Ottawa Comiccon: Holiday Edition Costumes

I was planning on going to Ottawa Comiccon: Holiday Edition this weekend, and of course since I’ll take any excuse to wear a costume, I’ll be dressing up. This year I’ll be bringing the kids along, and they have asked to dress up too! I was really hoping to get us all into coordinating costumes, but as of right now theirs kind of look like this:

Really, I only have 1.25 robes left to make and some accessories, but it still feels like so much! I was pretty lucky that I was able to find most of the elements of the costumes around Halloween — some of the parts were even highly discounted on the after sales. The plan is to work with the Anna Jedi costume that I wore last year. I think I can, I think I can…

Pierogies

We ate a lot of pierogies when I was growing up, not because I am of Central or Eastern European heritage, or at least not recently enough that we have any record of it. Rather, frozen pierogies from the grocery store were cheap, easy, filling, and tasty, and hence made a good family meal.

Last night I boiled up some frozen potato-and-onion pierogies, then I fried them lightly in bacon fat and topped them with freshly chopped bacon bits and fried onion. I served them with (lactose-free) sour cream.

When my kids asked what was for dinner and had no idea what a pierogi is, I realized how long it has been since I had made this dinner for the family. I guess I was just trying to keep the food fresh, or at least homemade. Given the warm reception that this dish received and the speed with which the kids gobbled them down, I think I’ll have to make them again sometime soon.

However, what I’d really like to do is make them myself, perhaps in a large batch to freeze for future use. Homemade pierogies have always been on my list of things to learn how to make, ever since a friend of mine’s mother served me fresh ones at a sleepover when I was a child. They are so good. I guess I have been intimidated by the way that every family seems to have a secret recipe that they proclaim to be the best, and that only proper grandmothers have the real trick of it. My husband’s maternal grandmother was Polish and promised to teach me all kinds of dishes, but she sadly passed away many years ago, before she could teach me — or my children, who had not yet been born. I think I may just have to find friends with the appropriate heritage and beg them for instruction. We could make a day out of it! And once I have got it down, I could pass it on to my children. After all, even though pierogies are not technically a part of my heritage, they are definitely a part of theirs, and it’s very important to have connections to your culinary roots.

Beet Pesto

One of the things I love about beets is that pretty much the entire plant is edible; both the roots and the leaves not only taste good, but they’re great in other dishes. Case in point: beet pesto. As I’ve pointed out before, pesto is a really simple, no-cook pasta sauce to make, and it can be made with beet greens! Well, the ones I grew this year had red leaves instead of the more common, green, but they taste more or less the same no matter the colour.

The neat thing about making pesto with red beet leaves is that the pesto itself turns red, which makes for a much more colourful dish. As a warning, if you’re making or cooking with this kind of pesto, protect your clothing! Red beet juice stains very quickly, and this will also happen when it’s in pesto.

In this pesto I also used basil (from my mother’s and my mother’s friend’s garden), garlic, extra virgin olive oil, parmesan (from the deli, not the shelf-stable stuff that’s much harder and more powdery), and pine nuts.

This big batch made up sixteen 250mL jars that went straight into the freezer, plus one that I set aside in the fridge for use in the next few days. Each one of these tiny jars is easily enough to make dinner for our family of four. If stirred into prepared dried pasta, this means I’ll have sixteen easy meals (or at least side-dishes) over the coming winter. I like that kind of math!

Sun Noodle Brand Instant Shoyu Ramen

My trip to T&T last week resulted in me bringing home a whole load of new things I wanted to try, of course. The first one that I broke out was Sun Noodle Brand Instant Shoyu Ramen. It’s about $6.50 per frozen package, but each one serves two, so even though it’s not as cheap as the dried, instant stuff, it’s still a pretty darned affordable meal.

I’ve had shoyu broth, which is predominantly chicken and soy sauce flavoured, in Japan, and at Ichiko Ramen (formerly Ginza Ramen), and I’ve made it at home as well. (The fantastic — and easy! — homemade soup base recipe can be found on page 8 of Simply Ramen by Amy Kimoto-Kahn (2016) or at easypeasyjapanesey.com.) Although I’m by no means an expert, I think that I can at least tell what shoyu ramen is supposed to taste like, for the most part.

The package only contains the noodles and the broth, though; the instructions on the back of the package recommend adding your favourite toppings. I needed to make a quick meal, so I went with what we had in the fridge/freezer/pantry: soft-boiled eggs, narutomaki, enoki mushrooms, dried shrimp, and nori.

The verdict on this quick dinner was pretty positive. Sure, it’s not as good as homemade, and definitely not as good as restaurant fare. But it’s miles better than the dried instant kind. The noodles have a better consistency, which in the case of ramen means that they’re chewier (dried ones have a tendency to be soggy when cooked). The broth had more depth of flavour, although the one complaint I did get is that it was a little bit too salty. That might have been because of the dried shrimp, which are quite salty in and of themselves. Usually I add them to my homemade broths, which are very low in salt, and that works well, but they may not be a great combination with packaged stuff. It also could have been because I didn’t water down the broth enough. The instructions gave a range of the amount of water you could use, and then said “to taste”, so I guess our “to taste” is a little more watery than the official directions.

That being said, they were definitely good enough to try again! Maybe I’ll switch up the toppings next time; we could definitely have used more vegetables that night.

New Stove!

I have a new stove! Well, okay, new to me. A friend of a friend was replacing her perfectly-functional old stove to get a fancy new one. She found out that I was looking for a stove to replace my old one, which was starting to develop… Issues. It was a really fancy-schmancy stove back when it was new like thirty years ago. It had panels on the top you could switch out so that it became a griddle, or a grill, or a special burner for a wok. But the oven was only large enough for a single cookie sheet to make room for the surface-level fan, and the drawer underneath was sacrificed for that as well. The light socket in the oven had something wrong with it, so the oven light bulb would burn out within days every time. And, most importantly, the oven didn’t keep a consistent temperature, which makes it really difficult to bake.

