Mom’s Birthday Dinner

We celebrated my mother’s birthday this past Saturday. At her request, I hosted dinner at my house and made her up some of my ramen — which somehow she had never tried before. The version that I chose to make was Furikake Salmon Ramen (page 82 of Simply Ramen by Amy Kimoto-Kahn (2016)); the recipe is also available online here. This recipe uses a shoyu base (page 8, or online at easypeasyjapanesey.com), which I made up in advance in my slow cooker. I remain rather enamored of this base recipe, but every time I make it I remind myself that sometime I really need to try the tonkotsu base, which is my favourite but appears much more difficult. I used soft-boiled eggs instead of marinated half-cooked eggs, mostly due to time constraints. I also used packaged noodles; one of these days I will make my own, but that really requires a pasta maker, which I don’t own. I didn’t use the kind from the instant soup packages, as I find they get soggy much too quickly, but instead a package of dried noodles on their own for which I unfortunately can’t read most of the label.

The real star of this dish is the salmon. I was lucky enough to find it on special at the grocery store, pre-portioned and ready to go. The furikake topping was delicious even though I used North American mayonnaise instead of Japanese-style. There were some leftovers and I really look forward to having them served over rice in the next few days. I think that this topping is going to become part of my regular dinner roster; it would probably be good on other pink, oily fish like sea trout.

In our family, there’s always dessert with a birthday dinner, even if you’re stuffed from the meal itself — that just means that you take a breather and have the treat later in the evening. This year I made apple pie using fruit that I’d grown on my own tree in the back yard. For the chocolate lovers, Dad made brownies with chocolate icing, which were delicious and, if you know my dad, a very special treat, since he rarely bakes. We served it all up with whipped cream and/or vanilla ice cream (and dairy-free alternatives thereto). Oh, and candles! I was thrilled to find that it’s possible to get the candles that burn with coloured flame at the dollar store these days. I used to have to go downtown to a specialty store to buy them.

So happy birthday to my mom! Love always to the woman who helped shape me into the person that I am (whether that’s a good thing or not is a matter of opinion).

Mom’s Potato Salad

Back when I started writing this blog, I set a personal goal to record the recipes that I had grown up with. I didn’t want my descendants to encounter the same issues that I’d had when my grandmother passed away and took her knowledge of family favourites with her.


Mom’s basic potato salad.

To this end, I asked my mother the other day for her potato salad recipe so that I could post in online (it’s one of my favourite summer dishes). Much to my dismay, she explained to me that she had no real recipe and added ingredients until it “looked right”. After telling me this, she laughed a bit, because she used to get frustrated with my Nan and her approach of “a little bit of this, a touch of that” dishes that were downright impossible for her to recreate.


Mom’s basic potato salad.

So Mom and I set aside some time at the cottage this summer to measure all her ingredients and record everything that she did to make her potato salad. This one of her most often-requested potluck or barbecue dinner dishes, and indeed, it got rave reviews when I made her recipe for the most recent potluck. As a bonus, it is both simple and a great make-ahead dish. Actually, it’s easier to prepare the ingredients a day ahead, then combine them into the final dish on the day it will be served. It takes the pressure off of hosting when you know that at least one dish is ready and waiting in the fridge.


Mom’s potato salad made fancier by leaving the potato skins on and including bacon bits.

Mom’s Potato Salad
Makes about 7 cups of salad

You will need:
6 cups potatoes (any variety) cut into bite-sized pieces
This recipe works well with both older and new potatoes. With older potatoes, peel before cutting. With new, thin-skinned potatoes, wash them and leave the skins on before cutting.
Place the potatoes into a large pot and cover with water. Boil potatoes until they are soft enough to be pierced by a fork, but not yet mushy. Drain and refrigerate in a covered container until cool (this can be done overnight).
While the potatoes are cooking, hard-boil:
6 large or extra-large eggs
Place eggs into cold water until they are cool to the touch. If assembling the salad the next day, the eggs can be left in their shells in the fridge overnight.
Place the cooled potatoes into a large mixing bowl. Peel the eggs. Cut up 4 of the 6 eggs into bite-sized pieces (usually eighths or smaller), setting the two most aesthetically pleasing eggs aside as topping.
To the potatoes and eggs add:
1 cup mayonnaise*
1 tsp table salt
1 tsp yellow mustard
3 Tbsp finely chopped green onion or chives
Optionally, you may add:
(375g package of low-salt bacon, cooked and chopped into bits)**
Mix well until all ingredients are evenly coated.
Scoop the salad into a serving dish, or simply serve in the mixing bowl for informal gatherings. Optionally, you may lightly sprinkle over the salad for looks:
(a dash of paprika)
Cut into quarters the 2 eggs you set aside. Arrange the eggs at the center of the salad in a sunburst pattern.
Serve.
This recipe may easily be multiplied in order to serve a larger number of people.


