On the Vine

The garden is still growing strong! We haven’t had much rain lately (we keep watching the storm clouds frustratingly veer north of us), so I’ve had to do a lot of supplemental watering. This compared to last year, where it was so wet that I only watered the garden once all season — and even then it rained unexpectedly within 24 hours. But things are still growing well.

The main garden is still growing strong, although there aren’t any new fruits or veggies to report. The green tomatoes haven’t ripened up; I figure they’re still getting bigger before they change colour. The radish, potatoes, and eggplant are all flowering alongside the tomatoes, though, which bodes well.

The vines in the secondary garden are making a bid for freedom as they do every summer, though. The part of my yard that gets the most sun is right in the middle of the lawn, and the vines keep trying to take it over. While I encourage such enthusiastic growth, it does make it a bit difficult to mow, especially since a lot of the vines are hollow and easily snapped if you try to pick them up to mow underneath.

I am thrilled to see that my tiny cucumbers are growing strong! A lot of them are almost two inches long — which is almost big enough for pickling, right?

My squash is still tiny, but at least it’s recognizably squash-like.

And much to my delight, I appear to have the beginnings of some yellow zucchini!

No pumpkins yet, though, not that I’ve been able to spot. I may be outta luck this year on that score.

Glico Curry

One of the foods that I fell in love with in Japan is Japanese curry. It’s very different than any Indian, Thai, or even British curry I have ever tried. It’s generally a lot of rice, a lot of creamy sauce, and a tiny bit of meat — and it doesn’t have to be very spicy at all. It’s the kind of thing that you can find as cheap street food or sold out of tiny little take-out shops. When you make Japanese curry as a homemade dish, it’s a comfort food, and it’s generally prepared with boxes of pre-made sauce cubes with the spices suspended in a kind of solid roux that melts with the addition of heat. It’s really very easy to prepare. There are a number of companies that make this kind of thing in Japan, but the easiest to come by both there and here in Canada is Glico Curry.

We were having my brother-in-law and his friend that helped with the deck, so I wanted to make something that I hadn’t cooked for them before. I also wanted it to be a hearty meal that would satisfy two men who did physical labour for a living as well as our family of four. Given that we only had one guy over instead of two, I may have gone a bit overboard; I used a whole pan of veggies and meat, and the sauce that I made was supposed to serve ten. We ended up with lots of leftovers. Ah well, it reheats well.

It’s always slightly disappointing to me how unappetizing this kind of dish can be once cooked, because it’s so chock full of delicious, healthy ingredients — and it’s really, really tasty. I used potatoes, carrots, baby bok choy, and steak, but it kind of turned out looking like brown glop. Aesthetics aside, everyone ate their share and some came back for seconds, so the flavor must have made up for the looks.

Working on the Yard

I spent the majority of the last two days working on my back yard. First I put in the garden along the fence I’d been wanting for the last few years:

I’d had one there before, and I’m pretty sure the previous owners of the house had one too, since the soil was black and rich instead of being just clay, at least for the first few inches. I hadn’t done anything with that garden since the old fence started to fall down, but this year we have the new one up, so I don’t have to worry about either a pile of wood or contractors squashing my plants. I planted Jerusalem artichokes, pumpkins, Hubbard squash, butternut squash, cucumbers, zucchini, and asparagus, alongside the rather tiny rhubarb plant I planted years ago. I tried putting down landscaping fabric to prohibit the weed growth, but we’ll see how that goes.

I cut back the apple tree, although it’s still pretty huge, all in all. There were a bunch of dead limbs and I ended up losing almost a whole one of the major subsections closest to the house. I really hope that whatever killed those branches doesn’t spread to the rest of the tree, though. One of the reasons I got a deck (instead of a patio like originally planned) is to accommodate the apple tree’s roots. It would really suck if the tree then ended up dying. Also, I just plain old love that tree, especially every second year when it blooms.

In my main veggie garden, I’m happy to report that the potatoes are starting to sprout — alongside a bunch of tiny weeds. I only just weeded that bed, I’m a little annoyed that the weeds are already returning. Hopefully the plants I actually want will grow tall soon and start choking out the plants I don’t.

A friend of mine gave me a black tomato plant to add to my cherry tomatoes, and I’m curious to see how the fruit turns out.

My pear tree is flourishing, despite still being shorter than me. I might get twice last year’s harvest, so… Ten fruits, maybe? I always like how pears grow up while they’re tiny, but then the weight of them drags them down to hang how you’d normally expect over time.

I also had to mow the grass, at which point I discovered that apparently I have wild strawberries growing in my front lawn, which surprised the heck out of me. I don’t care much about my lawn so long as it is green — grass, clover, strawberries, it’s all okay by me, so long as it’s not thistles, which are painful to step on. After a quick Google, I discovered that wild strawberries are perfectly safe to eat, especially if you know that the ground they grow on is pesticide- and herbicide-free, which mine definitely is. They’re not really big enough to make much of a crop, but they are definitely more flavorful than the commercially-grown variety.

