First Harvest of the Year

I’m happy to report that there are finally fruits and veggies in my garden that are ready to harvest! It’s been a very dry summer for the most part, and although I’ve been watering my garden religiously, I think it’s having an effect on the garden. However, over the last week or so we have had a storm almost every day, alternating with sunshine, and my plants have loved it.

My tiny cucumbers and zucchini have swelled up remarkably in the last week and a half! The largest of the cucumbers is about 7″ long (18cm) and is so thick that I can’t wrap my fingers entirely around it. The three cherry tomatoes (and now I’m sure that the self-seeded tomatoes were the little ones since they’re ripening at such a small size) were sweet and delicious straight off of the plant. I know the zucchini would have grown larger, but they’re more tender at a smaller size. Some of the absolutely enormous zucchini gifted by friends last year had a really tough skin that had to be peeled before it could be eaten. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I still ate every last squash, but the bigger they are, the harder the skin. (Also, the really big ones you have to scoop out in the middle like you would a pumpkin, because the seeds are quite tough too.) Also, I’ll admit that I wanted to get to the zucchini before the animals or bugs did. I know that it’s supposed to be one of the easiest things in the world to grow, but between insects and squirrels/chipmunks and just plain bad luck, I’ve only ever managed to grow a single zucchini before, and it was a tiny one barely worth harvesting.

I would be writing about the size of this first zucchini right now except for the fact that we ate it almost as soon as it was off of the vine. My husband fired up the barbecue yesterday and we had chicken thighs with the skin on, topped with a sprinkle of herbs (my usual sage, thyme, garlic powder, summer savoury, and sea salt; there would have been rosemary too, but I had run out). As a side dish, I sliced the yellow zucchini and threw it in our non-stick grilling bowl with a sprinkle of salt and a drizzle of olive oil. As it couldn’t possibly have been fresher, it was oh-so-tender and light-tasting. I didn’t even have to fight with the kids to get them to eat their vegetables, which is quite the feat at dinner time around here these days.

Fruits of My Labour

It’s that time of year when I start seeing the fruits of my labour (quite literally) in my garden. I always find this very exciting. You can plant as many seeds and seedlings as you want, take care of them as best you can, and sometimes they still don’t yield fruit. I can understand how this excitement can turn into outright dread if you farm for a living, but it’s a lot of fun when you garden for pleasure.

My self-seeded tomatoes are actually fruiting! I did have my doubts that they would produce anything at all. But I did start to see flowers a few weeks ago, and now there are some tiny rows of tomatoes growing. I wasn’t sure what kind of tomatoes these would be (since even when you buy them from a garden center, they can get the variety wrong), but these are definitely a cherry tomato of some sort. Since that was exactly what I wanted, I could not be happier. The next question is, what colour will they be?

Over in my long skinny garden by the fence, the large gourds aren’t showing much yet (although there are some promising bulges near the flowers), but the cucumbers are starting to bear fruit. They’re still in their tender young stage that I know is terribly tempting to rodents and earwigs alike, but I have hope that I may be able to make some home-grown pickles come fall.

Shrimp and Asparagus on Steamed Rice

I actually had a moderately successful weekend! First, I got my tomato plants caged before both the exceedingly hot weather and the related thunderstorms rolled in:

That’s eighteen tomato plants, but except for the two that my friend gave me (on the far right, closest to the front), I have no idea what kind they will grow up to be, because they self-seeded. They are coming up nicely, though, and they’re starting to flower, so that hopefully means that they’ll be yielding fruit soon. Now all that’s left to stake or cage is the eggplants, but I’m in no huge rush since they’re not even flowering yet so I don’t have to worry about the weight of their fruit dragging them down.

You might have noticed that there’s a lot more green to the garden than last time I wrote about it. The potato plants have come up nicely, but some other weed has decided that my garden is an absolutely lovely place to try to take over. I’m going to go on a weed-pulling spree as soon as the current heat wave breaks — it hit 48°C (118.4°F) with the humidex yesterday, and I’m just not made for that kind of temperature. The weeds can wait.

