Ice Cream Parlours

It’s been unseasonably hot here this past week or so, and it is forecast to be so for the next few days. By “unseasonably hot” I mean temperatures reaching 32°C (89.6°F), with a humidex of 42°C (107.6°F) every day since Saturday, and not much cooler than that the week before. This is honestly the closest to Christmas that I ever remember running my air conditioner. Now, southerners will probably laugh at my objection to the temperature, but please remember that the week before this started we had frost warnings and had to dig out the lightweight toques and mittens.


Brooklyn Place, 359 Rue Main, Shawville, QC, (819) 647-6522

So I guess it should come as no surprise that I’ve been thinking a lot lately about cool desserts. I have a particular fondness for ice cream parlours, especially the ones I visit in small towns when I go on trips with the family.


Brooklyn Place interior.

One such place that I have taken the kids to often is Brooklyn Place in Shawville, Québec. It’s a lovely little spot to beat the heat, and the staff is unfailingly cheerful and courteous.


Brooklyn Place ice cream; that’s their smallest sized cone.

They serve Nestlé ice cream, which is a big name brand and many flavours can be bought in your local grocery store. However, this place is nice enough to make it worth a stop in anyway. If the weather is fine and you have kids that need to run off some energy, Mill Dam Park on Clarendon (just north of Highway 148) is a great spot to wander over to, ice cream in hand.


The Scoop, 33 Main Street, Cobden, ON, (613) 647-1568.

Another great spot I have stumbled across is The Scoop, which attached to (and run by the same people as) The Little Coffee Shop in Cobden, Ontario. The ice cream parlour is only open during the summer to cater to the influx of people from the whitewater region cottages and summer homes. I believe that the coffee shop may be open all year ’round. There’s nowhere to eat ice cream inside, but they have built a lovely little patio in the alley beside the shop, and it’s almost always in the shade (which is great if you’re like me and melt in the heat). The gelato is made in store; the hard ice cream and soft serve come from local dairies. There’s also a bulk candy section. I have to admit that I grab myself a few orange cream Livewires candies whenever I go in.


Downtowne Ice Cream Shoppe, 165 St. Lawrence Street, Merrickville, ON, (613) 269-2168. This is an old photo — the munchkin in the middle is Thing 1 when she was about three years old. My mom is on the left, my aunt is on the right.

Last but most definitely not least is the Downtowne Ice Cream Shoppe in Merrickville, Ontario. This is probably my favourite ice cream parlour ever. They make all of their own ice cream and gelato on site, and I haven’t yet tried one that wasn’t delicious. My first pick, if they have it, is always the one with the bits of crumbled sponge toffee throughout. Mouthwatering! Even if your tastes are much different than mine, The Shoppe has developed over 150 flavours so far, so you’re bound to find something you like.


Thing 1 desperately wanted the brilliantly pink gelato. It ended up being Grapefruit Zinger, and I was dubious that she would like it as most kids don’t like grapefruit, but she ate it all. Of course there had to be sprinkles, which I don’t think go with grapefruit at all, but what do I know?

Honestly, the food at the Downtown Ice Cream Shoppe is so good that it’s worth making a special trip from Ottawa for. If you want to make a day of it, there are all kinds of nice shops to browse in town as well, including a rather nice antique shop and a Christmas shop that’s open all year round. If you’re there for the sights, it’s also worth checking out the Merrickville Lockstation and the Merrickville Blockhouse. All of this is within easy walking distance of the ice cream parlour.

Mom’s Potato Salad

Back when I started writing this blog, I set a personal goal to record the recipes that I had grown up with. I didn’t want my descendants to encounter the same issues that I’d had when my grandmother passed away and took her knowledge of family favourites with her.


Mom’s basic potato salad.

To this end, I asked my mother the other day for her potato salad recipe so that I could post in online (it’s one of my favourite summer dishes). Much to my dismay, she explained to me that she had no real recipe and added ingredients until it “looked right”. After telling me this, she laughed a bit, because she used to get frustrated with my Nan and her approach of “a little bit of this, a touch of that” dishes that were downright impossible for her to recreate.


Mom’s basic potato salad.

So Mom and I set aside some time at the cottage this summer to measure all her ingredients and record everything that she did to make her potato salad. This one of her most often-requested potluck or barbecue dinner dishes, and indeed, it got rave reviews when I made her recipe for the most recent potluck. As a bonus, it is both simple and a great make-ahead dish. Actually, it’s easier to prepare the ingredients a day ahead, then combine them into the final dish on the day it will be served. It takes the pressure off of hosting when you know that at least one dish is ready and waiting in the fridge.


