Roadside Produce Stands

One of my favourite things about summer is when the farm stalls start popping up in parking lots and along the main drag, not content to wait for the next farmers’ market to get all that great produce out to their customers. Sometimes it’s a single pickup truck with its bed full of corn or flats of foraged berries (if I’m ever near Sudbury in the summer, wild blueberries are a must). Sometimes it’s well-established farm booths, neatly organized with multiple products all protected from the sun and rain by pop-up tents. Whatever the style, the food is always much fresher and tastier than the stuff from the grocery store, which is usually picked when not-quite-ripe and shipped in instead of ripening properly under the sun. Due to ordering in bulk, grocery stuff is often cheaper, but you can’t beat the quality of the roadside stand.

Of course, due to our short growing season, the roadside farm stand is subject to seasonal and weather-driven fluctuation. Last year, when we had so rain that there was flooding and standing water in so many fields making it impossible to cultivate, there was a lot less available when it came to fresh local produce. Ditto the particularly dry years. But such is the way of the farm and garden.

Right now there’s a great variety of farm-fresh goods available. Garlic scapes are one of the first crops available around here in June, but the garlic plants keep growing flower stalks, so farmers can sell them for a good long time into summer.

Young carrots — true young carrots and not those “baby cut” fakeries available by the bag in the grocery store — are starting to become available now. The ones from my garden aren’t usually available until fall (if I tried to harvest now, they would look a lot like this), but most of the farms around here start their growing seasons early under the grow lamps.

The green onions are nice and crispy…

And zucchini are starting to become available! I’m particularly fond of the ones that grow in such interesting shapes, although they taste exactly the same. I’m trying to grow zucchini this year, but the chipmunks and earwigs love my gourds, so I historically haven’t had any luck. My friends, who generally have better luck than I, often have excess zucchini to gift me come fall, though. The kids love it, especially as zucchini sticks. The round ones pictured above are better shaped for stuffing, though.

We’ve been gorging on raspberries for a week or two now, but they’re still a personal favourite.

And most exciting at the moment, the corn has started to roll in! The local peaches-and-cream corn is my husband’s personal favourite, so we eat it in every form starting about now. Last night we just threw it on the barbecue whole on low for half an hour, and then peeled it and ate it off the cob. Delicious!

The Continuing Quest for Great Ramen

I’m still working on getting the best ramen — especially the best tonkotsu ramen — possible in this neck of the woods. It frustrates me so that you can get decent, if not downright good, ramen on just about every street in Japan, and cheaply, too! It’s generally not considered fancy food. But here it’s practically gourmet fare, hard to find, and expensive.

So I’m still trying to make my own passable version. Overall, the best ramen broth I’ve made was shoyu ramen from page 8 of Simply Ramen by Amy Kimoto-Kahn (2016) (or her website easypeasyjapanesey.com. But my favourite type of broth is still tonkotsu, and to be frank it’s more than a little intimidating because there are so many steps that must be gotten just right. I’ve been trying to skip the cooking step on this one and just find a pre-made alternative, but I haven’t had a lot of luck.

Last night I made another attempt at using a pre-packaged soup base. I couldn’t even read anything on the package except “tonkotsu ramen” (what can I say, it’s been twenty years since I took Japanese lessons), and I am still kicking myself for not taking a picture of the packaging. The base came in what was essentially a bag, and was fully liquid. As with many other such things, I bought it at T&T.

The broth was okay I guess, but nothing spectacular. It was better than any of the dried kinds I’ve tried, but still not as good as the fast food places that I know for a fact use instant broth (I’ve watched them cook it). So yeah, nothing to write home about.

The noodles, were a bit soggy and floury. I’ve used this brand before (Nissin Frozen Ramen Noodles), and at this point I’m just using up what’s in my freezer. I don’t plan on buying them again.

The toppings, though, were really tasty. I made pork belly with soy sauce, a dash of sake, and a little bit of sugar. I think I could have gone a little bit lighter on the soy sauce (it was a little salty), but otherwise I liked this pork belly much better than the kind I have made in the past. I think what helped was that I browned it first, then added the liquids and let it simmer for a while. It really enhanced the flavour.

The other toppings included soft-boiled eggs, enoki mushrooms, thinly sliced carrot (made easy by using a veggie peeler instead of a knife), narutomaki (fish cake), green onion, and tobiko (flying fish roe). The toppings were tasty, complimentary, and easy to prepare.

