A Year Gone By

The one-year anniversary of this blog (blogiversary?) slipped by on February 13th without me really noticing it. Sitting down at the computer to write a blog post before I shut down my computer and crawl into bed has become a part of my daily routine. It has given me a chance to reflect on the things I’ve worked on or that have interested me. On a more practical note, blogging has allowed me to keep track of what I’ve done, where I got the recipe/instructions/pattern, and how it turned out — and in a searchable format. I can’t count the number of times I’ve grabbed my phone and used the search function on this blog as a quick memory aid.


Kirkland Asian Beef Noodle Soup kit with added soft-boiled eggs. It looks reasonably appetizing, but it tastes powdery and somehow more artificial than an instant ramen packet. Thumbs down from me.

Have I learned anything over the last year? Well, I’ve expanded my cooking skills considerably. I no longer rely on the same repertoire of a few reliable recipes day in and day out. I mean, of course I still have some that I go back to over and over again, but that’s interspersed with trying new things. And trying new things has started to help me get over the fear of failure when learning. One of the great things about cooking is that even if you mess it up, it’s only one meal. It may seem like a big deal at the time, especially for the more difficult dishes, but in the grand scheme of things it’s not so bad. The important thing is that I learn from my failures.


Homemade chicken noodle soup with half an avocado filled with ranch dressing, and a Dad’s Biscuit. I may have added a few too many noodles to the soup this time, but it tasted fine.

I’m also enjoying how blogging has pushed me to try new foods and new techniques — and that, by extension, has influenced how my children experience the culinary world. So long as it’s not burned to a crisp, my husband will eat just about anything so long as he doesn’t have to cook it. (That’s not to say that he doesn’t have his preferences, but he’ll still eat stuff he’s not fond of.) But my kids, though, are more resistant to culinary change. They’re not super-picky eaters (and boy, have I heard stories about kids like that), but they tend to complain when a food isn’t one of their favourites. I think that exposing them to new foods so often now has taught them that just because a food is new, that doesn’t mean they won’t like it. There’s still resistance there, but not at the same level as this time last year. And I have to say it’s heartwarming when I overhear my kids brag to their friends about my cooking — and then try to persuade their friends to try something new.


A quick dinner of fried rice using whatever leftovers were in the fridge. Ingredients included roast chicken, roast beef, red onion, green onion, potatoes, corn, peas, mushrooms, garlic, and eggs, cooked together with a bit of soy sauce and miso broth. Tasty.

Where do I want to go from here? Well, I have a whole list of dishes I want to try, and a stack of new cookbooks from Christmas that I’ve barely cracked. My friends bought me a copy of The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen by Sean Sherman (2017), and I am highly intrigued. I also want to dive into How To Cook Indian by Sanjeev Kapoor (2011), which my husband bought me. Although these books are from completely different cultures and corners of the globe, they do share a commonality in that I’ll have to learn where to source some of the ingredients that are less common around here (or common, but only seasonally). I also want to improve my breadmaking skills, and learn to make rum balls and pavlovas.


Fresh fruit tarts made from crust leftover after making full-sized pies. The filling is basically a peeled, chopped apple, strawberries, and blueberries, with a bit of white and brown sugar and a dash of cinnamon.

Mostly, I just want to keep learning. There is so much out there to try! I want to push my personal boundaries when it comes to cooking, and try new techniques when it comes to handicrafts, and start my own small business when it comes to thrifting. I want to challenge myself. I want to expand. I want to grow. And I want to keep writing about it.

Valentine’s Day Sweets

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day, which for me meant that the day before was spent in the kitchen baking. Okay, well, not the whole day; some of my time was spent in the kitchen dealing with a leaking dishwasher. That slowed things down immensely. Luckily, the issue was a slightly-clogged drain pipe and dirt in the door seal that kept it from being watertight, and a good cleaning of the machine fixed the leak. If your dishwasher is going to leak, a fix without having to purchase expensive parts is best, really. Also, there wasn’t enough water that came out to cause much damage. The basement ceiling is a drop ceiling and the walls and floor are only half-finished, so there’s not much there for the water to damage anyway.