Mom’s potato salad made fancier by leaving the potato skins on and including bacon bits.

Mom’s Potato Salad
Makes about 7 cups of salad

You will need:
6 cups potatoes (any variety) cut into bite-sized pieces
This recipe works well with both older and new potatoes. With older potatoes, peel before cutting. With new, thin-skinned potatoes, wash them and leave the skins on before cutting.
Place the potatoes into a large pot and cover with water. Boil potatoes until they are soft enough to be pierced by a fork, but not yet mushy. Drain and refrigerate in a covered container until cool (this can be done overnight).
While the potatoes are cooking, hard-boil:
6 large or extra-large eggs
Place eggs into cold water until they are cool to the touch. If assembling the salad the next day, the eggs can be left in their shells in the fridge overnight.
Place the cooled potatoes into a large mixing bowl. Peel the eggs. Cut up 4 of the 6 eggs into bite-sized pieces (usually eighths or smaller), setting the two most aesthetically pleasing eggs aside as topping.
To the potatoes and eggs add:
1 cup mayonnaise*
1 tsp table salt
1 tsp yellow mustard
3 Tbsp finely chopped green onion or chives
Optionally, you may add:
(375g package of low-salt bacon, cooked and chopped into bits)**
Mix well until all ingredients are evenly coated.
Scoop the salad into a serving dish, or simply serve in the mixing bowl for informal gatherings. Optionally, you may lightly sprinkle over the salad for looks:
(a dash of paprika)
Cut into quarters the 2 eggs you set aside. Arrange the eggs at the center of the salad in a sunburst pattern.
Serve.
This recipe may easily be multiplied in order to serve a larger number of people.


Mom’s fancy potato salad.

*Regular, olive oil, reduced-fat, or reduced-fat olive oil mayonnaise are all acceptable. However, do NOT use salad dressing or Miracle Whip, the flavour is all wrong in this dish.

**If you add reduced-salt bacon, halve the amount of salt in the recipe. I prefer the reduced-salt kind, but if you have to use regular bacon, don’t add any salt at all.

Campfire

The formula for a perfect night at the cottage is as follows:

One small campfire, plus:

Jumbo sparklers lit in the campfire, plus:

Perfectly toasted marshmallows on green sticks, plus:

S’mores!

(For those not in the know, that’s a toasted marshmallow and a square of chocolate sandwiched between graham crackers, called “s’mores” because you always want “some more”.)

At The Park

There are a lot of public parks in the Ottawa area; a lot of them even have splash pads and water features. This means that if you’re looking to do something with the kids (or even just to get outside yourself), there is always somewhere to go and something to do — so long as it’s not pouring rain. I take advantage of this on a regular basis. My kids are old enough now to pop off together to the closest park for an hour or two. However, their range is pretty small (they only just learned to ride bikes without training wheels earlier this summer), and I wouldn’t feel comfortable with them going much further or crossing major roads alone in any case. So whenever it’s nice out and the girls are getting restless, I head out to a park.


Brewer Park


Knitting at Cardinal Creek Community Park. That day I was working on the start of an adult sock in Araucania Yars Huasco 100% extra-fine Merino wool (colour 101, dye lot 74403) on 3.5mm circular knitting needles.

We alternate between parks, sometimes staying close to home, sometimes packing a lunch and driving downtown or even across town to check out some new scenery. I stuff a novel, a knitting project, and my phone into my purse, which is enough to keep me entertained for hours. No matter where we go, I also have to bring about a tonne of sunscreen. It probably hasn’t escaped anyone that I’m a blonde and my kids are redheads, so sunscreen is not an option, it’s a necessity. The kids invariably come home soaking wet, exhausted, and happy. To me, that’s a successful summer day.

Dill Pickles

By now I am well into seasonal canning mode. Two weeks ago I started with my first batch of strawberry rhubarb butter, and last week I found a great sale on mini cucumbers in bulk, so I had to make dill pickles. We were on the last jar from the batch that I made right before Christmas anyway, and fresh pack dill pickles must rest for at least a month in a cool, dark place before eating to develop flavour. I mean, they’re safe to eat right away, but they taste better after some time.

