Healthy Summer BBQ

We are almost done having a deck installed in our back yard, covering the mud pit that used to be there where the old, rotten deck used to be that we hadn’t had the funds to replace. The new deck was supposed to be done last week, but some of the deck boards in the package that was bought were warped or otherwise damaged, and we’ve been waiting since last Wednesday for Home Depot to deliver the replacements. Two delivery dates have come and gone, and the delivery never showed up… Needless to say, we are not amused.

But most of the deck is done, which means the barbecues are back in place and it’s time to cook outside!

Dinner started with a lovely fruit smoothie: banana, peach, strawberry, mango, and orange juice, with all the fruit other than the banana coming out of a package in the freezer that I really needed to use up. The kids loved it.

Dinner for me was quite filling, although you’d never believe it from the look of it! It was salmon in a honey dijon marinade, which I bought grill-ready from the grocery store, and zucchini cooked with a bit of olive oil and salt. I made it all up on the wood pellet barbecue, which added a lovely smokey overtone to the whole dish.

Of course, the kids wanted — and received — hot dogs made in the microwave. You can’t win them all.

Breakfast for Supper

Last night I was running errands with the girls until just before dinner time, so I needed a quick, easy, and nutritious meal to feed the family. I chose bacon (cooked in the microwave — it’s much less messy that way), eggs (over easy or scrambled, depending on preference), enormous everything bagels from Costco, and a homemade fruit salad.

It’s a good thing that I chose such a simple dinner, actually, because my brother-in-law popped by around dinner time. I don’t think he was originally planning to join us for a meal! However, it’s quite easy to throw on a couple of extra eggs and pieces of toast. My door is always open, but for some meals it’s definitely easier to “throw an extra potato in the pot”, as my mother would say.

Seasonal School Snacks

I mentioned in my last post that since it’s in season, I wanted to do more cooking with maple syrup over the next little while. Well, after reading a book about kids learning to cook, Thing 1 has been bugging me to make fruit leather with her. Since fruit leather is just pureed fruit that has been dried, I figured why not? Also, it’s a great way to use up an overabundance of fresh fruit (not really a problem here in the spring) or the fruit that you’d forgotten about in the freezer (more of an issue of mine right now).

My parents actually used to make fruit leather and dried fruit for my brother and I when we were kids. This was the era of the Fruit Roll-Up, but my brother’s sensitivity to corn (and hence corn syrup) made most versions of this store-bought snack inadvisable. Actually, the dehydrator that I’m using now is exactly the same one we used when I was a kid; my parents let me have it when they realized they hadn’t used it since my brother and I moved out.

The instructions for the dehydrator recommend that if you’re going to use a sweetener when making fruit leather, you should “use corn syrup, honey or fruit juice instead of granulated sugar which tends to crystallize”. We’ve discovered that maple syrup actually makes a great, all-natural sweetener for fruit leather that does not crystallize — and it adds a lovely flavour as well.

As an aside, if you don’t have a dehydrator, you can make fruit leather in the oven by drying it out at 200°F (93°C) for eight hours or so… But a dehydrator is a much smaller machine and uses a lot less electricity, so if you’re going to make fruit leather often, I’d recommend buying a purpose-built machine.

This is also the week leading up to Easter, which in our family means at the very minimum it’s time to dye some eggs! The kids like to take hard-boiled eggs to school in their lunches, so I made up a dozen for the week.

I used food colouring to dye the eggs vibrant, food-safe colours. There are all kinds of kits out there for dyeing and decorating Easter eggs, but a lot of them aren’t intended for consumption afterwards, so I like to stick with food colouring. The kids may decorate more eggs over the long weekend, though, and those will probably be with paint and glitter. They might be old enough to blow out the eggs to create permanent ornaments this year. Well, I know that Thing 1 is, but Thing 2 is not always as gentle as her big sister… And empty eggshells are mighty easy to smash.

The nice thing about blowing out eggs for decorating is that you can save the yolks and whites and make lovely scrambled eggs, or breakfast burritos, or tamagoyaki (either by itself or in sushi), or egg drop soup. This way, no part of the egg would be wasted. I have to admit, wasting food is a pet peeve of mine. Sometimes it can’t be avoided, but all efforts should be made not to, you know?

Weekend Recap

Manning my first stall at Russell Flea was a lot of fun, and it was definitely a learning experience! I learned that the lights that I bought (from Dollarama, since a lot of people have asked) don’t fit through the bottom slats of all of the display crates, so I’ll have to widen a spot for them. I learned that it takes a really long time to pack and unpack a table’s worth of glass and stoneware when you have to unwrap and wrap every single item to prevent damage in transit. I learned that paper is great for wrapping delicate items if you only need to do so once or twice, but it disintegrates really fast (you’re better off using old fabric — blankets and towels are best — if you’re going to do it repeatedly). I learned that an apron with a lot of change in the pockets which ties around your neck can make your neck really sore if you wear it all day. I learned that people have really fond memories of old Tupperware and Pyrex.

Oh yeah, and I learned that I should be careful not to cram all of my tablecloths as tightly as possible into one bag, so that they effectively have the wrinkles pressed into them by the time I arrive at the venue. Whoops.

But I did have a good time. I got to chat with some friends who stopped by, and meet the vendors around me with a great deal more experience than I. I may even have met someone who can teach me how to spin if I ever manage to get my spinning wheel repaired.