When I did get to bake, the first thing I tried was a double-batch of White Layer Cake found on page 110 of Essential Cooking Basics: The New Cook by Mary Berry & Marlena Spieler (1997). I used crab apple jelly that I’d made back in the fall as filling. This recipe was very nicely illustrated and easy to follow. It yielded lovely cupcakes that had a crumbly, buttery texture, which were similar to a good cornmeal muffin on top but with a softer middle. The recipe does call for self-rising flour, which I’ve come to realize is a really common ingredient in British recipes, but isn’t something the average cook would have in the pantry around here. Heck, not all grocery stores carry it. Fortunately, it’s easy enough to make with all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt: directions here.

As I discovered, a single batch only yields about a dozen cupcakes, and I wanted to make 48 (half for Thing 1’s Guide troupe, and half for Thing 2’s Sparks troupe). By the time I’d figured this out, I’d run out of a few ingredients; this recipe takes a lot of eggs. I was getting a bit pressed for time, so I dug out a package each of IKEA Muffinsmix Choklad and Muffinsmix Citron (just-add-water chocolate and lemon cake mix, respectively). Thing 1 got the IKEA cupcakes and Thing 2 got the Mary Berry ones, and I honestly think that Thing 2 got the better end of the deal by a long shot.

Next came the treats for the treats for the girls’ homeroom classes at school. I’d planned on making orange sugar cookies for which I’d found a vintage Bake King recipe sheet tucked into an old cookbook, but those required the dough to be chilled and I had simply run out of time. I fell back on a recipe that I’d used successfully in the past for Fudgy Pumpkin Coffee Brownies (minus the coffee, since the intended audience was children). This recipe can be found on page 222 of Purely Pumpkin by Allison Day (2016). Once again, I substituted whole wheat flour for einkorn or light spelt flour, and even with this change, the brownies turned out great. This recipe invariably yields moist, rich brownies with just the right level of sweetness. As a bonus, I got to use up some of the Halloween pumpkin puree that’s still in my freezer. And none of the brownies came back home, so I figure that at least some of the kids (and/or the teachers) liked them.

Smelly Socks Pattern

Way back when Thing 1 was only three years old and not reading by herself yet, her favourite book for quite some time was Smelly Socks by Robert Munsch (2004). I must have read that book to her a thousand times. I was raised on Munsch classics like The Paper Bag Princess Love You Forever, so I didn’t really mind.

Smelly Socks tells the tale of a girl named Tina who begs her grandfather to take her across the river to a big sock store to buy some fancy socks. She finds herself the perfect pair of red, yellow and green socks, and she cries, “Socks! Socks! Wonderful socks! I am NEVER going to take them off!” Of course, the longer Tina wears the socks, the smellier they get, until her friends get fed up and drag
her down to the river to give those socks a good washing.

Thing 1 wanted Smelly Socks of her very own, so I just had to knit her some. (You can see the titular socks on the cover of the the book.) Over the years, those socks were worn by both of the girls, and they still never wore out! Since they’re much too small for either kiddo any more, they’re currently stored in a box of keepsakes. I thought I would share my old pattern for the socks so that other people can make keepsakes of their own.

Smelly Socks
Preschooler size; approximately children’s size 8 CDN/US

Materials:
– one ball Mandarin Petit in Yellow 2004 OR Goldenrod 2315
– one ball Mandarin Petit in Cardinal 4418
– one ball Mandarin Petit in Green 8017
– one set of 3.25mm (US 3, UK 10) circular knitting needles in a length comfortable for the magic loop method (I prefer 120cm/47″ or longer)

Each ball of Mandarin Petit is by Sandnes Garn of Norway is 100 % Egyptian 4ply cotton, weighs 50g (1.764oz), measures 180m (196.85’), and is machine-washable (air dry flat). A different yarn of the same gauge may be substituted to yield the same results.

Gauge:
– 16 stitches and 20 rows in stockinette stitch = 5cm x 5cm (2″ x 2″) square on 3.25mm (US 3, UK 10) needles

Instructions:

Cast On:

– Using the YELLOW yarn and the magic cast-on for toe-up socks technique, cast on 24 stitches divided onto two needles (12 stitches per needle).
– Knit one round. Warning: Using the magic cast-on, the cast-on loops on your second needle will be twisted. To untwist, knit the stitches on this needle through the back of the loops on the first round only.

