Cooking for a Crowd at the Cottage

Another lovely day with friends at the cottage started with eggs (over easy or scrambled), toast (not homemade for a change because we ran out), breakfast sausages, and left-over fruit salad.

Then there was more fishing. My girls usually love fishing, but with friends along they developed a great deal more patience than usual! I think everything’s just more interesting with friends.

All this despite the fact that Gramps was the main one who caught the fish (unusual, that, since with all the kids around he spends most of his time baiting hooks and untangling lines). Friend 1 did manage to catch a small rock bass, and my friend caught this tiny little sunfish and a slightly larger rock bass. She did get one good-sized fish on that tiny little hook, but didn’t manage to land it. The water was so clear that we could all watch it and its buddies swimming away…

Of course, there was also lots of swimming fun to be had, especially since it was even hotter that day than the day before.

For dinner on the last night I made curry and rice, not Glico this time by S&B Tasty Curry Sauce Mix (mild, of course, since the kids have no tolerance for spice). The veggies were potatoes, carrots, and garlic scapes. My kids ate a fair portion, but I’m pretty sure that Friend 1 and Friend 2 weren’t so fond. I get the impression that they’re pretty darned picky eaters, though.

We all had a really great time! I hope that we can do this again.

Friends at the Cottage

We were lucky enough to get to spend a few days with friends at my parents’ rental cottage this week! With a good friend of mine and her two boys, it was a happy kind of chaos.

The weather was clear and hot, so most of the days were spent outdoors, either in, on, or beside the lake.

We started the day with a hearty brunch of French toast and fresh fruit salad, topped with a generous drizzle of maple syrup and a dollop of whipped cream substitute.

Then my dad took the kids out fishing. I’m pretty sure that was their favourite activity of the trip!

We tried our hardest to keep the kids spaced far enough apart that they didn’t hook each other, but it was a challenge because of course they wanted to socialize.

At one point before my friend arrived, Thing 1 and Thing 2 were out fishing with Gramps, and Thing 2 took a tumble off of the dock and into the lake. She was soaked, shaken, and a bit scraped up, but overall okay. However, it wasn’t until the next day that my friend was able to retrieve Thing 2’s rod from the bottom of the lake.

On a trip into town we discovered a really awesome second-hand book and gaming store. The older two quickly learned how to share the manga they’d scored. They were so absorbed in their book that I’m pretty sure they don’t know I took this picture.

Dinner may not have been the most appetizing-looking, but it was delicious! My friend and I both set up our slow cookers at the start of the day so we could escape the kitchen. My friend made the pork chops are from this recipe, and I made mashed potatoes with garlic scapes and chicken broth (no recipe needed, just throw ’em all together in the slow cooker for 6 hours or so on low and mash it once the potatoes are soft).

And of course after dinner was done, it was time to go jump in the lake!

Weekend Costume Workshop

I spent two full days this weekend holed up with five friends in my basement trying desperately to help them get their Sunday ComicCon costumes finished. I don’t know how I ended up being the “experienced one” in this group, since I’m definitely no pro, but at least I had finished making the same costumes they had to make at least once already. While I coached my friends along, I did managed to get the dress for my Saturday costume sewn — but it still has lots of weathering to go before I consider it finished.

I dug out my face paints and makeup to do a few makeup trials. I’m decent at face-painting, but makeup is a totally different skill and I needed the practice.

It’s not horrible, but I think I can do better. My biggest lesson here is that I need some better eye shadows to create the look I’m going for, something with a lot more pigment. I’m going to have to go shopping this week.

Over the course of the days we had four sewing machines, a serger, a cutting table, an ironing board, and a painting table all in use, often all at the same time.

In the end, I think my friends got their costumes mostly done, or at least to a point where they could figure out most of the rest on their own. Some of my friends are returning tonight to complete their work, and others may be coming back next weekend.

Only 11 days to go…

(Oh, and I didn’t cook a single thing all weekend.)

Na na na na na na na na Bat Pie!

Tonight I’m off to another friend’s birthday celebration, and I think it’s safe for me to write about his gift since so far as I can tell he doesn’t read my blog. At least, he seemed genuinely surprised when I asked him if he’d like a pie for his birthday and, if so, what kind is his favourite. He did say that fruit pies, especially strawberry-raspberry-blueberry or strawberry-rhubarb were his top-ranked. However, rhubarb is almost impossible to get this time of year (although knowing this now, I’ll freeze some in advance next year when it comes in season). And red fruits just didn’t seem dark enough for what I had in mind.