It’s getting to the point now where I think I had best just start making tonkotsu broth and ramen noodles from scratch in order to meet my own standards. I’ve wasted so much time trying to find decent pre-made ingredients when I’m starting to think that they’re just not available this side of the pond. I think the next step is investing in a pasta machine. At the very least, I think I’ll be waiting for autumn to start making my own broth — since it takes so long and so much boiling, it doesn’t seem wise to start cooking broth during the dog days of summer if I can avoid it.

Another Day of Cottage Cooking

Another day at the cottage meant more adventures and more cottage cooking! I started the day by making a family brunch of pancakes smothered in fresh fruit salad and maple syrup.

I have no problem admitting that I used boxed pancake mix; that’s a family tradition when cottaging or camping. No point in buying that “add milk and eggs” kind, either. I mean, if you’re doing that you’re essentially buying a pre-made mix of flour, baking soda, and maybe a bit of sugar and salt. I can buy those ingredients (and even pre-mix them) separately for much cheaper overall — and it’s just as non-perishable. No, we buy the “just add water” type, which is perfect for camping and cottaging. It’s not fancy, but it’s easy to transport and it’s really hard to make it go bad. Even the cheapest, non-brand-name kind usually works just as well.

The weather was beautiful and sunny, hot enough to enjoy swimming but not too hot. We did have a bit of a problem with deer flies when out of the water and horse flies when we were in the water. It was a bit of a pain in the patoot, but we had a good time hopping in and out of the water anyway.

My dad took the girls fishing, and while they caught a bunch of little rock bass (max 6″ long), Dad caught three good-sized smallmouth bass. Pictured above was the smallest of them. Dad had had very little luck previously with artificial bait, but taking the kids out with simple spinners and real worms to go after little fish netted him three big ones. He really wasn’t expecting it, and since he only had a rod intended for small fish and a six-pound test, his rod was bent double and one of the fish snapped his line and swam away with his bobber and lure. Thing 1 managed to rescue the bobber with her net, since it floated away, but the lure was gone.

Sadly, I haven’t the slightest idea how to fillet a fish, so all of Dad’s catches were released back into the lake. One of these days I hope that I’ll be able to find someone who can teach me how to make a proper meal with one of Dad’s catches. Or one of my own (although I don’t fish nearly as often as Dad, so the likelihood of me catching anything big enough to bother cooking is pretty darned low).

Instead of fresh fish, for dinner we used up the remainder of the food we’d brought to the cottage for that stay. I used up the majority of the bread I’d made the day prior (White Bread from page 596 of the Joy of Cooking (Rombauer & Becker, 2006 edition)) to make grilled cheese — with lactose-free cheese for me and goat cheddar for Dad, as usual. On the side we had the rest of the morning’s fruit salad with a bit of maple syrup, and the last slices of summer sausage from the farmer’s market.

Then it was time to pack everything back into the car and drive back into town, away from the peace of the lake but back to the convenience of WiFi and cell phone service.

Spending Time at the Lake

I was lucky enough to spend a few days this week at the cottage my parents are renting. We had a delightful time. Mornings were lazy and, when we finally dragged ourselves out of bed, I cooked brunch.

That’s bacon, eggs over easy, apple slices, and whole wheat toast — made of store-bought bread, which is unlike me. I decided I needed to remedy that situation and so after we cleaned up from brunch, I started to throw together some homemade loaves. I didn’t have access to the internet or my plethora of cookbooks, so I used the White Bread recipe from page 596 of the Joy of Cooking (Rombauer & Becker, 2006 edition). (Actually, I used the app since it has the whole cookbook on my phone and doesn’t need Internet access, but it’s the same recipe either way.) In the recipe I substituted olive oil in the same quantities for the lard and butter, which has worked in the past and did so this time as well.

That’s a horrible picture of the loons on the lake because my zoom lens isn’t spectacular. You’d think it’d be easier to get a photo of a bird that can grow to almost a meter long, but these ones had no interest in coming any closer. The loons were calling away while I was kneading my dough. I find it a very soothing sound, but I grew up with it. In understand that to some people a loon call, especially their mournful, echoing night call, can be kind of creepy. My father likes to tell us the story of going camping and being approached by frightened tourists in the next site over who were sure they were hearing the sobbing souls of the damned.