One of the nice things about working for myself is that I can knit and mind a stall at the same time, once it’s all set up. That’s not something you’re generally allowed to do in a traditional retail setup. I find that it’s a great conversation starter. I managed to get about a third of a sock done that day.

Since I was away all day working, my husband did have to make dinner which was, at the request of the kiddos, pancakes! Hubby had never actually made pancakes before, although I was sure that that was a basic thing that everyone around here knows how to make if they cook at all. My husband is an unenthusiastic cook at best, but he has learned the necessary skills. His pancakes turned out really lovely! Fluffy and delicious, and smothered with fruit and maple syrup.

Speaking of syrup, apparently the sap has been running since that weird warm spell back in February, so the local tree farms should be getting a great harvest this year. Note to self: I need to pick up some more local maple syrup when I’m at Russell Flea again two weeks from now. I’m pretty sure it’s McCannell Craftwork was the farm that brought the syrup on Saturday, and I hope they’ll be back again.

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.

Pancake Tuesday

Mardi Gras isn’t really a thing around here, although I’d love to head down to New Orleans some day to celebrate it. However, my family does have British history, and hence strong cultural ties to the Anglican church. As such, when I was growing up we honoured Shrove Tuesday, which immediately precedes Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent) — although perhaps “honoured” is stretching things a bit. We never sought out the church in order to obtain absolution for our sins on Shrove Tuesday, and we didn’t give up certain foods for Lent. What we did do was make a point of serving pancakes on Pancake Tuesday. As you can see, the celebration for us, such as it is, was much more secular than religious. It’s kind of like how many people celebrate Christmas without ever going to church.

I’ve decided to keep the tradition alive with my children by cooking pancakes for dinner every year on this day (when I remember). It’s not like this is the only time we have pancakes, after all. This year I served it covered in a mound of freshly-prepared fruit salad that included green grapes, blueberries, honeycrisp apples, oranges, bananas, and strawberries. As winter drags on, these pops of colour and flavour are welcome additions to our diet. That being said, every single one of these items is an import (except maybe the apples, which store well), so the fruit commands a premium price.

I used my Spiced Pancake Recipe for the pancakes themselves, since they’ve become quite a hit in my household of late. There were all kinds of sweet toppings available: whipped cream and non-dairy whipped cream substitute, black currant syrup, elderberry syrup, maple syrup, caramel syrup, and icing sugar. I had mine with elderberry syrup and non-dairy whipped cream substitute. It was delicious! I made a bit extra for the kids to reheat in the morning for breakfast, too, which makes our morning that much easier — and tastier.

Christmas Breakfast

Christmas breakfast was a big thing at my house when I was a kid. Mom and Dad pulled out all of the stops and bought all kinds of awesome food that we pretty much never had any other time of the year. I associated these foods so strongly with the holidays that it came as a great revelation to me when I moved out that I could buy Havarti cheese with dill or caraway seeds, or Babybel miniature cheeses, or Stoned Wheat Thins all year long.

We’ve been hosting Christmas breakfast at our house since the year that Thing 1 was born. Given that she would have needed to be fed and then probably put down for a nap sometime during the festivities, it just made sense for us to stay home and have the rest of my family come to us. Breakfast is generally served buffet-style, so that everyone can have a little bit of everything and then head over to the Christmas tree to open gifts, often while still munching.

This year I served (working roughly from left to right):

Nan’s pan rolls* with butter
– red grapes
– rosemary bread from the bread machine**
– homemade dill pickles
– Chevrai Original Goat Cheese
– Garlic & Fine Herbs Boursin cheese
Chicken Bones
– Daiya Plain Cream Cheeze Style Spread
– Crème Oka cheese
– Laughing Cow cheese
– my husband’s homemade cornmeal muffins
– homemade pickled beets
– coffee & tea with sugar & milk
– chocolate toffees
– meat platter with Hungarian salami, Montreal smoked meat, roast beef, and Black Forest ham
– shrimp ring with cocktail sauce
– Christmas Cookie Monster’s Shape Cookies (made, for the most part, by Thing 1 and Thing 2)
– cold hard-boiled eggs
– Babybel miniature cheeses
– cracker plate with Stoned Wheat Thins, Ritz, Vegetable Thins, and Rosemary & Olive Oil Triscuits
– pepperettes (all-beef by my hubby’s preference and European style for mine)
– Oka and Havarti cheeses
Fudgy Pumpkin Brownies (this time with no coffee)
– bananas
– strawberries
– clementines
– blueberries

In case you’re worried, no, the seven of us did not eat this all in one sitting. This much could have easily fed twice that amount of people, with food to spare! The point of this kind of meal (which only happens once a year) is that everyone can have as much as they like, and then it all gets packed away to become lunches and dinners for the next week or so. There were still a few leftovers as of New Year’s Day, but that was of the kind of thing that takes forever to go bad, like crackers. Some of it will probably even make its way into the kids’ lunches in the new year.

*I discovered that these rolls can be left to do their second rise overnight in the refrigerator, and then just popped into the oven to serve fresh-baked for breakfast. If you’re going to do so, make sure that the pan you use is metal and not glass, as it takes the glass longer to heat up and can make the bottom of the rolls take a little too long to cook. Also, if the top is browning but the bottom isn’t quite done yet, cover the top of the rolls with aluminum foil to prevent them going from “browned” to “burnt”.

**Classic White Bread, found on page 24 of Betty Crocker’s Best Bread Machine Cookbook (1999) — but with half the sugar, olive oil instead of margarine, and about 1/4 cup fresh chopped rosemary added.