Shape toe:
– Round 1: On each needle, K1, M1, K to within last stitch on the needle, M1, K1.
– Round 2: Knit
– Repeat these two rounds until there are 40 stitches on your needles (divided 20-20).

Make instep:

– Knit every stitch in the round until sock measures 11cm from cast-on edge to end
to the last knit stitch.

Arrange heel stitches:

– Knit across 1st needle. The heel will be turned on the 20 stitches of the 2nd needle.

Set up short row heel:

– 1st row: (RS) K19. Move working yarn as if to purl. Slip 1. Turn.
– 2nd row: (WS) Slip 1. This will wrap the yarn around the first, slipped stitch. P18. Move working yarn as if to knit (“wrap”). Slip 1. Turn.
– 3rd row: (RS) Slip 1. K17. Wrap. Turn.
– 4th row: (WS) Slip 1. P16. Wrap. Turn.
– 5th row: (RS) Slip 1. K15. Wrap. Turn.
– 6th row: (WS) Slip 1. P14. Wrap. Turn.
– 7th row: (RS) Slip 1. K13. Wrap. Turn.
– 8th row: (WS) Slip 1. P12. Wrap. Turn.
– 9th row: (RS) Slip 1. K11. Wrap. Turn.
– 10th row: (WS) Slip 1. P10. Wrap. Turn.
– 11th row: (RS) Slip 1. K9. Wrap. Turn.
– 12th row: (WS) Slip 1. P8. Wrap. Turn.

This should yield 6 wrapped stitches, 8 “live” (unwrapped) stitches, and 6 more wrapped stitches, for a total of 20 stitches on the 2nd needle.

Turn short row heel:

– 1st row: (RS) K8. Pick up (PU) the wrap and next stitch and knit them together. Wrap the next stitch so that it now has two wraps. Turn.
– 2nd row: (WS) SL1 (double-wrapped) stitch. P9. PU wrap and next stitch and purl them together. Wrap the next stitch so that it now has two wraps. Turn.
– 3rd row: (RS) SL1 (double-wrapped) stitch. K10. Pick up (PU) the wrap and next stitch and knit them together. Wrap the next stitch so that it now has two wraps. Turn.
– 4th row: (WS) SL1 (double-wrapped) stitch. P11. PU wrap and next stitch and purl them together. Wrap the next stitch so that it now has two wraps. Turn.
– 5th row: (RS) SL1 (double-wrapped) stitch. K12. Pick up (PU) the wrap and next stitch and knit them together. Wrap the next stitch so that it now has two wraps. Turn.
– 6th row: (WS) SL1 (double-wrapped) stitch. P13. PU wrap and next stitch and purl them together. Wrap the next stitch so that it now has two wraps. Turn.
– 7th row: (RS) SL1 (double-wrapped) stitch. K14. Pick up (PU) the wrap and next stitch and knit them together. Wrap the next stitch so that it now has two wraps. Turn.
– 8th row: (WS) SL1 (double-wrapped) stitch. P15. PU wrap and next stitch and purl them together. Wrap the next stitch so that it now has two wraps. Turn.
– 9th row: (RS) SL1 (double-wrapped) stitch. K16. Pick up (PU) the wrap and next stitch and knit them together. Wrap the next stitch so that it now has two wraps. Turn.
– 10th row: (WS) SL1 (double-wrapped) stitch. P17. PU wrap and next stitch and purl them together. Wrap the next stitch so that it now has two wraps. Turn.
– 11th row: (RS) SL1 (double-wrapped) stitch. K18. Turn.
– 12th row: (WS) SL1 (double-wrapped) stitch. P19. Turn.
– 13th row: (RS) K20. Pick up one stitch from the gap between Needle 1 and Needle 2.