Mom’s fancy potato salad.

*Regular, olive oil, reduced-fat, or reduced-fat olive oil mayonnaise are all acceptable. However, do NOT use salad dressing or Miracle Whip, the flavour is all wrong in this dish.

**If you add reduced-salt bacon, halve the amount of salt in the recipe. I prefer the reduced-salt kind, but if you have to use regular bacon, don’t add any salt at all.

At The Park

There are a lot of public parks in the Ottawa area; a lot of them even have splash pads and water features. This means that if you’re looking to do something with the kids (or even just to get outside yourself), there is always somewhere to go and something to do — so long as it’s not pouring rain. I take advantage of this on a regular basis. My kids are old enough now to pop off together to the closest park for an hour or two. However, their range is pretty small (they only just learned to ride bikes without training wheels earlier this summer), and I wouldn’t feel comfortable with them going much further or crossing major roads alone in any case. So whenever it’s nice out and the girls are getting restless, I head out to a park.


Brewer Park


Knitting at Cardinal Creek Community Park. That day I was working on the start of an adult sock in Araucania Yars Huasco 100% extra-fine Merino wool (colour 101, dye lot 74403) on 3.5mm circular knitting needles.

We alternate between parks, sometimes staying close to home, sometimes packing a lunch and driving downtown or even across town to check out some new scenery. I stuff a novel, a knitting project, and my phone into my purse, which is enough to keep me entertained for hours. No matter where we go, I also have to bring about a tonne of sunscreen. It probably hasn’t escaped anyone that I’m a blonde and my kids are redheads, so sunscreen is not an option, it’s a necessity. The kids invariably come home soaking wet, exhausted, and happy. To me, that’s a successful summer day.

Gifts of Food

I love to give food as gifts. I figure that everyone has to eat. Even those people it’s really hard to buy/make gifts for, those people who seem to have everything they need or want (or have expensive tastes way out of my budget), food is something that they constantly need to purchase. It is, after all, a consumable.

So I give food as gifts for birthdays, Christmas, and other special occasions. I try to keep the recipients’ tastes and food sensitivities/allergies in mind, of course, although sometimes I know I don’t quite get it right (but that can happen with any kind of gift, really). I always label all of my homemade food with every ingredient I’ve used, just in case I’ve missed or forgotten something. I like giving hard-to-find items that may require a trip to a specialty store, or foods sold as part of fundraisers. When it comes to home cooking, casseroles and baked goods are traditional. Additionally, I especially like giving home-canned goods, because I can do large batches when the food is in season and dole it out over the rest of the year. Canned goods are especially good when I don’t know when the recipient will want to actually eat the food, since shelf-stable canned goods last a year or more. There’s always a lot of food involved in holidays anyway, so I can’t always assume that a gift will be consumed immediately; to this end, foods that freeze well are also a great option.


A recent gift of food: Mikado milk chocolate biscuit sticks, Maple and Oatmeal Loaf (Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf (Jennie Shapter, 2002), page 95), and Girl Guide cookies (chocolate/vanilla mix). Not packaged very prettily, I know, but it had to survive a ride on the back of my bike.

I also like to give food to people I care about who are going through a rough time. A new baby in the home (a joyous occasion, but a time-consuming and stressful time as well), a death of a loved one, illness, marital troubles… In this case it’s less of a matter of celebration, and more a matter of trying to help out. When you’re in the middle of personal difficulties, the last thing on your mind is eating properly. You have neither time nor inclination to cook, so you rely on whatever is cheapest and easiest, which isn’t sustainable in the long run. I want to help out, but in so many cases there’s not much I can really do to fix the problem. I feel helpless, and I hate to see someone I care about hurting, so I fall back on making food — something I know I can help with. I want to show that I care, but I don’t want to intrude, and popping by to drop off a casserole or a loaf of bread only takes a few minutes.

