French Toast & Maple Syrup

It’s getting near the end of maple syrup season here in Ontario. The sap didn’t run for very long this year, what with the late thaw and the fact that it’s supposed to get up to nearly twenty degrees Celsius by the end of this week. The rising temperatures mean that it’ll be a warm Easter weekend, but it will definitely cut off the sap flow!

I hadn’t really taken advantage of the season to make any of the traditional dishes like pouding chômeur, since I’ve been too busy for much baking lately. But I wanted to make something seasonal, so I settled on French toast with maple syrup.

I whipped up the bread earlier in the day; it’s simply my bread machine fluffy herb bread without the herbs. This creates a light, airy loaf, which is what I prefer for French toast. I added a little bit of vanilla to the whipped eggs, but I didn’t use cinnamon like I normally would so that the syrup was the ingredient that really shone. And it was delicious!

Finger Foods

Yesterday Mother Nature decided to prove, once again, that she reigns supreme by throwing a rare (but not unheard-of) snowstorm at us a good week into April. I feel very lucky that I hadn’t had the snow tires taken off of my car yet — unlike my poor parents. I was so happy the other day when I realized that I could see grass peeking through the snow in the back yard, making progress even from last week when I broke out the barbecue. As of halfway through yesterday afternoon, the view out my back door looked like this:

It did continue snowing throughout the rest of the day, although it was only lightly and hence didn’t accumulate all that much. I feel so much worse for my friends and family in Atlantic Canada who are supposed to get double the snowfall that we did! There’s a reason that we don’t plant our gardens here before the Victoria Day weekend at the end of may, and it isn’t just fear of frost.

In addition to the depressing weather, I still am suffering from a nasty cold, so yesterday’s supper had to be warm, filling, and easy. I thought that some tasty finger foods were in order. Much to my surprise, there was a great deal at one of the nearby grocery stores on zucchini this week, which doesn’t usually happen quite this early. I am left to surmise that places further south that have actually progressed through spring are having a bumper crop this year. So I decided to make some baked Panko zucchini sticks, which the kids love but haven’t had since the end of last summer. I thawed some Costco chicken wings and threw them in the oven, and while the were baking I threw together the zucchini sticks. Since the two dishes are cooked at the same temperature, for the last 15 minutes or so of cooking time I transferred the chicken to the top rack and cooked the zucchini on the bottom. This way both dishes were done at exactly the same time and could be served right away.

I think I’m about done with winter, by the way. It’s only two weeks until Easter; will Santa have to ferry the Easter Bunny to us in his sleigh?

First Barbecue of 2019

It’s a big deal in our household every year when we get to use the barbecue for the first time. This spring it was a little later than usual because of snow accumulation that stubbornly refuses to melt. To access the grills I had to shovel about two feet of snow and ice off of the deck, and then wait another few days for the last of the ice to melt. There are still a few patches in the shade that I chipped away at today to free the tarps and covers.

As you can see, the snow level is still pretty darned high in the yard, higher than our raised deck in a number of places (although the deck is only raised at max two feet off of the ground). It’s all compressed ice and granular snow now, none of the fluffy, powdery snow that makes winter so much fun.

I was kind of hoping to get the wood pellet barbecue out and running yesterday, as it’s definitely the nicer of the two barbecues, but although it has been freed of the ice, its fuel is stored in the shed which is still behind a pretty significant drift. (I’m really looking forward to that area melting because it would also mean regaining access to our bikes.) So I had to use the gas barbecue, although I wasn’t sure how much fuel was left in the tank. Not much, as it turned out, but just enough to cook up a few hot dogs.

Nothing fancy about these hot dogs; they’re just Kirkland weiners on Old Mill buns. On my bun there’s also a squirt of Culinary Treasures Jalapeño Lime Aioli, which I think is the best hot dog and burger topping since ketchup.

Honestly, it was a lot more work to obtain access to the barbecue and test it out than it was to actually cook today’s supper. (Although the kids couldn’t have been happier.) But I don’t mind because hopefully this will lead to a whole lot of other meals cooked outdoors during the warmer months. I’m looking forward to barbecuing pork belly that doesn’t end up like charcoal. But I probably won’t be trying today, though, because it’s supposed to rain all day. Or possibly snow. Or both. Thus is spring.

Instant Pot Pork Chops & Mushroom Gravy

It’s been chilly for spring lately, even here; over the weekend we got what will hopefully be the season’s last bout of snow and freezing rain. To me, cold weather makes me crave solid, hearty meals — although I have to admit they’re not always the prettiest.

Covered in gravy like that it doesn’t look all that appetizing, I know, but it really hit the spot.

I actually cooked these pork chops & mushroom gravy in the Instant Pot, although with having to boil down the gravy to a decent consistency afterwards I don’t think it actually saved me any time. The flavour itself was pretty much identical, too. Although there was nothing actually wrong with cooking them in the pressure cooker, I don’t think I’ll be making them this way again, since it was neither easier nor quicker. Well, unless my stove goes on the fritz or something, or it’s a really hot day and I want to cook outside (although by then I’d hope that I’d have the barbecue up and running).

I made the mashed (well, technically whipped, I find them smoother that way) potatoes the traditional way, on the stove. Perhaps if I wanted to switch the roles around I could do the potatoes in the Instant Pot and the pork chops on the stove. It really makes cooking them a breeze, and that way I don’t have to worry about the pot on the stove boiling over — again. And I could possibly cook the potatoes and the carrots at the same time, like I did with the pot roast. That might be worth trying.

It Has Begun!

Today is the vernal equinox and first day of spring, which is encouraging for those of us who like to garden despite the fact that it still looks like winter outside. However, it has been peeking above freezing off and on for the last week, and things are finally starting to melt a bit. While my driveway is still a skating rink, I can finally see a bit of the back deck close to the house.

I find myself rather envious of the people further south (or back in Madrid) where spring flowers are already pushing out of the ground and fruit blossoms are covering the trees. Ah well, our time will soon come!

With the seasonal change comes the reminder that Ottawa ComicCon is only 50 days away — and I have to get cracking on costumes! Yesterday I popped out to purchase some fabric, although I haven’t found all of what I will need yet. (Today it’s all in the washer being pre-shrunk.) The purple and white fabric will mostly become Vio from The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures for Thing 1. I also need to purchase fabric for our other family costumes: Thing 2’s Sheik from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and my Ganondorf from The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. For group costumes on the weekend I also need to make a R.O.U.S. costume from The Princess Bride (I’m hoping to find a kigurumi pattern that I can modify) and a 1950’s version of Marrow from the X-Men comics. Over the weekend I also plan on wearing my Men in Tights costume again, which is the only one I don’t have to make this year. So that’s a total of five costumes I still have to sew, but at least there are no big builds this year?

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!