Apple Picking

One of the things that we do as a family is go to a local orchard in the late summer or fall to go apple picking. We used to go every year, but since we moved into our current abode we’ve only gone every second year because our own apple tree in the back yard fruits in alternate years. That trend may not continue because our poor tree is quite sick, much to my chagrin, and may have to be cut down next year. It has been losing leaves progressively through the tree all summer, leaving it almost half barren at the moment. If it comes back even a little next spring, we’ll see what we can do to save it. At any rate, it wouldn’t have been an at-home apple harvest this year anyway, so we went to the orchard.

The orchard that we visit specializes in McIntosh apples, which is the most traditional Canadian apple, and Lobos, which are a McIntosh offspring. These apples are good both for eating raw and for cooking. This means that the kids will be packing the smaller ones in their lunches for weeks, while I’ll be turning the larger ones into butter, pies, crumble, and possibly even caramel apple egg rolls.

The day dawned clear and cool, which is perfect for apple picking. The kids did their best work under the low-hanging branches, some of which were so laden that they permanently touch the ground in spots, or are propped up on stakes.

Thing 1 and Thing 2 had special help from Dad to reach some of the taller branches, although most of the trees were too tall to reach the very top.

Between the four of us we ended up with almost forty pounds of apples in about fifteen minutes! You can’t beat apple picking for speed, in comparison to, say, berry picking, which seems to take forever even with plants that are chock-full of fruit. The rest of the kids’ time was spent climbing over defunct tractors, running through the barn, and playing in the park.

This is my favourite picture of the day: Thing 2 running back to us after an employee told her she could pick an apple to eat straight off the tree, no charge. If only we could all still have so much joy in a single apple!

Back to School Lunches

The Tuesday after Labour Day here in Canada means back to school for elementary school students in the public board. For my children, this comes with no little bit of anxiety, but as they get older I think it’s mostly balanced with a healthy dose of excitement. A big part of that excitement, I think, is getting to see their school friends on the regular again. Summer friends, i.e. neighbourhood friends and friends you meet at the park or wherever you’re traveling to, just don’t have the same staying power.

Of course, some of their excitement is purely material. While we don’t do a full back-to-school wardrobe in our house, each kid gets a first-day-of-school outfit (they’re usually identical, since they surprisingly still enjoy that). They also get new indoor and outdoor sneakers, as well as stacks of new school supplies in their favourite colours — mostly because they will have destroyed just about everything from the year prior by the end of June.

Although the kids are responsible for making their own lunches for the most part during the school year, for the first day I will generally do the honours. This year I’m trying to reduce the number of small containers sent to school because so few of them return (or return intact). Instead of lunch bags, this year I bought plastic, sort-of obento-style containers instead. Since everything fits in one box and the dividers don’t have to come out, I’m hoping that this means that less will be lost or left at school.

This year’s back-to-school lunch included:

– chopped pear from my pear tree
– cheese string
– slice of glazed lemon loaf
– nacho-flavoured Goldfish
– salami sandwich on bread machine beer bread

I was inspired by the lunches that I ate while in Japan on an exchange trip back in high school. I’ve seen some great videos on how school children in Japan help prepare and clean up from communal lunches, but that wasn’t a thing where I went (or possibly wasn’t for anyone in the time period I was there, I don’t know). Instead, we all “brown bagged” it, just like we do back here in Canada. The mother of the family usually woke up super early every day to make fresh obento boxes for her family. Mama-san, as she requested I call her, made some absolutely delicious food! I only too photos of two of the lunches; the one above is an assortment of little sandwiches, each one different, and a bottle of iced tea.

(And yes, I was taking pictures of my food even back in high school. Even when I had to pay to have the photos developed and printed. Some things just don’t change.)

And this one was a more stereotypical Japanese obento, with little bits of all kinds of dishes (it was so long ago that I can’t remember exactly what each one was, I just remember it was tasty), and some nori and I think a rice ball on the side.

When the weather was nice — and we were there during a particularly gorgeous spring — we all sat outside, exchange students and hosts and other Japanese students curious about the foreigners. It was a lovely way to spend a lunch hour.

