamy but not cloying, came together quickly (although not as quickly as the recipe indicated), and was both healthy and tasty. I will definitely be making it again.

First Salsa of the Year

After experimenting last year with different salsas, my husband (the main consumer of salsa in our household) determined that he liked the Blender Salsa the best. The recipe for this easy salsa can be found on page 92 of Preserving by the Pint: Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces (Marisa McClellan, 2014).

As with last year, I had to boil the salsa down a bit as it was quite watery to begin with, which is a result of using cherry tomatoes from my garden instead of the Roma tomatoes that are recommended. This ends up making it taste a little bit more like tomato sauce than true salsa, but my husband doesn’t seem to mind. Good thing, too, since I’m not about to peel and core literally hundreds of tiny tomatoes for a few liters of salsa. It’s just not worth it.

My final result for this round of canning was nine 500mL jars of blender salsa. As the tomatoes ripen I realize that there will definitely be more — as requested by my family. I’m also hoping to make up some Healthy Veggie Tomato Sauce with the produce from my garden, and also some extras from a friend’s garden, since I’m told that they ended up with way more tomatoes than they plan to use this year. Bonus for me!

Don’t Do This

So. Um. I messed up.

Last night for dinner, in an attempt to create a meal with the ingredients I already had on hand (despite my freezer becoming progressively emptier), I decided to grill some pork belly slices on my smoker grill. I’d done my research and it can be done, with apparently tasty results, too! I figured I’d serve it with tiny boiled potatoes and steamed spinach, i.e. what I had left in the fridge. So I prepared the meat, heated up the grill, and threw the strips on.

For the first four minutes (I set a timer), everything was going well. The pork belly was grilling nicely, changing colour from “uncooked” to “cooked” with a few grill marks, just as intended. So I flipped the strips, closed the lid, and set the timer for another three minutes, as directed. I popped back inside to deal with the side dishes while it cooked.

Then my hubby came through the door, having walked down the street from the bus stop, and asks me, “Are you barbecuing something? Because something smells really burned outside.”

Crap.

There was a MASSIVE flare-up on the barbecue while I was otherwise occupied. Smoke was billowing out of the chimney. When I opened the lid, the flames shot up higher than I was tall. Every piece of meat in on the grill was on fire.

I turned off the power to the grill, both to remove some of the fuel from the fire and because smokers have a fan that forces the air through the machine. Unlike a gas barbecue, which has no moving parts (or at least mine doesn’t), the fan on a smoker literally fans the flames, which I very much did not want. Then I grabbed the longest tongs I owned and pulled the charred remains of the meat from the grill, blowing some of it out as I removed it. Fuel sources removed, the fire died down and quickly burned itself out. At least I didn’t have to use the fire extinguisher. (Due to the construction of a barbecue, which is made to circulate air through, I couldn’t just throw a lid over it to starve the fire entirely of air, like you would with a grease fire on a kitchen stove.)

So here you have the cremated remains of what was supposed to be last night’s dinner. In an interesting twist of fate, the few pieces that weren’t completely charcoal were actually still pretty tasty. Despite my absolute fail this time, I think I may try to grill pork belly strips again. However, it will be the only thing I will do at the time and I will watch it like a hawk. Hopefully I am capable of learning from my mistakes.

Husbeast and the kids had Kraft Dinner and hot dogs in the end, while I had leftovers, by the way. After this debacle, I just didn’t have time to make another dinner from scratch.

Bean Sprout

At the start of the month, husbeast and I took the kiddos to the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum. It was a hot, lazy Saturday and we had a hard time getting everyone moving, so we arrived late and didn’t get to spend too much time there before it closed for the day. However, we did get a chance to watch a presentation in the Soil Lab about bees and the role that they play in the life cycle of a plant.

The girls were enthralled as they learned about the life cycle of bees and why they are so important to agriculture. At the end of the presentation, each child was given a bean that they wrapped in a cotton ball, watered with an eyedropper, and placed in a tiny plastic bag. The bags were tied on string loosely around each child’s neck, creating a necklace of sorts.

