Shrove Tuesday

I meant to write this post on Wednesday about Tuesday, but unfortunately I was in a minor car accident — a fender bender, really — which, while not severe in any shape or form, did eat away at my day. (Before you ask: I seem to be fine, the car is now in the shop but likely doesn’t require any major repairs, and no it wasn’t my fault (I was rear-ended while stopped in a right-hand turning lane, waiting for a gap in traffic so I could pull out).) So now I’m writing my posts all out of order, but this post will be backdated to Tuesday, which is when I actually made the pancakes.

I’ve written about Shrove Tuesday, also known as Pancake Tuesday before, since it was a yearly tradition in my family growing up. In all of the hustle and bustle with travel (and my remaining jet lag) this year I’d almost forgotten about it, but somebody’s post on Facebook reminded me just in time. Not that pancakes for supper are limited to one day a year, mind. Some days I just feel like pancakes.

This year I went with Basic Pancakes from the Joy of Cooking (Rombauer & Becker, 2006 edition); I’m not sure what page of the hard copy book, though, since this time I used the app (super-convenient, that thing). However, I discovered too late to go to the shops that I was low on eggs and completely out of butter, so I substituted half a mashed banana for an egg and canola oil for the butter. My substitutions seemed to work just fine since these pancakes were very fluffy and mighty tasty! I topped them with a fresh fruit salad of Granny Smith apples, dragon fruit, strawberries and more bananas, along with lots of maple syrup. And, as is pretty much a constant request in this family, I served bacon on the side.

Maple Syrup Gone Bad

I threw a couple of waffles in the toaster the other day (they’re a special treat around here), at which point I realized that the kids had finished the last of the jar of maple syrup that had been in the fridge. So I went into the cupboard to refill the smaller fridge container, and I found this:

It looks a little dodgy, with that ring of residue around the side, doesn’t it? But I shrugged it off, thinking that some of the top level had crystallized, since it has happened before. But when I opened the jug there was a puff of released gas and a distinct smell of alcohol. It had started to ferment.

I have never in my life had this happen before. I have kept open maple syrup both in the fridge and in the cupboard for years, and the worst thing that has ever happened is that it has crystallized. I honestly thought that it was like honey. I think that this is the combination of having left it in the cupboard and buying it from a farmer’s market*. Don’t get me wrong, I love farmer’s market food! But most of the time there isn’t the same quality control from batch to batch, and this batch could have been bottled too soon. If the temperature didn’t get high enough and/or the ratio of water to syrup was too high, bacteria could survive and the syrup would spoil faster. In a commercial setting, such factors are much more highly regulated.

After discovering this I did some reading and realized that maple syrup can intentionally be fermented to create maple mead, but this is usually done by introducing a specific kind of bacteria (yeast). Since I had no idea what kind of bacteria were in this bottle — and were now creating slow-moving bubbles, once the cap was open — I had to rinse it all down the drain.

I’m kicking myself especially hard about this one because there was so much left in the jug (well over a liter), and because it is Canada. In winter. I could have just left the stupid thing in our uninsulated garage and it would probably have been fine. But I ran out of space in the fridge over the Christmas holidays and left the biggest bottle in the cupboard instead.

Ah, well. I’ll just have to buy some more come spring.

*This was bought from an out-of-town market, and I won’t name the source because heck, this could have been entirely the fault of my food safety practices. But I would like to note for the record that I have never, ever, had any of our local producers’ syrup go bad. Actually, no syrup of any kind has ever gone bad on me before this — which is why it surprised me so much!

Another Day of Cottage Cooking

Another day at the cottage meant more adventures and more cottage cooking! I started the day by making a family brunch of pancakes smothered in fresh fruit salad and maple syrup.

I have no problem admitting that I used boxed pancake mix; that’s a family tradition when cottaging or camping. No point in buying that “add milk and eggs” kind, either. I mean, if you’re doing that you’re essentially buying a pre-made mix of flour, baking soda, and maybe a bit of sugar and salt. I can buy those ingredients (and even pre-mix them) separately for much cheaper overall — and it’s just as non-perishable. No, we buy the “just add water” type, which is perfect for camping and cottaging. It’s not fancy, but it’s easy to transport and it’s really hard to make it go bad. Even the cheapest, non-brand-name kind usually works just as well.

The weather was beautiful and sunny, hot enough to enjoy swimming but not too hot. We did have a bit of a problem with deer flies when out of the water and horse flies when we were in the water. It was a bit of a pain in the patoot, but we had a good time hopping in and out of the water anyway.

My dad took the girls fishing, and while they caught a bunch of little rock bass (max 6″ long), Dad caught three good-sized smallmouth bass. Pictured above was the smallest of them. Dad had had very little luck previously with artificial bait, but taking the kids out with simple spinners and real worms to go after little fish netted him three big ones. He really wasn’t expecting it, and since he only had a rod intended for small fish and a six-pound test, his rod was bent double and one of the fish snapped his line and swam away with his bobber and lure. Thing 1 managed to rescue the bobber with her net, since it floated away, but the lure was gone.

Sadly, I haven’t the slightest idea how to fillet a fish, so all of Dad’s catches were released back into the lake. One of these days I hope that I’ll be able to find someone who can teach me how to make a proper meal with one of Dad’s catches. Or one of my own (although I don’t fish nearly as often as Dad, so the likelihood of me catching anything big enough to bother cooking is pretty darned low).