Anyway, after brunch and bread and loons, we all needed a dip in the lake…

Followed by a drive out to the ice cream parlour for a cool treat and some reading time.

It wasn’t too long before it was time to go back to the cottage to bake the bread, and then to make dinner. I made shrimp with garlic butter, jasmine rice with furikake, corn on the cob, and of course the freshly-baked bread.

Dessert was cherry drop biscuits baked the day before using the Rolled Biscuits recipe from page 638 of the Joy of Cooking (or the app again). I added a bunch of pitted, quartered cherries stirred into the batter and a sprinkle of sugar on the top of each biscuit before baking. I got lazy and just made them drop biscuits instead of rolled, and they turned out fine that way.

Then it was time for one last dip in the lake, followed swiftly by bedtime for the kiddos, who had had a long, fun day. I took the opportunity to bring my glass of maple Sortil├Ęge on the rocks out to the screened-in sun room (the mosquitoes are much too bad in the evening to simply sit outside) so that I could watch the sun set. It wasn’t the most spectacular that I’ve viewed from this spot, seeing as there wasn’t a cloud in sight, but I think I can live with that.

Fruits of My Labour

It’s that time of year when I start seeing the fruits of my labour (quite literally) in my garden. I always find this very exciting. You can plant as many seeds and seedlings as you want, take care of them as best you can, and sometimes they still don’t yield fruit. I can understand how this excitement can turn into outright dread if you farm for a living, but it’s a lot of fun when you garden for pleasure.

My self-seeded tomatoes are actually fruiting! I did have my doubts that they would produce anything at all. But I did start to see flowers a few weeks ago, and now there are some tiny rows of tomatoes growing. I wasn’t sure what kind of tomatoes these would be (since even when you buy them from a garden center, they can get the variety wrong), but these are definitely a cherry tomato of some sort. Since that was exactly what I wanted, I could not be happier. The next question is, what colour will they be?

Over in my long skinny garden by the fence, the large gourds aren’t showing much yet (although there are some promising bulges near the flowers), but the cucumbers are starting to bear fruit. They’re still in their tender young stage that I know is terribly tempting to rodents and earwigs alike, but I have hope that I may be able to make some home-grown pickles come fall.

Bacon Goes With Everything

Last night I ransacked my freezer and pantry in order to continue the trend of preparing meals that don’t require long cooking times indoors, which would heat the house up unduly. I came up with a box of spaghettini noodles, a small container of last year’s basil pesto, a package of sole fillets, and almost a pound of reduced-salt bacon.

What that turned into was essentially a meal where there was bacon on everything. I boiled up the spaghettini, drained it, and coated it in pesto. Then I dredged the sole in flour mixed with a bit of garlic powder, salt, and pepper, and then I pan fried it. (Whenever I cook my fish like this, I can’t help but think of lightly fried fish fillets, though.) I cooked up all of the bacon in the microwave, chopped it into bits, and sprinkled it on darned near everything.

My family couldn’t have been happier.

Cool Dinner

Last night I figured that we needed a cool, refreshing dinner to help combat the heat. To this end, I boiled up what was frankly way too much sushi rice and made some onigiri like I had eaten so regularly in Japan. I wrote a bit about this dish when I tried making pork belly onigiri, and doing so really made me crave the simple version. It’s fresh and clean-tasting, and it’s served cold, so you can whip it up during the cooler part of the day (or the night before), refrigerate, and serve it when it gets warmer.

I used a onigiri press like this one (which I bought at T&T for less than ten dollars, so don’t let the online price tag fool you). Of course, you can totally form rice balls by hand, a press just makes it less messy and keeps each one looking more or less identical. A press also makes it so much easier to put a filling inside the rice ball. I used canned salmon with a dash of mayonnaise (Japanese Kewpie mayo would have been best, but I didn’t have any on hand and substituted regular old Hellmann’s). For a bit more of a pop of flavour, I also added a few drops of liquid hickory smoke. We always have some of that stuff in the pantry because it makes a canned salmon sandwich absolutely divine, so I figured it would do the same to the onigiri.

I served the onigiri with halved hard-boiled eggs (also cold and prepared in advance) and some local summer sausage from the farmers’ market. I know that’s not how it would traditionally be served, but I wasn’t trying for accuracy here, I just wanted a nice, cool dinner that we could eat comfortably with our hands while we sat out on the porch. This would also have made a great picnic.