Signs of Life

The “on this day” features on my phone and Facebook and whatnot keep reminding me that last year at this time the city was really greening up. Leaves were unfurling, plants were sprouting, and spring had definitely sprung. This year, not so much. I mean, that’s probably a good thing, because it’s only been two weeks since we had an ice storm. For those who don’t live in northern climes, ice or snow on leaves instead of bare branches puts a whole lot of weight on trees, meaning a lot more breakage and overall damage. Not to mention the frost damage that would have affected lower-growing plants. So in the long run it’s probably good that spring is springing slowly this year, even if it does mean that things like Ontario parks have had to have a delayed opening.

But if you look closely, you can see some signs of life, like buds on a lilac bush:

Or on a pear tree:

And hardy rhubarb sprouting up despite being thoroughly trampled by the fence installation guys in the fall:

With any luck, my harvest will be better than last year’s.

Of course, the tiger lilies are one of the first plants to shoot up after the snow recedes — they generally survive the last few freezes of the season just fine:

And the first dandelions have started to bloom:

I have to admit that I’m not a huge fan of digging dandelions out of my lawn and my gardens, but they are one of the earliest foods for bees in the spring before the rest of the plants flower. So, yay!

I don’t generally plant my gardens until after the May 2-4 weekend, as late frosts can kill tender young plants. Given the weather we’ve had this year, I may be extra-cautious and not plant for another week after that, at the start of June. I mean, it hit 28°C (82.4°F) yesterday out of the blue, but average temperatures for May are generally much lower than that. However, I still enjoy seeing the native and perennial plants coming back in force after the temperatures rise.

Earth Day

Yesterday I spent most of Earth Day on my bicycle, which I think is appropriate. It was less because it was Earth Day and more because the weather was finally nice (you’d never know we had an ice storm a week before), and I love to cycle.

I cycled with my mother along the Rideau River and the Rideau Canal, taking a break in the middle of the ride for a lovely bite to eat in the Glebe. A good deal of maintenance had been done since the ice storm, so most of the big branches had been pulled off of paths and roads, but the large numbers of smaller sticks and twigs sometimes made it dicey going. Every so often we’d find an area with constant shade, and we’d have to be careful of the ice hidden there. The water was really high on the river (although definitely not as bad as last year’s major flooding), so some of the bike paths that run alongside were a little dicey and sometimes inaccessible. Amusingly, when we traveled alongside the canal we realized that it has yet to be raised back to navigation level and was almost dry at the bottom — the water level is controlled by a series of dams and weirs, and it’s only partially filled in the winter to create ice for the skateway.

While the plants have yet to green up, the bugs were starting to reemerge (I learned that gnats stick to sunscreen) and we saw a plethora of birds. Although there were worries that the robins would starve in the late freezing weather, we did see quite a few of them. Also in large numbers were pigeons, gulls, and Canada geese; although we didn’t see many of them, we did hear songbirds singing in the trees. We even spotted the odd pigeon in the photo above, which caught our eyes because the pigeons around here generally have colouring more like this.

Honestly, it wasn’t the prettiest day. Despite the clear blue sky and the sun shining down, this isn’t the most beautiful time of year to be a tourist. If you wanted to film/photograph something with a post-apocalyptic vibe, this is the time to do it. Just wait a few weeks, though, and it will be beautiful again!

I did do a couple of things that are kind of stereotypically Canadian today, now that it’s warmed up a bit. First, I took my outdoor Christmas lights down. If you live in warmer climes that probably seems quite late, but although I turned mine off on January 1st, by then they were frozen to the ground and under a thick layer of ice and snow. Only now had things melted back enough that I could actually take them down!

Also, today I shoveled the lawn. That probably sounds ridiculous to anyone who doesn’t live where there’s a great deal of snow, so let me explain. At the end of the winter, you’re always left with a few drifts that are the last to melt, usually in areas that don’t get much sun or where you pile snow when you shovel your driveway or paths clear. Well, I have a few spots like that, and I’ve learned over the years that if I want them to melt (and hence dry out) a little faster, I can throw the top layers of snow into the parts of the yard that actually get regular sun. I know it’ll all melt eventually if I just leave it, but by this point in the year I’m impatient for the change of seasons. It probably only takes a couple of days less to melt the snow if I shovel it, but it makes me feel better, gosh darn it!