Having had a school lunch in two different countries, and now being responsible for making sure my own children eat healthily at school, I do wonder about this meal in countries I haven’t visited. What do you eat for lunch? (Although I’m told that in some places you call it “dinner”…)

Last Visit to the Cottage for the Summer

(I’ve been sick this past week, so I haven’t been up to writing much. Not only that but we’ve had a bunch of power outages, which has forced me to be away from my computer and even cut me off mid-try! So now I’m trying to fill in the gaps of the past week’s posts. So if you’re wondering why you’re just seeing stuff now from earlier in the week, especially if you follow via email or Facebook, well, that’s why!)

This past week I was lucky enough to spend a last few days of summer vacation at the cottage that my parents are renting. We did take a day trip while we were there (which I will write about at a later date), but the rest of the time was spent relaxing.

Thing 1 and Thing 2 discovered the joys of toaster waffles. I honestly don’t think I’d ever bought them for them before. I tried to make mine just a little more healthy by adding fruit salad (oranges, bananas, grapes, and strawberries). But I may have negated that healthiness by slathering it in maple syrup.

The weather was beautiful and sunny, with only a few fluffy clouds in the sky. Despite the lovely sun, it wasn’t terribly warm, so we didn’t really feel like swimming.

I spent most of my free time relaxing on the Adirondack chairs by the lake.

The kids, on the other hand, buzzed around like mayflies, alternating between crafting in the cottage and fishing with Gramps. Gramps caught a decent-sized perch and a rock bass, while Thing 2 caught two rock bass.

Dinner was baked sausages (bangers, I think), and Mom’s famous potato salad with bacon.

What a lovely way to end this summer’s lazy days at the cottage!

A Rainy Trip to the Cottage

Our last trip to the cottage my parents are renting was cut short by some rainy, stormy days. Not that I’m objecting to the rain! But when you have access to a cottage for the entire summer, you don’t feel the need to stay even when the weather’s not great.

The first night we arrived late, and so had a very simple dinner of hot dogs and sliced watermelon. Yes, I like mayonnaise on my hot dogs, which I know some people find disgusting!

When we got up the next morning, my mother made us all some blueberry pancakes, one of my favourites.

Because the weather was not supposed to be so great (although it turned out to be just fine), we headed into Shawville for ice cream and a trip to one of our absolute favourite stores, Renaissance Variety. This store is in and old house and is stuffed to the rafters with used books, video games, and movies. I could spend hours in there happily although, as usual, the kids have less patience.

Next we went to Mill Damn Park, which has a great playground for the kids to run off some energy. I was most interested in the peace and quiet of the babbling brook…

But the kids were more interested in the splash pad. Thinking the weather was going to be bad, we were woefully unprepared and the kids ended up playing in the water fully clothed… Oh well. No harm done.

After going back to the cottage to get dry clothing, we went to a local gourmet chip truck for dinner, courtesy of my parents. Then, thanks to all the rain that week, we were actually able to have a campfire, toast marshmallows, and make s’mores for the first time all summer! All fires still had to be contained, though, so we built it inside an old washing machine drum and covered it with a grate.

Then we got to go down to the dock and play with sparklers! The kids really liked playing with long exposures on my camera.

Thing 1 even learned how to spell “hi” in the air.

That night and the next day chucked down rain as predicted, so we left by lunch on our last day. We still had a lovely time!

Bean Sprout

At the start of the month, husbeast and I took the kiddos to the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum. It was a hot, lazy Saturday and we had a hard time getting everyone moving, so we arrived late and didn’t get to spend too much time there before it closed for the day. However, we did get a chance to watch a presentation in the Soil Lab about bees and the role that they play in the life cycle of a plant.

The girls were enthralled as they learned about the life cycle of bees and why they are so important to agriculture. At the end of the presentation, each child was given a bean that they wrapped in a cotton ball, watered with an eyedropper, and placed in a tiny plastic bag. The bags were tied on string loosely around each child’s neck, creating a necklace of sorts.