Where did this mindset come from? Is it regional? Familial? Personal? I’m not sure. I’m from Maritime stock, and I’m told this is very common on the East Coast (also the Southern USA, but I don’t have any ties there). I grew up around potluck gatherings of every kind, that’s for sure. I’m pretty sure my paternal grandmother was of the traditional “bring food around” mindset; possibly it’s part of the whole “hostess gift” tradition? Whatever the reason, what I’m trying to do with a gift of food is show that I care, and that I want to make your life easier, if only for one meal. And hey, if I end up giving you a dish that you absolutely despise, I was trying, okay?

At The Lake

I spent the weekend at the lake again — but a different lake this time. My parents have rented a cottage for the summer, and I’m taking the kids up whenever I can.


The view from the dock.

Of course, every trip to a cottage comes with hearty breakfasts… Okay, well, brunches… Okay, sometimes lunches. It all depends on how early the kids get me up, and how lazy I’m feeling when I first get out of bed. A beautiful day at a cottage often makes me want to sit on the deck or the dock with my morning beverage of choice and just relax.


Cottage breakfast with French toast, bacon, and fruit salad (asian pear, cherries, and banana).

Of course, once I’ve had something to eat (and okay, sometimes before), it’s time to jump in the lake. This particular lake is really clear and actually quite warm for a Canadian lake, which means that you still don’t want to stay in there all day, but it’s not breathtaking to jump into.


Thing 1 practicing her cannonball.

My kids would spend all day in the water if their lips didn’t turn blue, which happens even in a heated pool, eventually. Their favourite part is launching themselves bodily off of the dock


I think Thing 2 doing her “starfish” jump.

Also, I’m pretty sure that Thing 2 believes that she can fly.

The Country Garden

I’m a city girl, but I’ve been in and out of farmland since childhood. Ottawa’s a pretty small city, and it is surrounded by (and encompasses) a great deal of agricultural property. You’d be hard pressed to find anywhere in town that is more than a 45-minute drive from planted fields (traffic aside, of course).


Sign at the farm at 1900 Kerr Line, Foresters Falls, Ontario

Once you get out of the city proper, you start seeing lots of signs like the one above for home-based businesses selling produce and goods that were grown, raised, or made on the property. However, there has been a sharp decline in the number of little sheds that I saw as a child at the end of just about every farm lane. I don’t know what has changed that caused them to become unused; did they become unprofitable to staff? If the booths were unmanned and ran on the honour system, was there just too much theft to make them profitable? Too much spoilage? Was it caused by the change over years in how farms are being run (increasingly, one large farm produces only a few select things and brings everything else in based on the profits, versus the older model of many smaller farms that fed their residents first and then sold the excess, if there was one)? Is it just because there are fewer people living on farms overall, as machines replace manual labour? Or is it because as the larger farms buy up their neighbours’ land, they leave the homes on the property to sit empty? A combination of all of the above, possibly in addition to factors I know nothing about?


Roadside sign for The Country Garden.


The Country Garden’s main area.

However, there are still a few roadside booths going strong. The Country Garden on Queen’s Line is the best example of a successful booth that I know of. The farm itself appears to be tended with a great deal of care. The grass is mowed up to the road, the fruit trees are neatly trimmed, there are flowers planted at the base of all the signs and hanging baskets wherever they’ll fit, the dirt road is without major potholes. And the food, oh the food… I make a point of stopping there every time we’re in that neck of the woods, and I’ve been going for almost ten years now.

The Country Garden is unmanned unless it is being stocked, and hence it runs on the honour system. There is some security in the shape of a lock box and a security camera. This seems to work out well for them overall, although there have been hiccups. Inside the shed there is a board with photos of people who have stolen from the Garden before, along with pictures and a written request for people to help in identifying the thieves. I don’t have a lot of patience with thieves in general, but I think it’s pretty despicable to steal from a small business like that.

The shelves on the outside of the main booth (shed?) are stocked up every day with fresh-picked produce from the farm (which I believe is run by the Martin family). This time of year there is a plenitude of tomatoes, peas, garlic, potatoes, lettuce, and green onions. Of course, this varies by season; I’ve been by in the fall when there are literal trailer-loads of squash for sale.


Inside the shed/booth.


Of course I had to buy a blueberry pie.