For our Earth Day dinner, my husband cooked us up some steak and zucchini on the wood pellet grill, which I served with some nice homemade bread. We had actually intended to have hamburgers, but I think everyone else in town had the same idea and we couldn’t find buns for love nor money. I think anyone who could do so fired up the barbecue and cooked outside, if only as an excuse to do something out in the lovely weather. I mean, it went up to 16°C (61°F) for the first time since around October, so I really don’t blame them. Ah well, our dinner was probably healthier than burgers anyway — and it was delicious!

Ice Storm French Toast

Sunday going into Monday we had one heck of an ice storm. It was possibly as bad as the one in 1986, but nothing close to 1998. Even so, 43,000 people in town lost power and the city was turned into a virtual skating rink.


Apple tree branches encased in ice.


More apple tree branches.

Now, freezing rain isn’t a new thing in this city. But this is the latest that I can ever remember it closing everything down — I mean, it’s April, for crying out loud! My kids had a “snow day” (“ice day””?) yesterday. It’s nuts.


Roofing shingles under ice.

It got even more dangerous to be outside as the day went on and the temperatures rose, causing the ice to start falling off the trees and the roofs. Some people had flying ice shatter the windshield of their car. Everyone avoided the areas around buildings and trees to reduce the likelihood of being brained. At least here in Ottawa we don’t have any super-tall buildings like the CN Tower dropping big chunks of ice onto other buildings and damaging them.

As the sun set, the ground was covered in a few centimeters of slick ice from the freezing rain, and then another layer of broken ice from the branches and buildings dumping their loads. Many of the ice chunks were bigger than my hand, and almost two centimeters thick.


Pain perdu served with sliced apples.

Right before a big storm like this, around here the things that people tend to stock up on are milk, eggs, and bread. I think this is because, with a typically Canadian mentality, we tend to have lots of food put by in the freezer or the pantry to get us through bad weather, but we tend to run out of perishables. A common joke based on this trend is that everyone wants to make French toast when the weather is stormy (a dish which is comprised primarily of these three ingredients). Now, I don’t think I’ve ever made French toast during a storm before, but I was looking for a quick and easy meal for last night, so I figured why not? I had the supplies, after all.

I’d made Egg-Enriched White Loaf (page 67, Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf (Jennie Shapter (2002)) earlier in the day (although I’d had issues with the amount of liquid and had to add more than the recipe recommended). I sliced that bread thickly and used the recipe for Pain Perdu on the Restigouche from page 19 of Anita Stewart’s Canada (2008) for the coating. (Yes, the book I had on reserve finally came in at the library.) I do know how to make French toast the way my parents taught me, which has rather more eggs and less milk (I used almond milk in any case), but I rather liked this new way of doing it.

Hopefully the weather will clear a little Tuesday so that my house-bound children can get to school, and this stir-crazy mom can get out of the house, if only for a coffee!

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.

It Was Supposed to Be a Barbecue

Last night I had planned on barbecuing. It’s not really BBQ* season yet, but the snow has melted from around our barbecues (although without any grass growing yet, the ground around/under them is a morass of clay mud). The grills not being buried or frozen closed is pretty much all a Canadian needs to get started cooking in the back yard.

That being said, the temperature plummeted last night. Heck, it snowed off and on since Tuesday night, but it had hovered around freezing for most of that time. But once yesterday afternoon came around, the wind picked up and it started getting cold fast. By midnight it was -7° (-16° with the wind chill), and by morning it was -11°C and felt like -20°C. As winter temperatures around here go, that’s not too bad, but that’s really cold for April. Not only that, but the wind reached 90Km/hr gusts — you know it’s windy when you’re driving and debris is passing your car. With that wind, the cold just cut right through you… So yeah, I didn’t want to stand outside and cook. Not only that, but winds like that make it very difficult to get an even temperature on the grill!

