Dad’s Birthday Dinner

This past weekend began with my dad’s birthday on Friday. September is a busy birthday month in my family, with my brother’s birthday near the start of the month, and then my mom’s just over a week later, and then my dad’s about a week after that. Before she passed away, we celebrated my Nan’s birthday right at the end of the month as well. This meant a lot of birthday parties and dinners, although as we got older, more of the latter than the former.

Dad’s request for his birthday dinner was much more traditional for my family than my mom’s, given both the region in which we live and our cultural heritage. Dad requested baked beans and biscuits, followed by butter tarts for dessert. Baked beans are generally considered to be a Québec specialty, but they are extremely popular in Ontario and New Brunswick as well (both provinces have a proportionately large French-Canadian population, especially where they share a border with Québec). My father fondly remembers my grandfather making baked beans for the family; it was probably one of the recipes he learned while working as a lumberjack. The baking soda biscuits are definitely Granddad’s recipe, passed down to me by my father. And butter tarts are a quintessentially English Canadian dish, although it’s not one passed down to me by my grandparents; so far as I know, Granddad wasn’t much for fancy baking, and Nan never mastered the art of pie crusts.

All that being said, I’d never made baked beans by myself before — that had always been Mom’s job! So I needed to look up a recipe. The Maple baked Beans With Apples on page 151 of The Canadian Living Cookbook (Carol Ferguson, 1987). I adapted the recipe to cook predominantly in the crock pot, since I didn’t want to run the oven for hours and hours on such a hot day. I basically tossed all of the ingredients that would have been baked in the first stage in the crock pot for about 16 hours. Then I ladled it all into a Dutch oven, topped with sliced Granny Smith apples, brown sugar, and butter, and baked it all together uncovered for an hour. It turned out absolutely fabulous, enough so that my parents asked me for the recipe!

The biscuits, of course, were Dad’s Biscuits. I rolled out the dough and cut it with a cookie cutter instead of going with the easier drop-off-a-spoon version, since formed biscuits hold up better to dunking or spreading with baked beans. I asked Dad if it was weird to have his own recipe made for him, and although he agreed that it was an odd feeling, he wasn’t complaining.

Served last were the raisin butter tarts. I used the same recipe as I did for the potluck dinner a month ago: page 234 of The Canadian Living Cookbook. However, I substituted an equal volume of golden raisins for the walnuts that the recipe called for, which tasted delicious. I kind of overfilled the tarts though, so they boiled over when they baked and hence look a mess. They tasted good anyway, although the stickiness of the overflowed filling meant that they were a pain to remove from the pans.

So happy birthday to my dad! Love always to the man who taught me through his automatic acceptance that people can do whatever they put their mind to, no matter what traditional gender roles in our society may dictate.

MosaïCanada 150

This past week I took the kids to MosaïCanada 150, which is a massive garden installation in celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday. The exhibition is being held in Jacques-Cartier Park in Gatineau, Québec (right across the river from Ottawa) from June 30th to October 15th, from 10:00am to 7:00pm. And it’s free! Well, the garden is, but parking isn’t.

The girls and I took a picnic lunch and stayed for a couple of hours, much to their delight. As a family we really do enjoy playing tourist, even in our own city. We ended up with perfect weather! I took what seems like a million pictures, but I’ve narrowed it down to my favourite pieces and the ones that resonate the most with my heritage.


Canada 150: A Powerful Symbol


Engine CPR 374

I’ve always loved trains.


Anne of Green Gables (waiting at for the train at the station)

I loved the Anne of Green Gables books as a child, and I faithfully watched the televised version with Megan Follows with my parents. I haven’t had a chance to check out the new version; although I’ve heard good things, I don’t know if it can compare in my mind with the nostalgia that the old version induces.


The Lobster Fisherman

I don’t know that any of my ancestors were lobster fishermen, but they’re iconic to the East Coast, where my family is definitely from.


The Canadian Horse

My girls loved this sculpture the most. They pointed out to me that it greatly resembles the scene at the end of The Last Unicorn where the unicorns emerge en masse from the sea. I particularly liked the use of grasses for the mane, which flowed in the breeze.


The Prospector (panning for gold)

We spent a lot of time in elementary school learning about the Klondike Gold Rush. I especially liked how the fountain in this piece added motion as the prospector “washed” his pan.


The Voyageur

Similarly, I remember many lessons on the French-Canadian Voyageurs.


Mother Earth: The Legend of Aataentsic

I have to admit, I’m not familiar with The Legend of Aataentsic, but Mother Earth and Mother Nature are stories told all over the world in different forms. I was especially impressed by this sculpture, which was the crowning glory of the exhibition. No other display was done on such a grand scale, or with such flow and attention to detail.


Mother Earth: The Legend of Aataentsic


Mother Earth: The Legend of Aataentsic

If you’re in the Ottawa/Gatineau region before October 15th, I highly recommend visiting the MosaïCanada 150 garden. I hope to be able to go back again in the fall once the leaves have started to change colour; I expect it will be gorgeous.

