Birthday Gifts

I haven’t been blogging for the last week because my illness finally caught up with me. It took me over two weeks to get over the con plague cold — which nobody else caught, which tells me that I really let my immune system get depressed through a combination of working too hard, eating crappy food, and not getting enough sleep. After a week of feeling like crap, I just had no reserves left.

Time marches forward, though, so while I was sick I celebrated a quiet birthday. Two of my friends had already bought me a rotary cutter as an early gift, but I got the gifts from my family over the weekend. My husband contributed to the “I need a new bike” fund (I got my old one more than fifteen years ago, and it has seen some heavy use). Thing 1 got me a hanging basket of flowers, pictured above.

Thing 2 got me a couple pots of annuals for my garden.

The two of them together got me Turtles Minis chocolates and some fun brightly-coloured yarn.

My parents contributed to the new bike fund, as well as buying me a new belt sander (I’d worn my old one out), a fish clamp small enough to fit in my tackle box, a guide to the essential foods of Italy, a gas mask (since I always seem to need more of them for costuming purposes), and the above-pictured camera-print pillows, which now reside in my living room. All in all, a fun birthday haul.

I plan to get back into the swing of blogging, now that I’m feeling somewhat better. Over the next week or so I hope to fill in the blanks where I wasn’t able to write, adding some backdated posts as time permits. Hopefully my energy levels will soon return to normal and I’ll be able to continue to write on my regular schedule.

Easter Celebrations

Our family’s Easter celebrations can happen any time over the long weekend, to coordinate with peoples’ schedules. Barring illness (we’ve had a couple of spring bugs work their way through our family over Easter, so those years nobody much cared about chocolate), though, the Easter Bunny visits after the kids go to bed on Easter Eve, so that there are gifts for the children to find first thing on Easter Sunday.

In our family, the Easter Bunny hides chocolate eggs around the main level of the house, but Easter baskets are put together by Mom and Dad. Although it may look like a lot of stuff, it’s generally dollar-store or thrift-store finds (except for the Skip-It-like toys this year). The downside is that sometimes the gifts aren’t of the highest quality, like the Crazy Eggs (Eights) deck from the dollar store that was entirely spades… Hmm, manufacturer’s flaw much? The toy I thought was the coolest was the Sew Science kits, which provided the materials and instructions for the kids to make their own sewn circuits that really light up. Super cool! I think the kids were most enthused about the K’Nex kits, though.

This year Hubby and I got little Easter baskets as well, although this isn’t always the case. Hubby’s basket was filled with his favourites: Farm Boy fresh jujubes, Twizzlers Nibs, Ferrero Rocher chocolates, and Sweet Tarts. I got a big bag of Whopper Robin Eggs, sock yarn, and a cute Peeps lunch box.

Easter afternoon is basically time for everyone to eat chocolate, the kids to play with their new toys, and the adults to prep for dinner. I baked an apple pie using the crust from page 73 of The All-New Purity Cook Book (Elizabeth Driver, 2001), as usual, and the filling from page 678 of the Joy of Cooking (Rombauer & Becker, 2006 edition).

I was actually excited to be able to use my new-to-me Tupperware 12″ Pie Taker for the first time in order to bring the pie to my parents’ place. I was so happy to find this because I usually transport my pies in Ziploc bags, but the top of the bags have a bad habit of getting stuck to the top of the pie. The Tupperware worked much better!

I made hot cross buns again this year (page 37, Baking Bread: Recipes From Around the World for the Complete Home Baker by Audrey Ellison (1995)). I think they turned out much better than last year’s, but I’d forgotten that last year I burned the first batch cooking them at the recommended temperature for the recommended time. I almost made the same mistake again! Luckily, I got them out just in time. I think they should take 12 minutes to bake, max (instead of the recommended 15 to 20 minutes in the book). This year I also used the glaze after baking, and boy was it sweet and sticky! The kids seemed to like it, though.