Set up body of leg:

– Return to knittng in the round.
– 1st round:
– 1st needle: Pick up 1 stitch from the gap between Needle 2 and Needle 1. K20. Pick up a stitch from the gap between Needle 1 and Needle 2. (22 stitches on Needle 1.)
– 2nd needle: Pick up 1 stitch from the gap between Needle 1 and Needle 2. K10. Switch to GREEN yarn. K9. K2 tog. (21 stitches on Needle 2.)
– 2nd round (you are now using GREEN yarn):
– 1st needle: K2 tog. K18. K2 tog. (20 stitches on Needle 1.)
– 2nd needle: K2 tog. K19. (20 stitches on Needle 2.)

Knit body of leg:
– K2, P2 on each needle until green stripe measures 3.5cm (1.4″) high. Switch to RED yarn.
– K2, P2 on each needle until red stripe measures 3.5cm (1.4″) high. Switch to YELLOW yarn.
– K2, P2 on each needle until yellow stripe measures 3.5cm (1.4″) high. Switch to GREEN yarn.
– K2, P2 on each needle until green stripe measures 3.5cm (1.4″) high. Switch to RED yarn.
– K2, P2 on each needle until green stripe measures 3.5cm (1.4″) high. Cast of loosely, or using a stretchy bind-off.

Repeat pattern in full to yield a second sock. Voila!

As usual, should you note any errata in this pattern, please let me know so that I can fix it. I don’t exactly have a bevvy of test knitters to help me catch mistakes.

Busy Night

I had a billion and one things to accomplish yesterday evening, most of which I can’t even write about because they had to do with Christmas gifts for people that I know read this blog. One thing I can mention is that I did get the chance to put the last finishing touches on the Frankensteined gaming PC (made with excess parts graciously donated by our friends) that my husband and I are giving Thing 1 for Christmas. She doesn’t have Internet access yet, so here I can sigh with relief here about having at least one major gift out of the way.

Dinner was a quick one, since I can only do so many things at once, and for a change the kitchen was not calling me. I wanted to eat at least somewhat healthily, so I made up some soft tacos with a pre-packaged spice mix. Well, I say “made up”, but mostly I just prepped all of the ingredients and set them out on the table so that everyone could fill their own tacos. I fixed mine up with spiced ground beef, avocado, lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, and lactose-free cheddar. Also available on the table were sour cream (which I prefer over mayo, but can’t eat), homemade blender salsa canned earlier this year, and shredded cheddar cheese.

Dinner out of the way, I went on to work on some Christmas crafts. I whipped up my first-ever circle skirt for Thing 1 — which is even easier for a kid than for an adult since there aren’t any seams! A friend of mine recommended the following resources to me, which were invaluable:

Make a circle skirt without a pattern by Costuming Diary
Circle Skirt (and a follow-up instructional video by Made Everyday
The Best Way to Sew Bias Tape by Positively Splendid

I combined the techniques because I wasn’t working with a serger, and because I wanted a finished waistband edge but I also wanted the cute red elastic to show. This skirt will be worn later in the week when the girls go get their pictures taken with Santa. I still have to make a second, smaller one for Thing 2. Hopefully I can make the time tomorrow.

In every spare minute, I’m knitting away on cloths to be given as gifts. I think of this colourway as “Evil Minion“. This is either the last or second-last one, depending on how much yarn I am left with. After that, it’s time to start on knitted owls for my girls’ Guiding leaders.

As we do every year, we have had a guest in our house starting December 1st. Candy Cane will stay until December 25th, at which point she will be whisked back to the North Pole where she will stay until next holiday season. Here she is unpacking all of her copious outfits. I know some people find The Elf on the Shelf kind of creepy, but my kids really love her and look forward to her annual arrival. We’ve never made a big deal of the “reporting back to Santa” aspect of the Elves at our house, so my kids just see her as another piece of Christmas magic.

Sick Day Part 2

I’m at the tail end (hopefully) of recovering from my cold, and unfortunately my kids have caught it too. Well, they might have been the ones to bring it home in the first place, elementary school being the wretched hive of scum and villainy that it is. At any rate, I kept the kids home from school yesterday in an attempt to speed up their recovery.