So here’s my new stove! It doesn’t match the rest of my black appliances, but I don’t care. It’s immaculate and runs reliably. The oven runs about 25 degrees F hot, but since it does so consistently I can compensate. And I actually have an oven light now so I can check for doneness without having to open the door!

One of these days I’ll be able to afford an electric, non-glass-top double oven… Maybe I’ll get one when I finally get my dream kitchen (which will probably be only in my dreams). Until then, this stove is fantastic!

Tonight I tested the stove out with a simple dinner of teriyaki salmon with steamed spinach on rice. I bought the salmon in one of those budget $10 freezer packs, and it was… Okay. Not bad, but a little bit dry. I think if I use this kind of salmon again it will be in something like a casserole that disguises the texture a bit better. But for a dinner for three adults and two kids (my brother-in-law was over) for about $13, it wasn’t half bad. Fresher fish would have been better, but this was definitely acceptable.

Frozen Ramen

I love fresh noodles. I am endlessly fascinated by videos like the ones about making thread-thin suo noodles or precisely-cut Chinese spinach noodles or seemingly-effortless hand-pulled noodles (emphasis on “seemingly”). In Japan, I was lucky enough to be able to try fresh ramen and, I think, udon, but there may have been a bit lost in translation.

Sadly, it’s hard to get fresh noodles of any style around here. There are a couple of specialty restaurants that make them, but for home use the closest I can get is refrigerated ones from the grocery store — and that’s only European styles. So until someone teaches me how to hand-pull noodles, or until I can afford an automatic pasta maker (or at the very least a hand-cranked pasta machine), I’m stuck with frozen or dried noodles.


Frozen ramen that my husband prepared, topped with cooked shrimp, dried shrimp, baby bok choy, and soft-boiled eggs.

The consistency of dried noodles doesn’t seem to bother my husband. Sure, he likes freshly-made pasta on the few occasions that we do get it, but he doesn’t crave the chewiness and strength of well-made ramen or udon. When he cooks ramen for dinner (and he always uses either instant broth or my homemade broth from the freezer), the consistency of the noodles doesn’t even cross his mind.


Frozen ramen that my husband prepared, topped with cooked shrimp, sliced avocado, baby bok choy, and soft-boiled eggs.

That being said, he is willing to go along with my conviction that there are much better things out there. To that end, we’ve been trying out the other brands of ramen that are locally available, which admittedly aren’t very many. We started with dried noodles — not the ones in the instant noodle packets, but something very similar. The last two meals my husband made used Nissin Frozen Ramen Roodles in Artificial Pork Flavour. The noodles were a bit better than the dried kind, but not by much. The broth mix that went with the noodles actually had less flavour than the packets that come with instant noodles (and so far as I can tell they had just as much sodium). I think the lack of punch is funny considering that Nissin is the same company that makes our family’s preferred brand of instant noodle packet. If I have to eat a just-add-water soup, I prefer their Tonkotsu Artificial Pork Flavour with Black Garlic Oil.

So I guess this frozen ramen was overall a bit better than the dried kind, but only a bit. I have another variety in my freezer left to try, though, before I head back to T&T to see if they have any others.

As an aside, did anyone else use to eat dried ramen as a kid without cooking it first? It makes me cringe in retrospect, but we used to sprinkle the dried sauce packet over the top and eat it as is. I was reminded of this recently when I noticed that one of the local grocery stores had instant ramen on sale for 27¢ a packet, and I realized how happy this would have made me as a child, or as a broke college student for that matter. How my teeth survived unbroken I’ll never know.

Frozen/Star Wars Mash-Up Photos

The paint is currently drying in my kitchen, which means cooking is being kept to a minimum for the moment. Instead, I’ve finally found the time to edit the rest of the photos from Ottawa Comiccon: Holiday Edition! All of the photos were taken by Ian Walton, I just played with them a bit.

We started by taking photos indoors by the big windows at the front of the convention center for the best lighting — and look who we found!


Left to right: Darth Sven, Jedi Anna, Darth Vader, Stormtrooper, Jedi Elsa, and Darth Kristoff.

Christmas Darth Vader and the Stormtrooper in their holiday AT-AT were probably the most awesome (and seasonally-appropriate) costumes we saw all day.

I discovered that I need to learn how to pose better in this costume. Also, I need to trim (or re-position) the white streak in my hair, which was a clip-in (the rest is my real hair dyed with Féria C74 Power Copper), so that it’s a matching length.

Elsa’s Force snowflake pops against the indoor backdrop, although it was hard to see outside. I was really happy with how Elsa’s costume turned out, because she made it herself and it was her first time sewing anything so complicated. She put so much hard work into it and she ended up with a great final product!

I absolutely love Sven’s antlers! And yes, the reindeer does have reindeer mittens.

Kristoff’s fantastic makeup was done by the fabulously talented Jessica Harkonnen.

This is probably my favourite photo of the entire day.

Then we moved outside to freeze for our art:

The cold may not bother Elsa, but it definitely bothers Anna.

I hope to use this costume again for the regular ComicCon in May, and this mini-con was a great chance to try it out and figure out what needs to be changed, what can be done better. I definitely want to add some more detail to it with embroidery or maybe paint. I want to alter the obi so that it’s stiffer and has more structure. And I need a better lightsaber, preferably one that lights up on its own. I may have convinced my kids to join in on the group as well, so that’s more costumes to make — but that won’t start until much closer to the date, since there may be some growth spurts in the meantime and I don’t want to have to make the costumes twice.