Mom put on her traditional turkey spread for our family of four, my parents, and their good friends Mrs. and Mr. B. (I guess the more traditional roast would be lamb, but Mom doesn’t like it and since she’s the cook, what she says goes. Mom gave us all the choice between pork and turkey, and we chose turkey.) It was delicious! It included roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, squash casserole with walnuts, Brussels sprouts, gravy, and… Oh, what am I missing?

That’s right, everybody’s favourite part: Dad’s famous Yorkshire pudding! Dad only used to make this for roast beef meals, and then he’d only make a single batch. In the last few years we’ve managed to persuade him that any roast meat with gravy needs to be paired with Yorkshire pudding, and that a double batch in the bare minimum quantity. They never, ever go to waste.

Of course, my mom set the table with seasonally-appropriate cloth napkins and adorable napkin rings.

I wanted to say thanks again to Mom and Dad for hosting such a delicious meal! And I hope that you all had a lovely Easter — or, for those who don’t celebrate the holiday, a fantastic long weekend!

Happy Easter!

I hope that everyone is having a safe and happy Easter long weekend. It hasn’t been terribly spring-like here yet, with lots of snow still on the ground, but a least we have had lots of chocolate to compensate!

(Those are Whopper Robin Eggs, by the way. The most addictive Easter chocolates known to man, in my personal opinion.)

Happy Easter!

Chicken Bones

Over the weekend I hit one of the local bulk food stores, and while I was there my attention was drawn to what I thought were real Chicken Bones. Okay, not real chicken bones, but the candy named after them. Chicken Bones follow in the grand tradition of naming confections after the parts of animals that they superficially resemble, just like Beaver Tails and bear claws. At any rate, I thought I was getting the Ganong original chicken bone candy, but in retrospect I may have been getting an imitation.

Here’s a video by Ganong about how the real thing is made:

Real or fake, Chicken Bones were an essential flavour of my childhood holidays. Unlike the ubiquitous mint of candy canes, Chicken Bones are a strong cinnamon candy with a touch of dark chocolate at the center. Now, I wouldn’t have known to make this comparison as a kid, but as an adult I can definitely say that they remind me of Fireball whisky.

Chicken Bones are a really Maritime thing, although they’ve made their way to the rest of Canada somewhat sparsely over time. That isn’t to say that they’re universally loved out East; I know a fair number of people who can’t stand them, but they are definitely ubiquitous. My Nan, who was from Britain but lived almost sixty years of her life in small-town New Brunswick, used to buy Chicken Bones around the holidays, along with After Eights and liquorice allsorts. Chicken Bones have a flavour and smell that I most strongly associate with her. Now that she has passed away nobody else around here seems to serve them. So when I saw them at the bulk food store, even if they were imitations, I had to pick up a few. I do miss my Nan around Christmas, since I spent so many of these holidays in her company. But sometimes keeping the little traditions alive helps to bring her back just a little bit, which is especially important this time of year, I think.

First Bake of the Christmas Season

I wanted to spend today working on my last-minute costume, but the weather has started to change for the colder, and that meant that I had to make some changes to my house. The Weather Network is calling for rain, freezing rain, and snow over the weekend, so I had to be prepared. First, I had to put up the Christmas lights, since climbing on a ladder in the ice and snow is not a good idea.

Second, I had to clean the garage. I know it may not look like much, but it took me the rest of the day to get my garage this tidy. I really prefer to park under a roof in the winter; the car starts easier, it takes less time to get out the door because I don’t have brush/scrape off snow/ice, and it’s just generally better for the longevity of the vehicle. In warmer weather, however, my garage becomes my workshop-slash-storage-space, and it becomes cluttered and messy, and there’s no way you can get a car in there for about six months. So every fall I have to give it a good clean, and this year I’d let it get bad enough that it took me most of the day.

