Keeping It Simple

I’m trying to get back into the groove of cooking proper dinners instead of ordering in or reheating frozen, packaged stuff — neither of which I have a problem with on principle, really, but it gets rather unhealthy after a while if that’s all you eat. Now that the con is over with, I actually have the time to cook again. Sadly, I’m still fighting off one heck of a cold, so I’ve had to keep it simple.

For Monday’s supper I whipped us up a quick batch of simple bacon and eggs. As usual, half the people in the house wanted them scrambled, and the other half wanted them over easy, so I had to make two batches. Everyone’s was served with an all-dressed, toasted bagel and a sliced apple.

For Tuesday’s dinner I decided to take advantage of the nice weather and fire up the grill outside. I basically just threw some burger patties on the barbecue and, once they’d cooked up nicely, served them with a romaine lettuce salad (I can’t really call it a Ceasar because everyone likes different dressing) and baby cut carrots. Despite their charred appearance, the burger and bun are not burned in the slightest! I think we’re going to have to change what kind of wood pellet we use, because the ones we have right now create a lot of smoke — which is great for the flavour, but turns everything black very quickly. There has to be a happy medium here somewhere. But I’ll be using the pellets we already have until they run out, so our grilled dinners may be black for a while yet. At least they’re tasty!

Painting Shoes

When I’m building a costume, one of the sticking points for accuracy is often shoes, since many characters wear very specific ones that aren’t commercially available (or cost a bloody fortune to buy). Luckily, a pair of second-hand shoes, after a good wash, or a cheap pair of new ones, can be touched up with some paint to create something at least close to what I’m looking for. (For boots, fabric boot covers are also an option.)

These shoes need another couple of coats to cover the original design. The paint generally isn’t spectacularly hard-wearing, but it’ll last long enough for a costume that is really only worn for a couple of days, all in all.

Will I actually get this costume done in time, though? It’s still up in the air, and it’s stressing me out a bit…

Child’s Rocking Bench Refinished

I’ve always liked fixing things and restoring them to their original condition — or better. My father is a great handyman and tried to pass at least some of his knowledge down to my brother and I, on the theory that even if we didn’t end up with a passion for working with our hands, at least we’d be able to do budget-friendly repairs when necessary. I agree with Dad that it’s always a good skill to have in your arsenal.

My interest lies predominantly in refinishing, refurbishing, upcycleing, and building small furniture. I’ve been doing it since I was about fourteen years old, when I sanded down and repainted a bedside table for my grandmother. Ever since I could remember, Nan had always had an old wooden chair beside her bed where she sat her books and alarm clock, and I thought that she needed something prettier. I painted the table cream and stenciled it with flowers on the top. She used it in her bedroom until the day she passed away, and then it came back to me, about twenty years later. The little table was a little worse for wear and covered in circular rings where Nan had set her nightly cup of tea, which to me meant it had been used often, and had served its purpose well.

Now, when I saw this old, broken children’s bench rocker (or should it be called a double rocking chair?), I knew I had to work on it. I think it was handmade, or at least assembled from a kit. It bore no maker’s mark and showed the telltale signs of being finished in a slap-dash fashion (although that could mean that it was refinished once already). The paint had been put on very thickly and ran in globs in places. The faux-leather blue upholstery looked to have been replaced at some point. And, of course, one of the rockers was broken.

But it was made of solid pine underneath, and it looked to be of solid construction. It couldn’t be that hard to sand the paint down and then repaint it, right? Oh, I should know better than to think that any refinishing job will be simple. The paint was polyurethane, I think, and it melted from the friction of sanding instead of coming off properly. And, of course, the paint was on really, really thickly. It seemed to take forever (multiple sanding sessions, for sure) to get the darned stuff to the point I could paint over it. I probably would have been better off trying to use a heat gun instead of a sander, but mine was shoved in the back of a cupboard and I honestly forgot that I had it until well after the fact. There was also other damage to be repaired. Luckily, the bench was constructed so solidly that I could just take the center rocker right off, so that was easy at least.

It took way longer than I had planned, but many coats of primer/sealer and paint later, I love how it turned out! I reupholstered the seat with extra-thick padding for a very plush finish. It’s super comfortable, and strong enough to even hold an adult and a child side-by-side — although most adults will have their knees bent up to their chin. I used exterior paint and outdoor-rated fabric, so it should have a washable, tough finish that will be kid-resistant.

Now to find it a home!

Thrifting

I absolutely love going thrifting, i.e. going to second-hand shops, antique stores, flea markets, and giveaways in search of treasure. I mean, it’s the kind of treasure that is other peoples’ trash, but that’s totally okay by me. Treasure is in the eye of the beholder, really. Also, this is treasure I can actually afford.


613flea at Aberdeen Pavilion (Lansdowne Park).


The Original Fabric Flea Market at the Glebe Community Center.


The Ottawa Antique Market on Bank Street.

