French Toast & Maple Syrup

It’s getting near the end of maple syrup season here in Ontario. The sap didn’t run for very long this year, what with the late thaw and the fact that it’s supposed to get up to nearly twenty degrees Celsius by the end of this week. The rising temperatures mean that it’ll be a warm Easter weekend, but it will definitely cut off the sap flow!

I hadn’t really taken advantage of the season to make any of the traditional dishes like pouding chômeur, since I’ve been too busy for much baking lately. But I wanted to make something seasonal, so I settled on French toast with maple syrup.

I whipped up the bread earlier in the day; it’s simply my bread machine fluffy herb bread without the herbs. This creates a light, airy loaf, which is what I prefer for French toast. I added a little bit of vanilla to the whipped eggs, but I didn’t use cinnamon like I normally would so that the syrup was the ingredient that really shone. And it was delicious!

Plastic Lace Bracelets Tutorial

I used to make plastic lace bracelets (and zipper pulls, and all kinds of little geegaws) in the schoolyard with my friends when I was a kid. I learned how from my friends, but I’m not sure where they learned; perhaps the older kids passed it along to the younger ones. This is the simplest style was what we called a “zipper” bracelet, just because it kind of looked like a zipper when it was done. These days, I’ve seen this technique applied to paracord bracelets, which seem to be a recent trend in this kind of craft.

Plastic Lace Bracelets

Materials:

– plastic lace

Supplies Needed:

– scissors

1. Pick your supplies. I generally find it’s easier with two different colours of lace because it’s easier to keep track of which one’s which, but it’s up to you. Cut a piece of your base coloured lace twice as long as the intended bracelet length, plus about 5″.

2. Fold the base colour lace in half, and then pair it with the accent colour of lace (don’t bother to cut this one yet). Tie a knot to attach the laces together.

3. Wrap the accent colour lace around the left base lace, then bring it down the middle.

4. Keeping the laces flat and taut, wrap the accent colour around the right base lace, then bring it down the middle.

5. Repeat steps 3 and 4, being sure to press firmly up on the lacing from the bottom as you go, to prevent gaps. Keep repeating these steps until the bracelet is as long as desired.

6. Using the accent colour, tie a knot around the base colour laces to keep the lacing from coming out.

7. Thread the leftover lace through the loop created in step 2, and tie both ends of the bracelet together.

8. Trim the excess lace.

9. Wear it!

Atlas Obscura in Madrid

I absolutely love Atlas Obscura. Not only do they write all about the kinds of weird things that I find interesting, but on a more practical level they help me to find the less-touristy interesting things when I’m travelling. I find when I’m in a new city it can be a bit overwhelming, what with trying to find my way around and looking at all the people and in all of the shop windows. Doing a bit of pre-planning with a traditional guidebook (I’m partial to the Lonely Planet ones) and Atlas Obscura helps keep me from walking by interesting things just because I had my head turned the wrong way at the wrong instant. It kind of turns my trip into a treasure hunt.

For example, the Fountain of the Fallen Angel (Ángel Caído) in the gorgeous Parque del Buen Retiro is pretty famous for being the only known public monument to the devil. This sculpture was in both guides and was part of the suggested walking tour in the Lonely Planet book…

But Air Crash near Plaza Mayor, which depicts an angel in the middle of plowing into a building, is about four stories up on a rather narrow street, and is easily missed.

I would probably have found the Muslim walls of Madrid, the last remnants of the pre-Christian city walls, with my traditional guide, since they were also part of a suggested walking tour…

And the Temple of Debod, an ancient Egyptian temple gifted to Spain from its home country, is both quite close to the palace and is in a major park that has stunning views of the city…

But I don’t think I would have found the tiny Caños del Peral Archaeological Museum located inside the Opera Metro station without help — although I might have passed by it on the way out of the subway, if I’d come out at that station for other reasons (it’s the closest station to the palace).

