Feeling the Pressure

All right, I’ll confess. I ordered pizza for the family for dinner last night. It wasn’t even particularly nice pizza, just cheap, chain fast food. After working on costumes all day, and working out, and dealing with the kids, I just didn’t have any inclination to cook. I know, I know, that’s not like me most of the time, but we all have our off days.

And it’s all because currently my cutting table looks like this:

Although Mom has been doing most of the cutting. We are doing a couple of cosplays together this year for Ottawa ComicCon (it’s a multi-generational thing in our house), so we’re working on our costumes together as well.

My basement couch looks like this:

Completely covered in what I hope are all of the materials for five (I must be insane) costumes that I have to have completed by this time next month. I mean, it’s no ridiculously large dragon, but it’s still a lot of work. And, as my husband is quick to point out, I do this to myself every. Single. Year.

I’ve been spending most of my time sitting here at the sewing table. At least one vest is almost done… But after pricking myself pretty nastily with a very sharp pin, I deemed that it was time to give it up for the night and start again with fresh eyes in the morning.

Best wishes to everyone who’s in con crunch mode right now!

Crunch Time Chicken

Heading into Ottawa ComicCon cosplay crunch time, I’ve been resorting to some of my tried-and-true dinner dishes to feed my family. Last night I made up baked chicken thighs with my favourite spring chicken spice mixture, served with mashed potatoes and a Caesar salad.

I’m looking for new quick and easy meals for the next month or so (it’s one month away! Eek!), but I don’t have time to do my usual leafing through my cookbooks and browsing the Internet for ideas. I do have a few Crock Pot recipes I’ve been wanting to try that might be perfect. At the very least, I’ll try not to resort to Kraft Dinner and instant ramen…

Maple Walnut Pouding Chômeur

Last night I had an urge to make pouding chômeur (“poor man’s pudding”), which is a kind of upside-down maple syrup cake that is baked with its own sauce. I wanted to use some of the lovely dark maple syrup that I picked up from McCannell Craftwork at Russell Flea over the weekend. Sadly, a copy of Anita Stewart’s Canada (2008) wasn’t immediately available at the library, and I haven’t yet bought a copy (although it’s down to $15.00 online so I really should), so I didn’t have access to the first recipe that I used and liked so much. Instead, I grabbed a few cookbooks with their own versions of a pouding chômeur recipe from the library, and then I went home to pick my favourite.

I thought that I had all of the ingredients at home, but it turns out that some of them had spoiled, so I had to improvise a little bit. I ended up combining the recipes from two different books. The final cake ended up being a little bit drier and with a sauce that wasn’t quite as runny as I’d been hoping. It was pretty darned good anyway.

Unfortunately, I found that the walnuts really overpowered the maple flavour, much to my dismay. Although it was a tasty dish all in all, I was really looking forward to that creamy maple syrup sauce dominating. I think I’ll stick to a more simple pouding chômeur recipe next time, whether it be from Anita Stewart’s Canada or another source.

How to Fix Lumpy Gravy

I love gravy and I’ll eat it with just about any meat, steamed vegetable, or starch. It’s to die for on mashed potatoes and it’s fantastic over an open-faced hot turkey sandwich. However, it’s also really easy to get wrong. If it’s too thin, you can always dust in a bit more flour or simmer it for a while to reduce. But if it’s lumpy, it’s absolutely nasty. Those congealed lumps of flour and fat are just… Ew.

I’ve accidentally made lumpy gravy many times over the years — although the stuff pictured above was done on purpose to illustrate the point. I’ve tried pre-mixing the flour with water, I’ve thickened it with a roux instead, I’ve whisked until it feels like my arm is going to fall off. I’ve tried every tip and trick in my cookbooks, but sometimes the gravy still comes up lumpy, and it seems like the only way to salvage it is to strain it (which still can leave some tiny lumps).

When my mother taught me how to make gravy, she insisted that it be perfectly smooth, or it couldn’t be served. Lumps in anything make Mom gag, so potatoes were always mashed or whipped silky smooth, we never ate cream of wheat, and bubble tea was absolutely out. So if I messed up the gravy, we were out of luck even if it was intended to be a part of a major roast meal. Don’t ask me why, but this technique of fixing the problem never came up:

Just run the gravy through the blender. It comes out smooth every time. Not only that, but lumpy gravy tends to get really thick when you finally get it to an even consistency, so this is a great time to thin it out using a bit of the appropriate stock. The one in the photo above was loco moco hamburger gravy, so I thinned it with beef stock. There are probably a bunch of you who were using this technique for years and are agog that I’m thinking it’s revolutionary, but honestly it’s totally new to me. And if my crappy old two-speed General Electric machine from the 70’s with dull blades can do the trick, any blender can.

This works for all kinds of sauces, by the way. White sauce I find is also very prone to lumpiness if you’re not careful, but it does blend nicely. As with blending all hot things, do exert extra care to prevent burns!