Inside the shed (booth?) are shelves lined with preserves, some of which come directly from the farm and others from Horst Homebaking (another local business, which is run by Noreen Horst at 74 Government Road (Foresters Falls, Ontario)). All of the preserves I’ve bough from The Country Garden have been bursting with flavour and not over-sweet, which is exactly how I like them. There is also a fridge that is re-stocked daily with eggs, fresh-baked pies and tarts that would make Dean Winchester weep, pepperettes, and sausages. The freezer is regularly refilled with cuts of beef and homemade ice cream bars.

There are photos on display of the family working on the farm; by their garb I would guess they are Mennonites, but I am not 100% sure. Most of what I know about Mennonites is based on the food I have bought from their booths at farmers’ markets — which has invariably been delicious.

Occasionally there are crafts for sale, like the above ride-on toy digger.

And there are often ornamental plants and hanging plants on offer as well.

If The Country Garden is still running for another ten years, as I hope it will be, I plan on buying fresh local produce and goods from them for all of that time. They don’t exactly have a web presence, but I can tell you that they’re open seasonally Monday through Saturday. They only take cash and, as you’ll have to deposit your payment in the lock box, you’ll need exact change. The Country Garden is located at 3024 Queens Line (Foresters Falls, Ontario), just down from the intersection of Queen’s Line and Acres Road, and close to Queen’s Line United Church (currently not in use). I highly recommend stopping by if you’re in the area. You won’t regret it. Come early if you can, as their stock can run low later in the day.

Nan’s Strawberry Shortcake Recipe

It’s less than a week until Canada Day (July 1st), and this year it’s a big deal because it’s the country’s sesquicentennial, 150 years since Confederation. It’s a pretty big deal around here. There are all kinds of events planned surrounding the holiday, much more extensive than the usual celebrations. I’m not sure yet what we’re going to take part in, but it’s worth noting that most of the museums are free on Canada Day (especially useful if it’s raining but you still want to do something), and the fireworks are always spectacular.

Until the big day, though I thought I’d cook some typically-Canadian or Canada-themed dishes to start the celebrations. Canadian cuisine is really hard to pin down, as it’s very regional and is strongly influenced by the immigrants that settled in the area. Since I am predominantly of British descent, my idea of Canadian food is British-Canadian, but since I live in an area with a strong French-Canadian presence, that affects my idea of typical Canadian food as well. If you live in a different part of Canada, or come from a different heritage, your idea of typical Canadian food may be totally different — and that’s totally okay. As former PM Joe Clark put it, “Canada has a cuisine of cuisines. Not a stew pot, but a smorgasbord.”


Nan’s strawberry shortcake made with non-dairy whipped topping

The first dish I made to celebrate Canada Day was nice red-and-white strawberry shortcake, according to my Nan’s (my dad’s mom’s) recipe. It’s a fairly simple recipe that can be whipped up quickly. If you’d prefer a no-bake red-and-white dessert recipe, I would suggest The Cat’s Hat Parfaits.

Nan’s Strawberry Shortcake
Yields 10-12 personal-sized shortcakes

Make up a batch of
Dad’s Biscuits
However, replace the 2 tsp of sugar in the recipe for
3 Tbsp sugar
This will make a sweeter biscuit that is more suitable for dessert.
When shaping the biscuits, instead of using the drop-off-a-spoon method used in the photos, roll out the dough onto a floured surface to between 3/4″ and 1″ thick. Use a round cookie cutter or a floured drinking glass with straight sides to cut the biscuits to a uniform size. Follow the rest of the instructions as per the recipe.

While the biscuits are baking, cut up about:
1/2 cup of strawberries per shortcake
Only cut up as much as you’ll need to serve right away, as strawberries tend to go bad more quickly once they’re cut.
In a separate bowl, whip together until fluffy:
one 237mL package whipped cream
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla
Alternately, you may use spray whipped cream in a can, or non-dairy whipped topping.

When the biscuits are done and cool enough to handle, assemble the shortcakes on small serving plates or in bowls. Start with the bottom half of a biscuit, then a layer of strawberries, then whipped cream, then the top half of the biscuit, more strawberries, and top with whipped cream. Serve.

Alternately, make the biscuits in advance and assemble the shortcakes immediately before serving. Do not assemble them in advance, or they will get soggy.