Chocolate Fudge Zucchini Cookies

I recently discovered that the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum has a whole list of recipes that it provides free of charge in PDF format. There are a number of what I would consider typical, traditional Canadian dishes on there — but there were also a number I’d never heard of as well. So of course I had to check them out.

I’d been craving sweets, so I decided that the first recipe I’d try from this collection was the Chocolate Fudge Zucchini Cookies. Also, although I didn’t grow any myself this year, zucchini is in season and hence is really affordable at the moment. And wow, was I ever happy with how these cookies turned out! They were soft and moist without falling apart, and incredibly rich. The recipe called for the cookies to be dropped by tablespoons onto the baking pans, but although the composition of the dough was too thick for this and each cookie had to be hand-formed, I don’t think that this affected the final product in a negative way.

I think that the only thing I’d change about this recipe is how the zucchini is prepared. The recipe calls for it to be finely shredded, but I found that this still left a few stringy bits in the otherwise-soft texture of the cookie. In the future, I might try peeling the zucchini first, or running it through the blender to change the texture. I wouldn’t want to get rid of it, though, as that’s what makes it so moist!

Dragons and Spiders

I spent part of this weekend with what seemed like almost everybody else in Ottawa: watching La Machine. And I’m not kidding about the “almost everybody else” thing, either. Apparently attendance of the street theater production on Saturday (when we went) was 250,000 to 300,000 people, and the crowds over the four-day run was around 750,000. Keep in mind that the population of the city is just over a million. It would be drastically understating things to say that La Machine was well-attended.

So what’s the story of this performance? From the Ottawa 2017 website:

From the ninth level of heaven, Long Ma —- a cosmic creature who is half-horse, half-dragon—keeps watch over humanity. But a sinister force that has taken the form of a giant spider slips into his home as he sleeps, burning his wings and robbing his sacred temple. From this time forth, the Dragon-Horse roams the seven seas in search of his missing temple.

The giant spider, Kumo, takes refuge in Ottawa, the mother-city of all spiders. Buried deep beneath the waves, the temple remains concealed. But the recent work undertaken by the city to build Ottawa’s new transit line has disturbed Kumo, and she is forced to emerge from the ground. Her power depleted, the spider becomes vulnerable and loses control of the temple, which reappears in the city. Alerted by this apparition, Long Ma sets out on the route taken by Champlain several centuries earlier, with the intention of recovering his temple of travel, a shrine that he alone has the power to properly restore.

So on Saturday we headed downtown to City Hall to check out the sleeping Long Ma (the dragon horse):


Apparently Long Ma breathes smoke in his sleep.

We took a break for dinner and walked over to The Aulde Dubliner in the Byward Market. I have dined there before on several occasions, and I have yet to order something there I disliked. Given the massive crowds downtown for the La Machine performance, I was pleasantly surprised by the restaurant’s short wait time (about 15 minutes for a table inside, right at dinner hour), prompt service, and quick turnaround on food. I honestly was expecting everything to take forever no matter where we ended up. Considering that some restaurants ran out of food, my fear was not unfounded.

After dinner we walked down to the Supreme Court of Canada to check out Kumo (the giant spider):

Then we took a quick walk back to the intersection Elgin St and Queen St to stake out a spot to watch Long Ma walk by:


Long Ma turns north from Albert St onto Elgin St.


Long Ma walking up Elgin St. Thing 2 took this photo with my phone while sitting on my shoulders. You can really get an idea of the scale of the crowds.


Long Ma breathing smoke.


Thing 1 took this photo as well.

After Long Ma passed us, we put our cameras away and joined the rest of the crowd in following the dragon on his walk down Wellington St to the Supreme Court. Once Long Ma turned the corner to the courtyard for the main performance, we couldn’t see him live anymore and had to watch most of the performance on one of the giant screens. However, we did get close enough by the end of the performance to see him get his wings back through the trees, and to watch Kumo jet water, and to witness the “snow” falling. My kids were enthralled. I was somewhat less spellbound, as I had to carry a child on my shoulders for more than an hour and that’s a bit distracting, but it was still a wonderful show. We even got to see the dragon and the spider from a bit closer after things ended, once the crowds started to thin.

All in all, we got home around midnight tired, hungry, and footsore. But would I do it again? Heck yes, I would. This is the stuff that memories are made of.

Fish Stories

According to Wikipedia, the Canadian province of Ontario contains approximately 250,000 lakes annd 100,000 plus kilometers of rivers. This means that about 1/5 of the world’s fresh water is in this province. So I guess it should come as no surprise that many people raised here spend a lot of their recreational time out at “the lake” or “the river”. A lot of us learn to fish from a very young age, which is funny when you realize how few of us ever actually catch enough to cook even a single meal.


Thing 1 fishing.

My father started taking me fishing when I was about five years old, so you’d think that that would mean that I’m an expert by now. Not even close. I mean, I can go fishing in a shallow, weedy area using a spinner lure and worms as bait, and I can catch yellow perch, northern sunfish, and pumpkinseed sunfish like there’s no tomorrow. But I was always taught that, except on those rare occasions where you get a huge specimen, it just wasn’t worth it to take these fish home for dinner. I’ve also caught some monster pike, but they’re not good eating unless you’re truly desperate, as they are slimy, bony, and difficult to clean. Upon occasion, I’ve caught decent-sized walleye and carp, but only in waterways adjoining major cities that I consider too polluted for safe eating.