You see, my friend is a huge Batman fan, and I wanted to make him something appropriate to his fandom. After all, as LEGO Batman says, Batman “only works in black, and sometimes very, very dark grey” — although I’d go so far as to say that Adam West’s cowl was a deep purple or blue, depending on the lighting. Since I didn’t want to add food colouring to the filling, so I went with blackberry-blueberry. As usual, I used the Purity Pastry recipe from page 73 of The All-New Purity Cook Book (Elizabeth Driver, 2001). As my father and his mother before him taught me, I made the crust using lard instead of vegetable shortening, which I’ve always been told makes the crust flakier. The filling was 3 1/2 cups of blackberries, 2 1/2 cups of blueberries, 1 cup of sugar, 3 Tbsp corn starch, and 1 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice.

At first I thought I might make the top crust with a large cutout so that it looked like the Bat Signal, but a friend had linked to a recipe for Rustic Cast Iron Skillet Peach Pie on social media, and I really liked how they’d made their top crust. I thought that cookie-cutter cutouts would look a bit like a cloud of bats against a night sky, which is an image used repeatedly in Batman media. Of course, the fruit filling isn’t totally flat and the bats warped a bit during baking, so they look their most bat-like from directly above. It’s a really simple technique and can be achieved using any shape of cookie cutter, although I have a feeling that the simpler the shape, the more recognizable it will be when cooked. I do have a feeling that I’ll be using this technique in the future to customize my pies. If you don’t like making crust from scratch, I see no reason why it wouldn’t work equally well with store-bought dough.

A Piece of Pie

Recently, my husband and I were playing Borderlands 2 online with another couple who are good friends of ours. At one point I had to take a brief AFK break to take a pie out of the oven, causing our friends to jokingly lament that they didn’t have pie too. At that time, their birthdays were swiftly approaching, so I promised them that I’d make them pies for their birthday. Well, their joint birthday celebration (their birthdays are only a couple of days apart) was this past Friday, so on Thursday night I had to make their pies.

I decided to make two totally different kinds of pies, and I started with a lemon meringue. I used the crust recipe from page 73 of The All-New Purity Cook Book (Elizabeth Driver, 2001), the filling from page 687 of the Joy of Cooking (Rombauer & Becker, 2006 edition), and Soft Meringue Topping #1 on page 798 of the Joy of Cooking. I’ll confess right now that I had never made lemon meringue pie before, even though I quite like it. I’d only tried a meringue once before and that failed spectacularly. I don’t know what I did, but no matter how hard I whipped it, the meringue never formed peaks at all, it just stayed runny. I was really worried that it wouldn’t turn out right.


Photo by Karen Turnbull.

In the end, I’m quite proud of my first lemon meringue pie, even though I singed the topping a bit. I have got to remember that my oven heats unevenly and that I need to check on my baked goods more often. I mean, I set a timer for the minimum time recommended and then checked it with five minutes to go, and it was still a rather dark brown (I was aiming for a toasted gold). If I’d left it in five minutes longer, it would have been burnt. Luckily, the colour was only on the surface, and my friends said it tasted just fine. They served it up to their gaming group when playing D&D on Sunday night, and everyone liked it, even one person who generally doesn’t like lemon meringue. I’m wondering if that’s because I used fresh lemons and lemon zest when I made the filling from scratch, instead of using canned filling.

For the second pie I went with a fruit-filled pie, which something I’ve done successfully a million times before, just in case. I mean, given the disaster with the bitter pumpkin pie at Christmas, experience doesn’t always mean mistake-free. But I’m fairly confident that it will taste fine (especially since you can honestly completely omit sugar in most fruit pies and it’ll still be palatable). For kicks, I rolled the top crust using a laser-engraved rolling pin that I received as a gift a while back. It features the hazard symbols for poison, ionizing radiation, high voltage, and biological hazards. Something tickles me about using this on food.

What with a fruit pie crust never baking flat, it’s hard to see the design, but it is there. I also vented the crust using a 8-Piece Pie Divider for the first time, which was a gift from another friend. It is honestly the weirdest-looking gadget in my kitchen, but it works quite well. The recipe for apple-strawberry pie that I used can actually be found on the back of its packaging box — although I did use the same Purity Pastry crust for both pies, since it’s just easier to whip up one big batch instead of multiple small ones. I used leftovers of that crust, along with some extra fruit from the fridge, to make the fruit tarts that night as well.

Honestly, I’m kind of hoping that this baking-as-a-birthday-gift idea becomes a regular thing. As my friends and I get older, I find it harder to shop for presents, since I know the things that they really want is way out of my budget, and we all have more clutter than we really need. But food is a necessity of life. And just maybe on our birthdays we deserve to be able to elevate a basic need to something a little more special.