I gave the kids the option of homemade chicken noodle soup for dinner, since it’s a traditional kind of food to eat when you’re not feeling well. They vetoed this idea, and I was willing to be vetoed, as I hadn’t actually started cooking anything yet. At first they voted for instant mac-and-cheese, which I said no to. I can’t tell you how much it frustrates me that it doesn’t matter how many original and tasty meals I prepare, they’d live off of 99¢ dried pasta with powdered cheese sauce, given half the chance. Next they argued between themselves between bacon and eggs and trout with teriyaki sauce over rice. A quick trip to the grocery store brought the decision firmly down to bacon and eggs, since trout was not on special.

So our family dinner last night was eggs over easy, reduced-salt bacon, freshly baked Light Wholemeal Bread (Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf (Jennie Shapter, 2002), page 69), and a side of sliced strawberries with a sprinkle of sugar. The girls were even up to hulling and slicing the strawberries. All in all, not a bad dinner for a house full of sickies!

First Day of School

The first day of school for the public school board in Ontario is always the day after Labour Day, which this year ends up being today. My girls are back to school, and although part of me is sighing in relief that they’ll be in someone else’s care for a couple of hours every day, I know the house will also seem echoingly empty without them around. I think I’ll learn to live with it, though.


Thing 1 and Thing 2’s lunches for the first day of school.

School-provided lunches really aren’t a thing around here; heck, the school doesn’t even have a cafeteria. Everyone brown bags it, although some kids do get a special lunch delivered by the “Lunch Lady” once or twice a week, which has never really seemed like value for money to me. Most of the year my girls pack their own lunches the night before, and they have almost since they started to go to school. I tried to pack Thing 1’s lunches for her starting in Junior Kindergarten, but too often more than half of the food came back home – although her teachers reported that she was complaining of hunger. Once Thing 1 made her own lunch, a lot less of the food came back home, and the complaints became rare. I had to help her out a lot at first, but by the time Thing 2 started school, she wanted to make her own lunch to be just like Thing 1. I’m not saying that it’s not a struggle sometimes. What should be a short and simple process can take ages when the kids do it themselves. Sometimes they are more interested in doing just about anything else and getting them to make their lunches can be a seemingly endless argument. But in the end, I think that the independence is important, and that it’s a good thing that my children learn basic food handling and prep early on. My husband and I are always nearby to make sure that they make healthy choices — and to ensure that they don’t accidentally bring anything with tree nuts or peanuts to school.


Thing 2’s lunch.

However, on the first day of school, for a special treat, I like to pack their lunches for them. I made up some fresh whole wheat bread using the Nan’s Pan Rolls recipe, and I also threw together some Blueberry Bran Muffins. The bread I used to make Hungarian salami sandwiches with mayonnaise (even though I prefer mustard myself). Each girl also got Goldfish, strawberries, vanilla yogurt, and string cheese. I packed Thing 2 a container of sliced English cucumber, while Thing 1 prefers an apple.

Am I the only one who finds those “school lunches in other countries” videos and articles interesting? I don’t know if you could consider this to be a typical Canadian lunch, though. I remember being very interested in my classmates’ lunches when I went to school because they were all so different. Some of them contained Wonder Bread sandwiches with peanut butter and jam or bologna and mayonnaise; others ate crusty French bread, sharp cheese, and cherry tomatoes; others always contained a thermos of soup and a travel package of crackers; others had warm dishes of rice and curry and spice. Some kids ate the same thing religiously, others had an entirely different daily menu. I think our household was somewhat between those extremes, with recurring favourites alongside seasonal and leftover dinner fare.


Thing 1 and Thing 2’s school bags, packed and ready to go.

At any rate, my kids’ lunches and supplies were ready the night before. New-ish outdoor shoes were set by the front door, brand new sneakers were in their backpacks, packages of markers and pencil crayons and duotangs and paper filled up the rest of their bags. Their lunches and water bottles were in the fridge, waiting to be grabbed on the way to the door. Hopefully all of this preparation will set a positive tone for the rest of the year. Will they like their new teachers? Will they get along with their classmates? Will they enjoy the new challenges that their schooling puts in front of them? Who knows? There’s really nothing I can do to influence most of that. But lunch, though, lunch I can do. And no matter how the first day turns out, it always goes better on a full stomach.

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.