And after a string of highly unsatisfying meals, I managed to successfully pull together a lovely light dinner of shrimp skewers with butter and garlic, and asparagus with olive oil and salt. Except for the rice, this supper was all cooked quite quickly on the back yard grill, meaning that I also managed not to heat the house up too badly. Grilled shrimp and veggies is so easy, I’m not entirely sure why I don’t think to do it more often. Perhaps it’s a mental block left over from my childhood? When I was a kid, the barbecue was for hot dogs, hamburgers, and steak, with the occasional foil packet of potatoes thrown in for good measure. I really need to re-think what I can do on the grill to make the best use of it this summer.

New Stove!

I have a new stove! Well, okay, new to me. A friend of a friend was replacing her perfectly-functional old stove to get a fancy new one. She found out that I was looking for a stove to replace my old one, which was starting to develop… Issues. It was a really fancy-schmancy stove back when it was new like thirty years ago. It had panels on the top you could switch out so that it became a griddle, or a grill, or a special burner for a wok. But the oven was only large enough for a single cookie sheet to make room for the surface-level fan, and the drawer underneath was sacrificed for that as well. The light socket in the oven had something wrong with it, so the oven light bulb would burn out within days every time. And, most importantly, the oven didn’t keep a consistent temperature, which makes it really difficult to bake.

So here’s my new stove! It doesn’t match the rest of my black appliances, but I don’t care. It’s immaculate and runs reliably. The oven runs about 25 degrees F hot, but since it does so consistently I can compensate. And I actually have an oven light now so I can check for doneness without having to open the door!

One of these days I’ll be able to afford an electric, non-glass-top double oven… Maybe I’ll get one when I finally get my dream kitchen (which will probably be only in my dreams). Until then, this stove is fantastic!

Tonight I tested the stove out with a simple dinner of teriyaki salmon with steamed spinach on rice. I bought the salmon in one of those budget $10 freezer packs, and it was… Okay. Not bad, but a little bit dry. I think if I use this kind of salmon again it will be in something like a casserole that disguises the texture a bit better. But for a dinner for three adults and two kids (my brother-in-law was over) for about $13, it wasn’t half bad. Fresher fish would have been better, but this was definitely acceptable.

Leftover Chicken Salad

Last night was leftovers night, the day when I try desperately to finish off the last few odds and sods in the fridge to make space for new ingredients. For some reason, there always seems to be a bit of chicken in there when it comes time for a clean-out, either from rotisserie birds from the store or, more commonly, chicken thighs or breasts roasted at home. While chicken bacon quesadillas are generally an option preferred by my kids, I don’t always have tortillas around, so another thing I like to make is leftover chicken salad.

Honestly, it’s one of the simplest things in the world to make. I wash and cut up the lettuce (or spinach, or greens mix — whatever we’ve got), and I’ll wash, peel if necessary, and chop up whatever veggies haven’t yet turned — that means usually some carrots, cucumber, and some avocado if we’re really lucky. I’ll also chop the leftover chicken into bite-sized pieces, and add some slices of hard-boiled egg on top. If we have cheese that needs to be eaten up, we’ll often grate/crumble a bit and add that too. Then everyone adds whatever dressing they like; we usually have Greek tatziki, bacon ranch, zesty Italian, Ceasar, and a couple of homemade vinaigrettes kicking around the fridge. Of course, Thing 1 for some reason hates the texture of lettuce, and hence ends up with a plate of cut up veggies, chopped chicken, and a hard-boiled egg. It’s nothing fancy, but it is a tasty, healthy meal in a pinch!