Instead of fresh fish, for dinner we used up the remainder of the food we’d brought to the cottage for that stay. I used up the majority of the bread I’d made the day prior (White Bread from page 596 of the Joy of Cooking (Rombauer & Becker, 2006 edition)) to make grilled cheese — with lactose-free cheese for me and goat cheddar for Dad, as usual. On the side we had the rest of the morning’s fruit salad with a bit of maple syrup, and the last slices of summer sausage from the farmer’s market.

Then it was time to pack everything back into the car and drive back into town, away from the peace of the lake but back to the convenience of WiFi and cell phone service.

Grilled Duck Breasts & Strawberry Shortcake

Yesterday I decided to cook something I’d never cooked before: duck. I’d eaten it before, generally in Asian fusion food, but I’d never cooked it. It’s different than most of the poultry I’m used to working with (i.e. chicken and turkey) in that it’s a red meat. It’s honestly more like ostrich. Somehow I’d managed to cook up ostrich long before I’d ever worked with duck, which is a little odd seeing as duck is domestic and ostrich is most definitely not. But I digress.

I found the duck breasts in the frozen section of T&T Supermarket a while back, and I bought them because they looked interesting and they were on special (my favourite combination). I’m not sure if this is usually the case, as I have no baseline, but that day they were significantly cheaper than beef. The breasts weren’t whole; they were already cut up into what I think of as tiny little steaks.

I used the marinade from a Grilled Wild Duck Breast Recipe that I’d Googled, knowing full well that since I liked all of the ingredients separately I’d probably like them together. I only did a quick marinade of about half an hour, since I wanted to taste the meat and not just the sauce. Then I threw the steaks on a preheated gas grill. The real challenge here was not to overcook them. I didn’t want them to be rare in the center, but they were so small that I really worried that I’d accidentally turn them into shoe leather. I settled on about five minutes per side, and that ended up being perfect. There was just a bit of char on the outside, but the middle was tender and soft.

I served the duck breasts on a bed of basmati rice, alongside some green zucchini that I’d sliced and grilled at the same time as the duck breast. Timing is always an issue with this kind of meal, so I cooked the rice first, then put the duck on, and then the zucchini, since it was sliced fairly thinly. It all came to the table piping hot and delicious.

For dessert we piled into the car and drove over to my parents’ house for strawberry shortcake. This time my mother made it, but she basically followed my Nan’s recipe. It was an assemble-it-yourself kind of affair (which the kids love), so if mine ended up being sloppy and leaning, that’s nobody’s fault but my own. Part of the problem with structural integrity is that I had to use a non-dairy whipped topping, which never beats as stiff as true whipping cream. Also, we upped the sweets game by drizzling dark maple syrup over the top, further compromising the tower’s support but definitely enhancing the taste.

Dessert finished and hands (and tables, and place mats) cleaned of sticky syrup residue, we headed back home to put the children to bed and to spend some quiet time digesting.

Maple Walnut Pouding Chômeur

Last night I had an urge to make pouding chômeur (“poor man’s pudding”), which is a kind of upside-down maple syrup cake that is baked with its own sauce. I wanted to use some of the lovely dark maple syrup that I picked up from McCannell Craftwork at Russell Flea over the weekend. Sadly, a copy of Anita Stewart’s Canada (2008) wasn’t immediately available at the library, and I haven’t yet bought a copy (although it’s down to $15.00 online so I really should), so I didn’t have access to the first recipe that I used and liked so much. Instead, I grabbed a few cookbooks with their own versions of a pouding chômeur recipe from the library, and then I went home to pick my favourite.

I thought that I had all of the ingredients at home, but it turns out that some of them had spoiled, so I had to improvise a little bit. I ended up combining the recipes from two different books. The final cake ended up being a little bit drier and with a sauce that wasn’t quite as runny as I’d been hoping. It was pretty darned good anyway.

Unfortunately, I found that the walnuts really overpowered the maple flavour, much to my dismay. Although it was a tasty dish all in all, I was really looking forward to that creamy maple syrup sauce dominating. I think I’ll stick to a more simple pouding chômeur recipe next time, whether it be from Anita Stewart’s Canada or another source.

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.

Maple Rhubarb Crisp & Maple Leaf Cookies

I was trying to be as Canadian as possible this week and made maple rhubarb crisp from the recipe on page 116 of Sweet Ontario Pure Maple Syrup: Our favourite Maple Recipes, which is published by the Ontario Mable Syrup Producers’ Association. I picked up a copy of this cookbook this past weekend at the Cumberland Farmers’ Market, which is where I also picked up the rhubarb for the recipe. I didn’t purchase any good Ontario maple syrup at the time, but only because I already had two big jugs in my fridge. Can’t get much more local than that!


Maple rhubarb crisp topped with non-dairy whipped topping

I was really happy with how this recipe turned out. The crisp was the perfect blend of sweet and tart. I’m really looking forward to trying other recipes in this cookbook, such as the french toast casserole and maple BBQ chicken.

Of course, I had to check out some of the Canada-150-themed foods that are being sold in preparation for the big day. The above cookie was from a two-cookie decorating kit that retails at Walmart for $1.50. They aren’t half bad, given the price! My kids are going to decorate their own tomorrow. For an American company, Walmart carries an awful lot of Canadiana. But as the Arrogant Worms quipped in The Mountie Song:

“Where would you get a tank?”
“Walmart.”
“Oh.”

Speaking of the Arrogant Worms, here’s their song Proud to be Canadian, from the album Live Bait.

I hope you all have a safe and happy Canada Day!