With all of the other vendors hanging around the outside of the palace trying to get a piece of the tourist pie, I almost walked by this barquilleros vendor, except that his tiny roulette wheel caught my eye. (You can play the game of chance in hopes of getting more waffles for your money.)

I had a really hard time finding the Kilometre Zero marking, from which all roads in Spain are measured, because it really is just one paving stone among many and people were literally standing on it.

I had a much easier time finding the Bear and the Strawberry Tree (El Oso y el Madroño), even though it was just across the Puerta del Sol square, because I think every tourist and their dog was having their picture taken in front of it. (This bear is the symbol of Madrid and the motif can be found all over the place, including on manhole covers.)

I greatly enjoyed the free tour of the Chamberí Ghost Station, which is a subway station that was closed in 1966 that has now been restored and reopened as a museum.

When we were chatting with our Spanish hosts about where we’d visited, it came up that we’d made a special trip off of the beaten tourist path to check out the Olmec head roundabout. This exact replica of an Olmec head was donated by Mexico in 2007, but its ignominious placement in the middle of a traffic circle at the edge of a housing development means that even most city natives haven’t heard of it.

One place that we visited upon the suggestion of our Lonely Planet guidebook that wasn’t on Atlas Obscura, but I think it should be, was the Pacífico Power Plant. This station powered the metro from the 1920’s to the 1950’s, and also provided power for the city during the Spanish Civil War. It was closed completely in the 1970’s and was restored in 2008 to be turned into a museum. The massive diesel generators are similar to ship’s engines of the era.

Unfortunately I didn’t get to every single Atlas Obscura listing for Madrid, but I think I hit most of the ones I was interested in. There were a couple of museums that appealed to my scientific curiosity and sense of the macabre, but the weather was so sunny and beautiful for my entire trip that I didn’t really have a huge impetus to stay indoors. Especially since I knew how soon I’d be returning to snowy Canada in February!

Sweater of Many Colours

I needed a new knitting project to work on after completing my socks of many clours and another pair of wrist warmers (which I swear I will post photos of eventually). Neither of these projects made a big dent in the bag full of sock yarn scraps that I was hoping to work my way through, so I thought I’d try a larger project. I decided on a top-down cardigan for Thing 2 based on my favourite how to improvise a top-down sweater tutorial.

It hasn’t been very fast going, since the yarn is a smaller gauge than I usually work with for sweaters. So far I have completed the shoulders and knit down the chest about halfway. But I have worked my way through reasonably-sized balls of leftover yarn, which is encouraging. I’m trying to progress gradually from oranges and earth tones (Thing 2’s favourite colours) into blues and cooler colours further down the sweater. So far, so good! Thing 2 seems very enthusiastic about the project, although at the rate I’m knitting it may not be complete until it’s too warm to wear it. Hopefully she won’t have grown out of this size by next fall.

Yuan-Style Salmon & Spinach with Bonito Flakes

After all of the work (and many hours of ingredient hunting) over the weekend for Sunday’s dinner, I thought I’d keep things a bit more simple on Monday night. I’d been meaning to try out some of the recipes from Ten-Minute Bento (Megumi Fuji, 2007), since they all looked delicious and relatively simple. I went through my cupboards to determine what I already had, prepped my shopping list, and then went out for the day. Easy peasy, right? Except that halfway through the day my eldest called from school to tell me she was feeling sick, and could I come and pick her up. So much for picking up the missing ingredients with the girls after school, then. Instead of the leisurely dinner prep I had been hoping for, I chucked the rice in the Instant Pot right before my husband came home, made a mad dash for the grocery store once he arrived, and returned home as quickly as possible. I know, I could have changed my dinner plans entirely, but at this point it would probably have taken longer to find another recipe, scrounge the house for ingredients, and likely defrost something from the freezer.