Christmas Gifts

I received some absolutely lovely Christmas gifts this year from friends, family, and Santa Claus. Some of the gifts would likely be of interest to other crafty- and foodie-types. My brother gave me one of those fantastic crocheted knight helmet hats and the previously-mentioned Jamie Oliver 5 Ingredients Quick & Easy Food cookbook (Jamie Oliver, 2017). My husband gave me a copy of How to Cook Indian by Sanjeev Kapoor (2011). Santa brought me some lovely worsted-weight variegated yarn, which I am currently turning into a hat. My parents bought me a funny (and very accurate) Procrasti-knitter T-shirt from White Owl Crochet.

But I do have a weakness for handmade items that combine practicality with beauty, and this year my parents picked out some absolutely lovely pieces for me. The first is a pair of wine tumbler/tea bowls from Greig Pottery. The one on the right is patterned with lupins, which is a flower that I first fell in love with on a trip to Newfoundland with my mom about eight years back. In shape and size, these vessels remind me of Japanese teacups, although they are intended for both hot and cold beverages (so far as I know, you’d never have a cold beverage in this kind of cup in Japan). They fit comfortably in my hand and the little indents — one on either side — are perfectly placed for my thumb and forefinger. As a bonus, they’re both microwave and dishwasher safe. I can’t wait to use them, possibly for some rum and eggnog before the season is over.

Mom and Dad also gave me this gorgeous two-tone rosewood & mango wood yarn bowl from Knitpicks. They actually gave me two hand-potted yarn bowls (in different sizes, for different-sized balls of yarn) last year for Christmas, but my kids managed to smash both of them on the same day. Needless to say, I was not amused, as the bowls sat on the table in the living room where the kids aren’t supposed to be playing in the first place. I was very vocal (possibly too vocal) about how much I missed the old bowls, so Mom actually hopped onto the Internet and ordered me a new one — one that, it should be noted, should be much more difficult to smash. Touch wood. I love the glassy-smooth finish of the wood; when I got the bowl, I couldn’t stop running my hands over it. I was especially proud of my mother for ordering it for me, since she had never before shopped online on her own, usually getting my brother or I to order things for her. I don’t see an Amazon Prime account in her future, but I like that Mom is now able to put aside her worries about online shopping, at least for items that she can’t get in town.

I want to take this opportunity to say a sincere thank-you for all of my gifts this holiday season. Although, as Garfield points out in the Christmas special that we watch every year, it’s not the giving, it’s not the getting, it’s the loving.

Cat-Proof Tree

A friend of mine, who owns three very mischievous cats, posted a link to a Facebook post about Genius People Who Found A Way To Protect Their Christmas Trees From Asshole Cats And Dogs back in November, and it gave me some ideas. Specifically, the picture of the little tree in the gigantic lantern.

You see, I’d salvaged this 3.5-foot-or-so decorative lantern a while back and, although I’d filled it with orange lights as a Halloween decoration, I didn’t have any real idea what I wanted to do with it once the holiday was over. I’d thought I might spray paint silhouettes on the inside and turn it into a permanent addition to my Halloween decoration collection, but I didn’t have any concrete plans. However, I thought that my friends might like a tree that their cats couldn’t destroy, so I started working on the lantern.

The lantern had been discarded for a reason; it needed repair. It required a good cleaning, some glue in spots and a couple of coats of paint, not to mention some new hardware. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find matching replacement hardware, so the rusty stuff was just going to have to do. I also had to find a short enough tree and some small embellishments (which I kept to a neutral white and silver motif to hopefully go with the decor on any floor of their house, and any decorations they would want to add).

I was quite happy with the final product, which looked nice in a lit room…

…but really was at its best in low to no light.


Photo by Karen Turnbull.

My friends seem to be quite happy with their Christmas gift. Although the cats were quite interested at first, the fact that they couldn’t reach the branches, lights, or ornaments meant that they lost interest pretty quickly — which was perfect. The tree in the lantern is pretty heavy, so the cats can’t knock it over. And as a bonus, the tree doesn’t even have to be taken down after the Christmas season is over unless my friends want to use the lantern for something else. A plastic garbage bag over the top would keep the whole thing dust-free in storage until they want to use it next year.

I really liked how my Christmas tree in a lantern turned out. A bit of Googling has made me realize that lanterns are great for protecting all kinds of decorations from pets and young children. I’ve seen them filled with glass balls, tiny dioramas, seasonal knickknacks, paper or painted silhouettes (usually with frosted glass), greenery arrangements, and live plants. I have so many ideas now that I think I’ll be keeping my eye out for more lanterns to salvage and decorate.