This is what my canning setup looks like, with some adaptations depending on what food I’m preparing. For large batches or large cans, I tend to have two hot water baths boiling at the same time. The largest pot on the right is actually my pressure canner, but it works quite well as a large hot water canner if I don’t clip the lid closed. The smaller pot near the front is where I brought my pickling liquid to the boil. I’ll admit it, I take the quick and easy route when I make dill pickles and I use Bernardin Dill Pickle Mix. It means that I can completely skip the typical fermentation stage; I just have to wash and cut up the cucumbers, pack them into hot sterilized jars, pour over the pickling liquid, seal, and then process the jars in a hot water bath. This means that I can make up a huge batch of pickles in a matter of a few hours (as opposed to about five days with the fermented method).

This year I tried out a type of jar I’d never used before, ones that have a vintage-look green tint. Normally these jars are about twice the price of the standard clear glass jars of the same size, but I was lucky enough to find a whole bunch of them at $4.00 for a six pack ($0.66/jar) at, of all places, Dollarama. I bought out that location’s entire stock. I mean, a twelve pack of the same size regular jar at Canadian Tire currently goes for about $12.99 ($1.08/jar), so it was definitely a bargain.

One of the reasons that coloured jars used to be considered better for canning purposes is that they allow less light to pass through the glass, and hence the food stayed good longer. Exposure to sunlight can cause canned goods to decompose faster and/or to discolour, which is why historically most food storage is in a cool, dry, dark place. The coloured glass is just one more way to help. These days, though, it’s mostly a fashion thing, a hearkening back to the old-fashioned canning jar look. I personally think that the green-tinted jars are great for pickles (or any other green preserve), but that they’d sadly make different-coloured foods look like they’d gone off in the jar. Even if the food was fine, it might not be eaten just because of its looks. I mean, have you ever tried to eat green eggs and ham? I know that even when I make the eggs myself and am sure that they are safe, I can have a difficult time choking them down because my brain is telling me that they’ve gone off because of the colour. So I think that I will stick to using the green jars for cucumber pickles, or for crafts or storage where the colour doesn’t matter.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Butter Recipe

One of my favourite things in the world to can is fruit butters, which are basically fruit that has been cooked, blended, and then boiled down to reduce the moisture content until the end result is smooth and spreadable. Simmering off the water increases both the flavour and the acidity, so fruit butters need less sweetening for taste or for preservation purposes. Fruit butters are a simple, wholesome kind of preserve that historically, in Canada, was a common way to make fruits last the winter. These days, they are made and eaten all year long, although most home canning happens in the summer and early fall when fruits are freshest and at their most plentiful.

Contrary to what the name may indicate, fruit butters actually don’t usually contain any dairy products, although some recipes call for a dollop of butter to prevent frothing (which I usually forgo and instead skim the froth). They are generally vegetarian and can be made vegan through proper sourcing of ingredients — as I’ve previously mentioned, some varieties of sugar use bone char as part of the filter process, so if that’s important to you, you’ll have to do your homework when choosing a brand to buy.


Strawberry-rhubarb butter will last up to a year when properly canned.

Fruit butters have easily as many uses as jams or jellies, including (but not limited to):

– a spread on bread, toast, or biscuits;
– a filling in donuts, cookies, muffins, croissants, turnovers, and tarts;
– a topping for ice cream;
– a mix-in for yogurt;
– a topping for pancakes or crepes;
– mixed with cream cheese to make a quick dip for fresh fruit or crackers; or
– an ingredient in fruit butter bread (apple being the most common)

Strawberry-rhubarb butter is the latest fruit butter I’ve made, and I’ve found that it perfectly encapsulates the tastes of late spring/early summer. Since the ingredients cook down, it’s a great way to use up rhubarb — especially if you’re searching for ways to use the stalks from an over-producing plant! I prefer to cook it in a combination of the microwave and the crock pot, because both are less prone to burning than cooking on the stove. The quickest way to ruin a batch of fruit butter is to scald it; you’ll never get rid of that burnt taste. If you choose to cook on the stove, you will have to watch your ingredients like a hawk, stir constantly, and adjust your cooking times. For these reasons, if you have a microwave and a crock pot, I highly recommend using them.