So dinner wasn’t barbecued steak, it was pan-fried. It was very tasty pan-fried steak, though, cooked medium and tender. I served it up with a heaping side salad, which kind of felt summery if you didn’t look out the window…

* Yes, I am fully aware that what we call “barbecue” around here is what people in the southern USA would call “grilling”. We don’t really have a low-and-slow BBQ tradition around here, although those few times I have had it, it has been mouthwateringly delicious.

Easter Celebrations

Our family’s Easter celebrations can happen any time over the long weekend, to coordinate with peoples’ schedules. Barring illness (we’ve had a couple of spring bugs work their way through our family over Easter, so those years nobody much cared about chocolate), though, the Easter Bunny visits after the kids go to bed on Easter Eve, so that there are gifts for the children to find first thing on Easter Sunday.

In our family, the Easter Bunny hides chocolate eggs around the main level of the house, but Easter baskets are put together by Mom and Dad. Although it may look like a lot of stuff, it’s generally dollar-store or thrift-store finds (except for the Skip-It-like toys this year). The downside is that sometimes the gifts aren’t of the highest quality, like the Crazy Eggs (Eights) deck from the dollar store that was entirely spades… Hmm, manufacturer’s flaw much? The toy I thought was the coolest was the Sew Science kits, which provided the materials and instructions for the kids to make their own sewn circuits that really light up. Super cool! I think the kids were most enthused about the K’Nex kits, though.

This year Hubby and I got little Easter baskets as well, although this isn’t always the case. Hubby’s basket was filled with his favourites: Farm Boy fresh jujubes, Twizzlers Nibs, Ferrero Rocher chocolates, and Sweet Tarts. I got a big bag of Whopper Robin Eggs, sock yarn, and a cute Peeps lunch box.

Easter afternoon is basically time for everyone to eat chocolate, the kids to play with their new toys, and the adults to prep for dinner. I baked an apple pie using the crust from page 73 of The All-New Purity Cook Book (Elizabeth Driver, 2001), as usual, and the filling from page 678 of the Joy of Cooking (Rombauer & Becker, 2006 edition).

I was actually excited to be able to use my new-to-me Tupperware 12″ Pie Taker for the first time in order to bring the pie to my parents’ place. I was so happy to find this because I usually transport my pies in Ziploc bags, but the top of the bags have a bad habit of getting stuck to the top of the pie. The Tupperware worked much better!

I made hot cross buns again this year (page 37, Baking Bread: Recipes From Around the World for the Complete Home Baker by Audrey Ellison (1995)). I think they turned out much better than last year’s, but I’d forgotten that last year I burned the first batch cooking them at the recommended temperature for the recommended time. I almost made the same mistake again! Luckily, I got them out just in time. I think they should take 12 minutes to bake, max (instead of the recommended 15 to 20 minutes in the book). This year I also used the glaze after baking, and boy was it sweet and sticky! The kids seemed to like it, though.

Mom put on her traditional turkey spread for our family of four, my parents, and their good friends Mrs. and Mr. B. (I guess the more traditional roast would be lamb, but Mom doesn’t like it and since she’s the cook, what she says goes. Mom gave us all the choice between pork and turkey, and we chose turkey.) It was delicious! It included roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, squash casserole with walnuts, Brussels sprouts, gravy, and… Oh, what am I missing?

That’s right, everybody’s favourite part: Dad’s famous Yorkshire pudding! Dad only used to make this for roast beef meals, and then he’d only make a single batch. In the last few years we’ve managed to persuade him that any roast meat with gravy needs to be paired with Yorkshire pudding, and that a double batch in the bare minimum quantity. They never, ever go to waste.

Of course, my mom set the table with seasonally-appropriate cloth napkins and adorable napkin rings.

I wanted to say thanks again to Mom and Dad for hosting such a delicious meal! And I hope that you all had a lovely Easter — or, for those who don’t celebrate the holiday, a fantastic long weekend!

Happy Easter!

I hope that everyone is having a safe and happy Easter long weekend. It hasn’t been terribly spring-like here yet, with lots of snow still on the ground, but a least we have had lots of chocolate to compensate!

(Those are Whopper Robin Eggs, by the way. The most addictive Easter chocolates known to man, in my personal opinion.)

Happy Easter!