My children, like so many, have an on-again, off-again love of gardening. They love planting, and watching things sprout, and harvest time, and even weeding, if you can believe it. What they lack is the patience and upkeep that goes between each of these steps. Over the years, they’ve forgotten about many plants which have then died, or have ended up being taken care of by me. So I didn’t have high hopes for these beans. In point of fact, Thing 2 completely forgot about hers and has no idea where it ended up; we’re not even sure it made it home. However, much to my surprise, Thing 1 fed her bean a few drops of water every day and kept it in a cool, dark place for about two weeks. Her attention was rewarded, when seemingly overnight it sprouted! (I suspect that it may have been left to its own design for a couple of days, because it grew right out of the bag before she noticed — but no harm done.)

Thing 1 triumphantly presented me with her baby plant and requested that it be given a proper pot and some soil. I am happy to report that it is doing well and is visibly growing every day. Thing 1 couldn’t be more pleased. I don’t know how much of the museum lecture she will remember in the end, but I’m very happy that she learned the lesson that a bit of work and some patience can have very positive results. If that’s the only lesson she ever learns from gardening in general, then I count it as a win.

613flea Saturday August 25th

I’m happy to announce that I’ll be participating at 613flea tomorrow! It’s such a great market, with so many fantastic vendors and a really great atmostphere. The floor plans were released yesterday, so now I can let you know exactly where to find me:

It’s supposed to be a lovely day weather-wise, sunny with cloudy periods and hovering around the mid-twenties, so it’ll be a great day to get out of the houseand pop in for a browse. I’m really looking forward to it.

As with last time, the event organizers are running a contest for vendors to design the best social media post. I must have taken fifty pictures of different setups of my wares, but in the end I thought that the notebook list was a better summary of the back-to-school vibe of a late August market. Even though I finally had a photo I was happy with, I couldn’t choose between Version 1, which shows the whole page…

And Version 2, which is cropped closer. I like the look of the page-long list, but I think it may have too much tiny text for people reading on their smartphones (which is how most of us consume our social media). But I’m not sure that Version 2 is quite as dynamic — although it seems more clear. To be honest, I spend an awful lot of time setting up and editing the photos for this blog, and I’m often still unsatisfied with the final result — even for quick snaps! For this one, I think I re-wrote the list five times before I was happy with it.

So I’ll throw it out there and ask, which one do you prefer?

Dill Pickles: From Garden to Jar

This year, I grew my own cucumbers out in the garden for the very first time. (Okay, I tried to grow lemon cucumbers a few years ago, but I only ever yielded the one gourd.) Given this year’s high yield after it finally started to rain at the start of August, I thought that I should preserve some of my crop by turning it into pickles.

A friend of mine had already used up an entire container of Bernardin Dill Pickle Mix‘s worth of pickles, and she wasn’t terribly interested in making more even though her cucumber vines were still yielding fruit. So she gifted me with all the extra cukes she had that were currently ripe, and I combined them with my harvest to date. It filled one entire crisper in my fridge.

Sliced up, all those cucumbers yielded two big Pyrex bowls full.

I filled my biggest stock pot and my pressure canner (which works perfectly well as a huge stock pot if I don’t lock the lid) with water, and I washed all the jars and rings and lids while I waited for the water to boil. With that much water, it takes quite a while. Then, while the jars and tools were sterilizing in the boiling water, I prepared the vinegar and spice mixture. Then I packed the cucumber slices into the jars, added the vinegar mixture, wiped the rims, put on the lids and rims, and processed the jars.

All in all, the pile of cucumbers yielded nine 1L jars. They all sealed properly and didn’t need to be re-processed, thank goodness. It’ll take a good six weeks or more before the pickles are ready to eat, since the longer they sit in the vinegar mixture, the better they taste. They should be ready for Christmas, at least! Or even Thanksgiving.