Strawberry-rhubarb butter on Dad’s biscuits.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Butter
Yields seven 250mL jars

Wash and chop until you have:
1Kg (about 8 cups) rhubarb, any variety
Place the rhubarb into a microwave-safe casserole dish with:
1/2 cup water
Cover and microwave in 3-minute increments, stirring every time you check for doneness, until the rhubarb are falling apart (approximately 15 minutes). Set rhubarb aside.
Repeat this process, cooking each fruit separately, with:
1.2Kg (about 8 cups) strawberries + 1/2 cup water
1Kg (about 8 cups) apples (any variety) + 1/2 cup water
While apples are cooking, put the rhubarb and its cooking liquid into a blender and blend until smooth. Pour rhubarb puree into crock pot. Repeat puree step with strawberries and their cooking liquid, and when they are cooked, the apples and their liquid.
To the crock pot add:
400g sugar (about 1 3/4 cups)
Stir until all elements are well combined.
Set crock pot on high and cook until resulting butter is a little bit thinner than the desired final product (fruit butter will thicken slightly as it cools). This usually takes between 24 and 48 hours. Cooking more than 48 hours is not recommended as the butter will develop a burned taste. If fruit has not thickened enough after 48 hours, finish the thickening process on the stove top, stirring regularly to prevent scalding.
Fill 250mL jars leaving 6mm head space. Process in a hot water canning bath for 30 minutes after the water returns to a boil. This fruit butter will last up to a year when processed. Alternately, the butter may simply be refrigerated for up to three weeks, or frozen (leaving additional head space for expansion) for up to six months.

Curtains

I have a pet peeve — and it’s not a tiny creature that sits around chewing with its mouth open. This time of year, it gets very hot around here, accompanied by high humidity. It hit 32°C (89.6°F) here yesterday, with a humidex of 38°C (100.4°F). That’s pretty hot no matter where you’re from, but around here our summers are short enough that we don’t truly get a chance to adjust to the heat. And yet, on days where the Weather Network is broadcasting heat warnings, I know people who sit in their air-conditioned homes and complain about the heat — despite the fact that they are sitting in a sun-bathed room. Put up some curtains already! You will be more comfortable, your energy bill won’t be so high, and you’re putting less strain on the environment. As a side bonus, in the winter those same curtains will once again help keep your energy costs down as they will help reduce drafts.


My kitchen table with the curtains open.

Now, I’m not talking about people who have legitimate financial, physical, or mental issues that preclude them putting up curtains. However, in my experience, the people who are in the direst financial straights are also the people who, out of necessity, will cut their utility bills any way they can — air conditioning is a luxury, after all. To beat the heat, many people will hang sheets or blankets over their windows with tacks. Sometimes people build improvised shutters out of flattened cardboard boxes. These may not be the prettiest solutions, but they are effective. Or, if a little money can be budgeted, it’s possible to shop around until the perfect curtains are found on clearance at 90% off. Learning to sew homemade curtains is also an option, not that much sewing has been necessary since the invention of iron-on hemming strips and curtain rings with clips.

No, what I’m talking about is people who should know better, and who have no impediments to putting up proper curtains, but choose not to and then whine that their summer cooling bill is so high.


My kitchen table with the curtains closed.

As I mentioned, yesterday was one of the first scorchers of the year here, and of course that’s when my A/C broke down. We managed to keep our house at an acceptable temperature by opening up the windows at night and in the early morning, then closing both our windows and our curtains up tight for the heat of the day. By sunset, the house had warmed up somewhat, but we were only on the verge of “uncomfortable” — whereas outside it was “too hot to freaking move”. I credit that partially due to the fact that we have decent insulation in the walls (just standard, relatively-modern stuff to protect us from Canadian winters), and our curtains on the sunniest windows of the house being lined with blackout fabric.


My kitchen table with the curtains closed, after adding blackout lining.

To illustrate this, I took photos of my kitchen with plain curtains open, plain curtains closed, and curtains closed with blackout lining added. All photos were taken within a ten-minute span, and the curtains were all white Merete curtains by IKEA — which I love as they open/close easily and are opaque enough for privacy’s sake. The lining used in the bottom picture was heavyweight stuff purchased at Fabricland some years ago. I didn’t change the exposure on my camera so that it’s possible to compare the difference between the light let in by the lined and unlined curtains.

Curtains lined with blackout fabric (or with an opaque coating on the back of the main fabric) have become really affordable over the last ten years or so, as has the heavy-duty drapery hardware that it takes to support thicker curtains. It’s even possible to sew an old curtain to the back of a new one to maximize light blockage and prevent the fabric from fading. Or there’s always the sheet/blanket/cardboard options. If you don’t like “living in a cave”, as some have complained to me about dark rooms, you can only open the curtains in the room you’re currently in, kind of like a reverse-Nicole-Kidman in The Others. So to me, if you choose not to put up or close curtains, it seems an act of artificial helplessness to bemoan how hot it is and how high your home cooling costs have become, or that your brand new air conditioner isn’t performing nearly as well as promised. Wouldn’t it be better to take a stab at mitigating the problem rather than complaining?