Luckily the recipes in this book are as simple as described, if not necessarily as quick. (It’s not a ten-minute bento if you have to cook the rice, marinade the fish for ten minutes, and then grill each side of the fish for 4 minutes per side. Just saying.) I upped the portions to make the bento on page 21 for four people, and we all greatly enjoyed our yuan-style salmon & spinach with bonito flakes. I would definitely make this recipe again. Honestly, if it hadn’t been for circumstances delaying me from getting the ingredients earlier, it would have been a snap! As a bonus, making the sticky rice in the Instant Pot was super easy and came out perfectly.

Maple Syrup Gone Bad

I threw a couple of waffles in the toaster the other day (they’re a special treat around here), at which point I realized that the kids had finished the last of the jar of maple syrup that had been in the fridge. So I went into the cupboard to refill the smaller fridge container, and I found this:

It looks a little dodgy, with that ring of residue around the side, doesn’t it? But I shrugged it off, thinking that some of the top level had crystallized, since it has happened before. But when I opened the jug there was a puff of released gas and a distinct smell of alcohol. It had started to ferment.

I have never in my life had this happen before. I have kept open maple syrup both in the fridge and in the cupboard for years, and the worst thing that has ever happened is that it has crystallized. I honestly thought that it was like honey. I think that this is the combination of having left it in the cupboard and buying it from a farmer’s market*. Don’t get me wrong, I love farmer’s market food! But most of the time there isn’t the same quality control from batch to batch, and this batch could have been bottled too soon. If the temperature didn’t get high enough and/or the ratio of water to syrup was too high, bacteria could survive and the syrup would spoil faster. In a commercial setting, such factors are much more highly regulated.

After discovering this I did some reading and realized that maple syrup can intentionally be fermented to create maple mead, but this is usually done by introducing a specific kind of bacteria (yeast). Since I had no idea what kind of bacteria were in this bottle — and were now creating slow-moving bubbles, once the cap was open — I had to rinse it all down the drain.

I’m kicking myself especially hard about this one because there was so much left in the jug (well over a liter), and because it is Canada. In winter. I could have just left the stupid thing in our uninsulated garage and it would probably have been fine. But I ran out of space in the fridge over the Christmas holidays and left the biggest bottle in the cupboard instead.

Ah, well. I’ll just have to buy some more come spring.

*This was bought from an out-of-town market, and I won’t name the source because heck, this could have been entirely the fault of my food safety practices. But I would like to note for the record that I have never, ever, had any of our local producers’ syrup go bad. Actually, no syrup of any kind has ever gone bad on me before this — which is why it surprised me so much!

A Family Sunday

On Saturday morning, we found Candy Cane hiding under the chair in Thing 1’s room, riding a LEGO scooter, playing with the a Vaporeon and a Playmobil pegasus:

And Sunday morning we found her hanging around in the kitchen with Chimpy:

I spent most of that day with my little family decorating the house for Christmas. As of now we’re still not done, but that’s to be expected as we do Christmas almost as big as we do Halloween around here.

Of course, we had to take a break for dinner, which was roll-your-own sushi again at the kids’ request. Since this is a pretty healthy meal, I don’t mind indulging them.

Their rolling skills are getting better, but their knife skills could use a bit of work. Part of their difficulty was the knives we used, though, which could definitely use a sharpening.

One thing we did manage to finish was decorating the tree, which is a real one in our house so it doesn’t stay up all that long. We find three weeks (two weeks before Christmas and one week after) is about as long as the needles will stay on. I know that the kids would be more than happy to have it up in November otherwise, although I’m pretty sure my husband would object.

The addition of the tree and its decorations are, I think, the inspiration for the stuffed Christmas bear to tie Candy Cane to the tracks this morning. Although I do remember learning somewhere that there is actually no damsel-in-distress-tied-to-the-tracks scene in any old movie other than parodies; maybe I saw that on QI? At any rate, the elf is safe enough considering that the train has no batteries. Her predicament didn’t seem to bother the children at all.