The loco moco turned out great, by the way, even if I didn’t have any parsley or tomatoes for garnish. I find that it pairs rather nicely with steamed spinach, since you can combine it with the gravy and meat for a wonderful, rich flavour.

Shabby Chic Tea Light Holders

At Russell Flea this past Saturday, I was able to debut my latest work with upcycled items: shabby chic tea light holders made with vintage spoons.

They look pretty simple, but I honestly didn’t think I’d get them done in time. It turns out that drilling through stainless steel — some of which was 4mm thick depending on the design — with my old hand drill was very, very difficult. I snapped two bits, dulled at least three more, and almost burned out my drill’s motor. At no point was the work ever quick; it seemed to take forever to make a single hole.

Despite the difficulties, in the end I was quite satisfied with how the first pale pink ones turned out, so I made two more in pale green. My favourite is the one made from the intricate little sauce ladle (which of course was the one with the thickest handle and gave me the most difficulty).

In addition to adding these new pieces to my lineup, I also remembered to purchase some lovely dark maple syrup from McCannell Craftwork. Laurie McCannell and I had stalls that abutted each other this week, so it was hard to forget! We had a chance to chat about yarn and a whole host of other subjects between customers while she spun yarn at her wheel and I knit. It was lovely.

I also got some great news this weekend! I’ve been accepted to 613flea for Saturday, April 21st. For those not familiar, 613flea is a monthly market held at Aberdeen Pavilion in Lansdowne Park. There’s always so much to see there, and so many fantastic finds and delicious food. So feel free to pop by between 10:00am to 4:00pm in two weeks — as always, admission is free!

Russell Flea on Saturday

It’s my second flea market at Russell Flea this coming Saturday (9:00am to 3:00pm), and I am super excited. I think I’m starting to get the hang of this booth set-up and tear-down thing. I’m really looking forward to meeting all kinds of new people and hopefully chatting about cooking, collecting, and handicrafts.

This Saturday my booth will be in the cafetorium — that’s essentially the cafeteria with a stage at the back that’s to the left of the main entrance. You should be able to see me off to your left as soon as you go through the cafetorium doors. (Am I the only one who thinks that the word “cafetorium” is kind of silly? I mean, it’s no worse than the “gymatorium” in the elementary school that I grew up with, which is an even sillier word, if you ask me. All of these combos just mean that the sports groups and performing arts groups have to compete for time and space, anyway.)

This very much not-to-scale map shows you where you should be able to find me. I combined two layouts that were done to different scales so that I could draw that red arrow. But I hope it’s clear enough.

One of the items I’ll be bringing back this week is the footstool/table that I upcycled from a vintage suitcase. It hasn’t found a home yet, so this might be your chance to snap it up.

I did hope to make a few more items in time for Saturday, but I’ve been experiencing technical difficulties, namely that I keep snapping drill bits. I’ll hit the hardware store tomorrow and try to pick up a stronger bit. If all goes well, some all-new upcycled items (if that’s the proper term) will be ready for the weekend.

I’ve also added a bunch of items to my vintage kitchenware lineup — I wish that I could keep them all, but I just don’t have the space! These sweet 1980’s Pyrex mixing bowls have a clear bottom. With the practicality that one expects from this brand, the colour is on the outside of the bowl, with clear glass inside so the colour shines through. This means that you can use a hand mixer or similar tool without having to worry that you’ll scratch the finish off. These things are definitely built to last.

Hope to see you there!

It Was Supposed to Be a Barbecue

Last night I had planned on barbecuing. It’s not really BBQ* season yet, but the snow has melted from around our barbecues (although without any grass growing yet, the ground around/under them is a morass of clay mud). The grills not being buried or frozen closed is pretty much all a Canadian needs to get started cooking in the back yard.

That being said, the temperature plummeted last night. Heck, it snowed off and on since Tuesday night, but it had hovered around freezing for most of that time. But once yesterday afternoon came around, the wind picked up and it started getting cold fast. By midnight it was -7° (-16° with the wind chill), and by morning it was -11°C and felt like -20°C. As winter temperatures around here go, that’s not too bad, but that’s really cold for April. Not only that, but the wind reached 90Km/hr gusts — you know it’s windy when you’re driving and debris is passing your car. With that wind, the cold just cut right through you… So yeah, I didn’t want to stand outside and cook. Not only that, but winds like that make it very difficult to get an even temperature on the grill!

So dinner wasn’t barbecued steak, it was pan-fried. It was very tasty pan-fried steak, though, cooked medium and tender. I served it up with a heaping side salad, which kind of felt summery if you didn’t look out the window…

* Yes, I am fully aware that what we call “barbecue” around here is what people in the southern USA would call “grilling”. We don’t really have a low-and-slow BBQ tradition around here, although those few times I have had it, it has been mouthwateringly delicious.