We still had to eat, of course, so I kept in the same mind-set as yesterday’s Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day — this having nothing to do with the fact that I still hadn’t gone to the grocery store, of course. I made grilled cheese for the family using yesterday’s Light Rye and Caraway Bread (page 75, Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf (Jennie Shapter (2002)) and leftover cheese from the cheese-and-crackers tray from the Halloween party, which I think was mostly cheddar and Havarti, possibly Gouda. Sadly, there was just toast for me, since I have yet to find a non-dairy cheese that I actually like. Alongside the sandwiches I served cream of carrot soup that I had made up around Easter and frozen.

This weekend there is an annual fundraiser to send the area Pathfinders on an excursion, for which the younger girls (Sparks, Brownies and Guides) help out. The fundraiser is a holiday tea held at a local church. Parents supply beverages and baked goods, the Pathfinders organize and run the kitchen, the Guides serve the hot drinks, the Brownies serve cold drinks and treats, and the little Sparks just serve treats. The younger girls only work in one-hour shifts and are always given the chance to sit down and have tea and treats afterwards, so they love participating in this fundraiser. Plus, it makes them feel really grown up.

Thing 1 helped me choose and bake the treats we’ll be providing, which after a perusal of my cookbooks Thing 1 proclaimed had to be brownies-without-the-capital-B. She picked the recipe from Cookies: Recipes for Gifting & Sharing (Publications International Ltd., 2016), the classic brownies on page 35. Other than taking longer to bake than the directions specified, they went off without a hitch! Of course, I had to try one of the brownies before I packaged them to drop off tonight, and they’re rich and chocolatey soft, firm on the outside with a soft, moist (but not under-cooked) center. I am definitely pleased with this recipe, and not only because it’s so easy! My only qualm is that it has a bit of dairy inside, so maybe in the future I’ll be able to come up with a non-dairy version.

Sick Day

I was sick yesterday. It’s just a cold: body aches, chills, sinus pressure, and a headache. Nothing major, but pretty miserable. I’d planned on heading out to the Ottawa Antique and Vintage Market, but after taking Thing 1 out to shop for Christmas gifts at a school craft fair, I was beat. I curled up in bed, unable to quite feel warm, until dinner time.

Needless to say, I wasn’t up to cooking. My husband, an unenthusiastic cook at best, thought that I should have soup for dinner to help me feel better. He reheated some frozen shoyu broth I’d made a while back, to which he added ramen noodles, shrimp, soft-boiled eggs, enoki mushrooms, and a square of nori. It was exactly what the doctor ordered.

After dinner, and after the kids were put to wrangled into bed, he also made me a hot apple cider (non-alcoholic; I know in some places calling it “apple cider” presumes an alcohol content, but around that we call it “hard apple cider” to differentiate). He also looted me a few mini chocolate bars from the kids’ extra Halloween candy. I feel very loved. It’s nice to be taken care of every once and a while. Now, if only the cold would disappear as quickly as my hunger did.

Last of the Zucchini

One of the biggest challenges about this time of year, at least to me, is to either eat or preserve all of the fresh produce that comes my way before it goes bad. It seems to me like the utmost example of taking what you have for granted to let food — especially fresh, homegrown, delicious food — go bad. Practically speaking, this does mean freezing, drying, or canning a lot of it to eat over the coming winter. But it also means a lot of meals made with just-picked ingredients.

Over the last few days I’ve finally managed to cook my way through all of the zucchini from my friends’ gardens (although I may end up with more in the next little while, not that I’m complaining). Last night for dinner we dug into another loaf of Harvest Garden Bread (which contains zucchini), Baked Panko Zucchini Sticks, and haddock baked under a generous coating of Blender Salsa (page 92 of Preserving by the Pint: Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces (Marisa McClellan, 2014)), which was made almost entirely from produce grown in my garden.

Then it was Double Chocolate Zucchini Muffins for dessert. I had never tried this recipe before, but it was highly recommended to me by a friend, and now I realize why. These muffins are moist, dark, rich, and chocolatey. They also aren’t as unhealthy as other muffins with similar flavour. I mean, it would be a stretch to actually call them health, what with the chocolate chips and the oil in there, but there is more zucchini in the recipe by volume than flour, and that has to count for something, right? 10/10, will definitely bake this one again.