I finished the day with a barbecue dinner for my family, my parents, my brother, and his friend. I made salmon on the smoker barbecue — not burned, just a little ashy — with a glaze of maple syrup and a sprinkle of salt. My mom brought over her famous potato salad with bacon, and I grilled up some zucchini and steamed asparagus. I also made some rice to serve on the side, at my kids’ request. All in all, it was a lovely meal, and I’d eat it again in a heartbeat.

Crunch Time Chicken

Heading into Ottawa ComicCon cosplay crunch time, I’ve been resorting to some of my tried-and-true dinner dishes to feed my family. Last night I made up baked chicken thighs with my favourite spring chicken spice mixture, served with mashed potatoes and a Caesar salad.

I’m looking for new quick and easy meals for the next month or so (it’s one month away! Eek!), but I don’t have time to do my usual leafing through my cookbooks and browsing the Internet for ideas. I do have a few Crock Pot recipes I’ve been wanting to try that might be perfect. At the very least, I’ll try not to resort to Kraft Dinner and instant ramen…

Excellent Potato Bread Recipe

I finally had a chance to try out one of the recipes from the 1877 The Home Cook Book that I was so happy to find on Saint Patrick’s Day! It was a very interesting exercise to try to recreate such an old recipe. Here’s the original text:

EXCELLENT BREAD
Mrs. Geo. W. Pitkin.

Four potatoes mashed fine, four teaspoons of salt, two quarts of lukewarm milk, one-half cake compressed yeast dissolved in one-half cup of warm water, flour enough to make a pliable dough ; mould with hands well greased with lard ; place in pans, and when sufficiently light, it is ready for baking.

You’ll notice that it gives no cooking time or temperature, no approximate yield, no idea the volume of mashed potatoes, how big a cake of yeast measures (and what kind of yeast — the book gives multiple recipes for how to make your own), or how much flour to use. I’m really glad this wasn’t the first loaf of bread I’d ever made! Although I guess part of the point of these recipes is that they assume that all readers will have a certain breadth of knowledge base.

As it turns out, this recipe makes 4-5 loaves, depending on the size of your loaf pan. I honestly didn’t even have a bowl big enough to mix all of the ingredients, so I had to stir everything in shifts. It all turned out quite well, though, so I thought I’d share my interpretation of the recipe. Hopefully it’s a little more easily-repeatable than the original; I’ve also halved the quantities in my version for ease of cooking in a modern kitchen. The end result is a white bread that is still a little heavier and more filling, due to the potatoes. It also stays moist much longer than a straight white loaf.

Excellent Potato Bread
Yields 2 large loaves

In a small bowl, mix together:
2 packages (14g) quick-rise instant yeast
1/4 cup warm water
Wait for yeast to activate; if it foams up, it is good to use.
While waiting for yeast, peel and chop:
2 potatoes
Peeled, this should yield about 265g of uncooked potato.
Place potatoes in a stove-safe pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are easily pierced with a fork. Alternately, you can cook the potatoes in a microwave-safe casserole: place potatoes in the dish, cover with water, and cook on high until they can be easily pierced by a fork, about 12 minutes. No matter how you prepare the potatoes, drain them once cooked and mash them until they are no longer lumpy. Set aside to cool somewhat.
In a very large bowl, combine:
4 cups warm milk
2 tsp salt
Stir. Add the yeast mixture and the potatoes to the mixture, stir well.
While stirring with a sturdy wooden spoon, gradually add:
8 cups flour
As the end of adding the flour nears, the mixture may become too stiff to stir with a spoon. If it does, it can be stirred with floured hands in the bowl.

Flour a flat surface and hands generously. Turn the dough out of the bowl, scraping if necessary. Knead the bread for about 10 minutes, until it is springy. If the dough is too sticky on the hands or flat surface, add a bit more flour, but add it gradually and only add as much as absolutely necessary. The dough should be moist but not sticky.

Oil or use cooking spray on a large mixing bowl. Form the dough into a ball and place it in the bowl. Cover the bowl with a clean, damp tea towel. Place the bowl in a warm, dry area with no drafts. Allow the dough to rise until double, about 1 hour.

Grease two loaf pans. If you use smaller loaf pans (8.5″x4.5″), they will end up with a “mushroom top” loaf like the one pictured. If you use larger 9.5″x5.5″ pans, the bread will be a more uniform shape.
Divide the dough into two even portions, form each into a loaf shape and put each one into its own loaf pan. Cover with a damp towel and allow to rise again in a warm, draft-free area until double, about one hour.

Near the end of the rising time, preheat your oven to 350°F (175°F). Bake for about 30 minutes, checking often near the end of that time to make sure that they do not overcook. Verify that the bread is done by removing them from the pan and tapping them on the bottom. When cooked through, the loaf should make a hollow sound. Remove the loaves from the pans immediately and place them on a wire cooling rack.

As with all bread, this kind is best served immediately. To keep it at its freshest, slice it only when it is about to be eaten. This bread will keep for four or five days if wrapped in a clean plastic bag. Make sure it is wrapped up only after totally cool, or it will go soggy.