I did find some great treasures lately, like this stack of fabric from the Original Fabric Flea Market. I arrived with only an hour left of the market, and I really regret not showing up for the opening. I still scored some cute vintage prints, a bit of Halloween fabric, and a good chunk of grey faux fur (always in demand for costumes).

I also found two vintage tablecloths and two vintage-style (but brand new) aprons. The aprons are especially useful because I’ve found myself relying on them more and more to save my clothes when cooking — and they get dirty pretty fast, so it’s essential for me to have a small stash of them.

Recently there was a 50% off all books sale at Value Village, and the Salvation Army is currently running a coupon special that if you buy 3 or more books they’re all 50% off. (The coupon is valid until October 31st and is available here, for my fellow thrifters.) My girls are voracious readers, so I picked up dozens of new-to-them books that I will dole out over the coming months. For myself, I picked up the above-pictured Halloween books:

– I Can Decorate: Pumpkin Fun from Practico Media (2007)
Halloween Recipes & Crafts by Christine Savage (2003)
A Zombie Ate My Cupcake by Lily Vanilli (2016)

Books I’d like to go through with the kids:

Fairy Tale Feasts: A Literary Cookbook for Young Readers & Eaters by Jane Yolen (2009)
Starting from Scratch: What You Should Know about Food and Cooking by Sarah Elton (2014)

A bunch of cookbooks, which are disproportionately from Canadian Living because most of the other ones I was interested in that were available, I already had:

The Canadian Living Entertaining Cookbook by Carol Ferguson (1990)
The Canadian Living Christmas Book from the Canadian Living Magazine (1993)
– Canadian Living’s Family Cookbook from the Canadian Living Magazine (1995)
Canadian Living’s Country Cooking by Elizabeth Baird (1994)
Canadian Living’s Best Vegetables by Elizabeth Baird (1995)
Canadian Living’s Best Soups and Stews by Elizabeth Baird (1997)
Canadian Living’s Best One-Dish Meals by Elizabeth Baird (1994)
Canadian Living’s Best Light Cooking by Elizabeth Baird (1994)
Canadian Living’s Best Breads And Pizzas by Elizabeth Baird (1998)
Betty Crocker’s Bread Machine Cookbook from Betty Crocker (1995)
– Restaurant Recipe: Ottawa’s Best Recipes from Loeb (2000)
How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson (2003)

Tucked away in one of these cookbooks was a clipping from a newspaper, which reads (translated roughly from French):

FOUR HAPPY YOUNG LADIES made their Brownie promise at the Notre-Dame d’Aylmer convent last Sunday. They are Dominique Robert, Elaine Davis, Analisa Lemieux, and in the back, Lyne Bisaillon.

As an aside, if anyone in this photo wants the original copy or a high-res scan, I’d be happy to send it to them.

To satisfy my knitting curiosity, I snatched up:

2-at-a-time Socks by Melissa Morgan-Oakes (2007)

I also thought that these old drop spindles were interesting. I’ve made a few attempts at spinning my own yarn in the past; perhaps it’s time to give it another go?

Some of my favourite finds of the last little while were two Pyrex England casserole dishes. The one on the left was originally my mother’s (although probably not the original lid) and it came to her as a wedding gift; the ones on the right I found last weekend. I believe that I mentioned in my Mom’s Homemade Macaroni & Cheese recipe write-up that this is, to me, the proper dish for my mother’s casseroles. Mom taking this dish out of the cupboard meant that I was about to have one of my all-time favourite meals. I still feel happy just looking at these dishes. It’s probably silly, but I bet everyone has a simple object with emotional connections to their childhood like this.

I’d have to say that my absolute favourite find was a copy of The New Purity Cook Book by Anna Lee (1967). This cookbook was a mainstay in my mother’s kitchen, which is why when I moved out I made sure to buy the reprint The All New Purity Cookbook. And you know, I probably would have been quite satisfied with that, except they made one crucial error to my mind: instead of organizing the index alphabetically like in the original, it was organized by category. This means that’s it’s impossible to quickly search for dishes with one main ingredient. It also leaves me trying to figure out which category some dishes fit into (it can be subjective). So it’s not just for nostalgia, but for practical reasons that I’m so happy I found a copy of the original book, and not only because they’re over $50 each on Amazon (I paid thrift store prices for mine). Not only that, but it’s in near-mint condition — much better than my mom’s well-loved copy!

There are a bunch of flea and Christmas markets coming up soon, which I’m looking forward to even though I’m not even ready to think about the holiday season yet. Heck, I haven’t even gotten through Halloween yet! What I’m looking forward to soonest is Ottawa Give Away Weekend, when people put items they don’t want on the side of the road for anyone to pick up for free if they are so inclined. I’ve found some lovely treasures on this weekend in previous years, including the beautiful antique mirror that hangs in my front hall. You might call it trash picking, but I call it recycling. Why should I buy all new things when there is such a huge variety of awesome second-hand items out there? Newer doesn’t always mean better — and it almost always means more expensive.