Thing 2 fishing.

Only in the last few years have I become truly interested in eating the fish that I catch; before that it was 100% catch-and-release. The prize fish for eating around here are smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, and trout, with the latter being the most desirable. Of course, this means that this year so far I’ve only caught the one smallmouth bass, which started flopping on the line while I was trying to get a picture and somehow broke my wire leader (which I attached to my line on the off chance that I’d catch a pike, which can bite through a normal line). No, the metal did not snap; the ferrule securing the wire loop slipped open, and not only did the fish get away, it took my lure with it! So that means that really, this year so far anyway, I have been skunked for edible fish. How demoralizing.

It’s still a lot of fun to fish though, especially with my kids. Thing 1 prefers to root through her tackle box and sort through her lures rather than fish. Thing 2 generally alternates between running along the shoreline and seemingly trying to hook herself with her wildly-cast lures. Even so, we have a great time. I’m lucky enough that my lack of fishing success doesn’t mean that my family will go hungry, so we have the luxury of being pretty terrible at it but enjoying ourselves anyway.

Canada Agriculture and Food Museum

We decided to forego the the crowds downtown on Canada Day; in retrospect, this ended up being a really good idea because the wait ended up being two to five hours to get onto Parliament Hill. There is no way that my kids would have had the patience for that — even if I did! After all, living in the nation’s capital means we can visit the area any time. Why contend with the crush?

Instead, we headed out to the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum, which is away from the downtown core. Parking was out into overflow lots, but otherwise it wasn’t too busy; I’ve seen it more packed when a bunch of school/camp trips all arrive simultaneously. Like most of the museums that are open on Canada Day, the Agriculture Museum had free admission, although we did have to pay $6.00 for parking. So all in all, it was a cheap day out.


Thing 2 checking ever-so-gently petting a sleepy calf.

There were all kinds of special demonstrations planned for Canada Day. We got a chance to check out the Chantecler chicken demo, ice cream making, the Great Canadian Quiz, the kids craft & games station, and the afternoon milking. Of course, we also had to make our way through all of the barns and pens to visit all of the animals. Thing 2, unsurprisingly, was the most fascinated by all of the animals.


Thing 2 on my husband’s shoulders while they watch the afternoon milking.

This kind of museum probably doesn’t have a huge amount of appeal to people from farming communities, where the knowledge to be garnered from the exhibits is part of everyday life, at least in part. I mean, day to day I can’t see the history of canola oil production in Canada being something that comes up, but if you live with livestock then it’s not going to be all that exciting to see them in a museum. However, for city folks like my family, it’s very interesting. I also think that it’s important for everyone to understand where their food comes from and how much time and effort goes into feeding our country. And of course for the kids, being allowed to touch some of the animals means that the place ends up being like a large petting zoo.


Thing 1 checking out the replica root cellar in the food preservation exhibit.

As a home cook, I found the Food Preservation: The Science You Eat exhibit to be particularly interesting. I like how you literally have to walk through the history up to the modern day. I’m also a big fan of area where you can manually control the time lapse video (forward, back, and speed) of decomposing food. I’ve always found that kind of thing to be fascinating.


Jars in the food preservation exhibit.

There is a section of the exhibit dedicated to home canning as well, which is very relevant to my interests.

All in all, we had a wonderful day out! We even got lucky with the weather and managed to avoid most of the rain. We’ve been to the Agriculture Museum many times before, and it never ceases to entertain and educate. I highly recommend visiting this museum if you have the chance.

Maple Rhubarb Crisp & Maple Leaf Cookies

I was trying to be as Canadian as possible this week and made maple rhubarb crisp from the recipe on page 116 of Sweet Ontario Pure Maple Syrup: Our favourite Maple Recipes, which is published by the Ontario Mable Syrup Producers’ Association. I picked up a copy of this cookbook this past weekend at the Cumberland Farmers’ Market, which is where I also picked up the rhubarb for the recipe. I didn’t purchase any good Ontario maple syrup at the time, but only because I already had two big jugs in my fridge. Can’t get much more local than that!


Maple rhubarb crisp topped with non-dairy whipped topping

I was really happy with how this recipe turned out. The crisp was the perfect blend of sweet and tart. I’m really looking forward to trying other recipes in this cookbook, such as the french toast casserole and maple BBQ chicken.

Of course, I had to check out some of the Canada-150-themed foods that are being sold in preparation for the big day. The above cookie was from a two-cookie decorating kit that retails at Walmart for $1.50. They aren’t half bad, given the price! My kids are going to decorate their own tomorrow. For an American company, Walmart carries an awful lot of Canadiana. But as the Arrogant Worms quipped in The Mountie Song:

“Where would you get a tank?”
“Walmart.”
“Oh.”

Speaking of the Arrogant Worms, here’s their song Proud to be Canadian, from the album Live Bait.

I hope you all have a safe and happy Canada Day!