My children, like so many, have an on-again, off-again love of gardening. They love planting, and watching things sprout, and harvest time, and even weeding, if you can believe it. What they lack is the patience and upkeep that goes between each of these steps. Over the years, they’ve forgotten about many plants which have then died, or have ended up being taken care of by me. So I didn’t have high hopes for these beans. In point of fact, Thing 2 completely forgot about hers and has no idea where it ended up; we’re not even sure it made it home. However, much to my surprise, Thing 1 fed her bean a few drops of water every day and kept it in a cool, dark place for about two weeks. Her attention was rewarded, when seemingly overnight it sprouted! (I suspect that it may have been left to its own design for a couple of days, because it grew right out of the bag before she noticed — but no harm done.)

Thing 1 triumphantly presented me with her baby plant and requested that it be given a proper pot and some soil. I am happy to report that it is doing well and is visibly growing every day. Thing 1 couldn’t be more pleased. I don’t know how much of the museum lecture she will remember in the end, but I’m very happy that she learned the lesson that a bit of work and some patience can have very positive results. If that’s the only lesson she ever learns from gardening in general, then I count it as a win.

Double Chocolate Triforce Cake

Thing 1’s birthday was over the weekend, which of course meant that we had to bake a cake. Since, in my experience, kids love baking cakes, Thing 1 and Thing 2 helped. I also believe that even if it doesn’t turn out perfectly, kids really do benefit from cooking with their parents.

Thing 1 requested a “chocolate Zelda cake with chocolate icing”. Since I am not known for my beautiful cakes (my 16th birthday cake being a great example of my skills), I decided to keep it as simple as possible. We used the tried-and-true Amelia Bedelia’s Sheet Cake recipe, which is found at the back of the story book Amelia Bedelia Bakes Off (Herman Parish, 2010). (You can also find the recipe via Desktop Cookbook.) This makes a very rich, moist, dark chocolate cake — which, as a bonus, is tree-nut and peanut free, and can be made vegan (which is great when you have to make cupcakes for school, FYI).


It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this.

The kids had gone to bed by the time the cake was cool enough to ice, so it was my turn. I used the Chocolate Satin Frosting recipe from page 796 of the Joy of Cooking (Rombauer & Becker, 2006 edition). This recipe is ridiculously easy — since it’s mostly made in a blender or food processor, it’s only slightly more difficult than cracking open a can of pre-made frosting from the grocery store. It’s also a very dark chocolate icing, almost bitter, which is perfect for my little chocolate lover.

I made the Triforce design using a stencil. I went low-tech and drew the pattern with a pencil and ruler on a piece of card stock, then cut it out with scissors. Then I simply held the stencil very closely over the icing and sprinkled on the sugar. The result wasn’t completely perfect, but Thing 1 knew what it was supposed to be. As an added bonus, the coloured sugar added a lovely crunchy topping.

So happy birthday to my fabulous firstborn! I love you so much.

Fresh Tomato Bruschetta

My garden has definitely reached the “overgrown” stage. I sent the girls in to pick some tomatoes, and, well…

I almost lost them!

Just the other day I got what I’d consider my first real harvest of tomatoes (the first three cherry tomatoes didn’t really count, volume-wise). I thought that it was high time to bushwhack into the furrows and pick all of the ripe fruit before it rotted and fell into the dirt.

With Thing 1 and Thing 2’s help, I harvested a number of cucumbers, a bowl of tomatoes of various colours, and a lone eggplant. I did, however, forget that there are thorns on the greens of some kinds of eggplants, and I almost threw it across the room when I pricked myself. Lesson learned.

For dinner that night I wasn’t terribly inspired: just a rotisserie chicken and a pre-made Ceasar salad from the grocery store. But I did make bruschetta with the freshly-picked tomatoes! It’s honestly one of the quickest dishes in my repertoire. Throw tomatoes, a clove of garlic, a dash of olive oil, basil, and some grated parmesan into the food processor. Blitz it for a few seconds until it’s chunky, spread it on some thick slices of nice French or Parisian bread, and pop it in the oven at 350°F until heated and browned. This time, I also added a slice of lactose-free Gouda to the top of each piece of bread (any hard cheese that melts well will do). It’s lovely! As a bonus, it’s a dish that can be made in a toaster oven, i.e. outside where it won’t heat up the house in the dog days of summer.