Honey Curry Chicken

Sometimes the food that I make can take hours, even days, to prepare. Other times I have to make a rushed meal between activities. This dinner was definitely one of the latter.

I made the Honey Curry Chicken from page 126 of The United Churches in Canada: Let’s Break Bread Together (September 1988 edition). The flavour of the final dish reminded me of nothing so much as dipping McDonald’s chicken nuggets into honey, which is incredibly low-brow but recalls happy childhood memories. At least this is nominally healthier, since the chicken isn’t breaded and there are actually vegetables!

The honey curry sauce is very quick to make and can be as mild or as spicy as suits your tastes, depending on the kind of curry powder that you choose to use. I used Irresistibles Mild Curry powder which adds flavour but absolutely no heat, which is exactly what I’m looking for when cooking for my children or my parents. (My husband and I prefer more spice.) Instead of baking the chicken in the oven, as the recipe called for, I went the quicker route of chopping it small and frying it in its own juices on the stove top. I didn’t use raisins in the sauce (they were optional anyway and didn’t really seem to go). As the recipe dictated, I served it over fluffy rice (Suraj Basmati). I served it with peas as we didn’t have any beans, and no toasted slivered almonds as a topping since we didn’t have any of those either. Despite all of the changes, it turned out absolutely lovely and I will definitely make this dish again.

Buckwheat Pancakes Recipe

Buckwheat crepes (crêpes au sarrasin) are traditional in Québec this time of year, served with a generous helping of maple syrup, of course. However, that’s not the dish with which I was raised. My father learned how to cook this kind of food from his father, who, as I’ve mentioned before, worked as a lumberjack in northern New Brunswick. There my grandfather was expected to take his turn cooking for the camp. What was passed down, therefore, was not a delicate crepe, but a hearty pancake meant to fill bellies as quickly as possible, and to fuel heavy manual labour for the rest of the day.

I prefer to eat buckwheat pancakes in the colder months, saving lighter or thinner versions for the summer when the heat makes lighter meals more appealing. However, if you prefer a heavier pancake, a nuttier flavour, or if you have a sensitivity to wheat or gluten, then can be eaten all year round. Despite its name, buckwheat is a totally different kind of plant than wheat; it’s actually more closely related to rhubarb than anything else (although it tastes nothing like it).


Stack of pancakes using a 50/50 buckwheat/all-purpose flour mix.

Buckwheat Pancakes
Yields 12 six-inch diameter pancakes*

In a large bowl, mix together:
3 cups buckwheat flour**
2 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
In another large bowl, combine:
3 1/2 cups milk
2 eggs
4 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla
Whisk together wet ingredients until they become a smooth mixture. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients. Beat with an electric or hand mixer until batter is smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally with a rubber spatula to remove lumps.

*This recipe may be halved if desired. However, keep in mind that pancakes reheat well in the microwave, and leftovers can become a quick hot breakfast for the next day(s).
**For a lighter pancake, substitute 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour for the same amount of buckwheat flour.

The most difficult part of making pancakes, the part that takes a bit of practice to get right, is the frying. Lightly coat the cooking surface of a heavy, non-stick frying pan with cooking spray. Place the pan on the burner, turn the heat on to just a little bit higher than medium heat, and immediately pour a ladle-full of batter directly into the center of the pan. (Never preheat an empty nonstick pan.) The batter will spread out without help to its optimal thickness. Watch the cooking pancake carefully for bubbles to appear on its surface. When the bubbles pop and leave little craters behind that don’t immediately refill in with batter, it’s time to flip the pancake. (See above photo.)

The pancake should stay in one solid piece when it is flipped. The trick is to cook it slowly so that the batter is almost (but not quite) solid at the time of flipping. If the pancake isn’t cooked long enough, the top layer of batter will just slide off. If it is cooked at too high of a heat, the pancake will be burned on one side by the time it is ready to be flipped. Have patience! Buckwheat pancakes are especially thick and therefore need more time at a lower heat to cook all the way through. Cook each side until it is golden brown.


Pancake using a 50/50 buckwheat/all-purpose flour mix, topped with fresh fruit, maple syrup, and whipped cream.

Traditionally, buckwheat pancakes are served with butter and maple syrup. However, they are a great base for many toppings. If you can’t get (or don’t like) maple syrup, any kind of syrup or sweet sauce will do; corn syrup, honey, berry syrups, and artificially-flavoured syrups are fine. Dust pancakes with white, brown, or icing sugar for a classy touch. Jams, jellies, fruit butters, and nut butters are delicious as spreads. The pancakes can be topped with fresh or canned fruit, adding whipped cream if you have it. They are also a good vehicle for flavouring inside the pancake itself; for added punch, sprinkle a few chocolate or butterscotch chips or small blueberries over the batter as soon as it has been poured into the pan. You can include those kinds of ingredients in the bowl of batter itself, but I like adding them at the time of cooking so that I don’t have to make up multiple batches to appeal to different peoples’ tastes.