Canning Pears

A while back, a friend of mine brought me a box of cooking pears from his neighbour’s tree, which was producing an overabundance. Not too long after that, he brought me a second box full. I’m told that these boxes of fruit kept appearing in front of his house under not-so-mysterious circumstances; apparently that neighbour was getting really tired of being beaned in the head by falling fruit. This week I finally had the chance to tackle this mass of pears. I’ve been cooking with them for over a month, but my rate of attrition was much too slow, and some of the fruit was starting to turn.

First I made a double batch of Cinnamon-Scented Parsnip Pear Jam, from page 407 of Preserving: The Canning and Freezing Guide for All Seasons by Pat Crocker (2011). As interesting as this combination appeared at first glance, I found the final result much too sweet; it uses twice as much sugar as fruit by volume, which is a very high ratio even by jam standards. It would still be nice on Dad’s Biscuits, fresh bread, or toast, but I guess I was hoping for more of a flavour punch given my success with this book’s carrot jam. However, I do agree with the book’s assessment that this jam, when mixed with a bit of orange juice, would probably make a lovely glaze in which roasted root veggies could be tossed.

I well and truly overestimated how much fruit & veg to prepare to make this recipe, even doubled; I honestly thought I’d be able to get at least a quadruple batch in, but with all of that sugar, my pots just weren’t big enough. So I had a whole bunch of peeled, cut up pears (left) and parsnips (right) after this attempt.

The parsnips became part of our dinner last night, roasted in the oven with a sprinkle of salt, pepper, rosemary, and olive oil. I served them with baked pork chops coated in dried onion soup mix, which is a dish from my childhood that I’ve been making a lot lately once I was reminded of it. It’s just so easy! I probably have enough parsnips left for another three dinners like this one, but I think that would get old fast. I’ll need to research another recipe.

For my next recipe, I took a chance and tried peeling my ginger with a spoon, which is a kitchen hack I’ve seen floating around the Web for a while. I was quite satisfied with how this worked, actually. Not all cooking hacks are worth your time, but I found that this was honestly easier than a veggie peeler or a knife, and it wasted much less of the root.

The next step was to break out the candy/deep fry thermometer and bring the next jam up to the jelling point. (As an aside, am I the only one who feels like they need a shield as their jam/jelly gets thicker and it starts spitting huge globs of boiling-hot sugar and juice out of the pot?) This time I made Spiced Pear Jam with Pineapple found on page 935 of the Joy of Cooking (2006 edition, Rombauer & Becker), or on the app.

I was much happier with this jam than the previous one. I could definitely taste the fruit, and it wasn’t too sweet (it has a much lower sugar-to-fruit ratio). I have to admit that I couldn’t really taste the pineapple; the citrus note is definitely the strongest part of this jam, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, although it does end up tasting more like a marmalade.

I probably still have enough chopped pears to make one more batch of jam. What kind should I make? I still haven’t decided. I have a lovely old recipe for pears poached in red wine and then canned, but that’s really intended for whole pears. These cooking pears needed to be chopped up to remove imperfections, so they’re sadly not really suitable to such a dish.

Squash & Pear Casserole Recipe

For Thanksgiving dinner, my mom made a lovely squash casserole as part of the main meal. (You can see it on the bottom right hand side of the table in the last picture in the post linked above.) It was so good that I asked her to share the recipe with me.


My stab at this delicious casserole.

Mom sent me the link to The Spruce’s Butternut Squash and Apple Casserole With Crumb Topping recipe, but then she sent me a list of the changes she’d made that turned it into a significantly different dish.

Last night I tried Mom’s version, which has pears instead of apples (’cause that was what she had on hand), and includes walnuts for crunch (the best part of the dish in my opinion). The topping stays pretty much the same, but it really wasn’t very crumby. The photo in the Spruce recipe was obviously taken before the dish was baked. Rather, as the butter melts it carries the spices and sugar to ingredients at the bottom of the casserole. This doesn’t make it any less tasty (I’d venture to say that it actually enhances the flavour), but I’d hesitate to call it a “crumb”.


Squash & Pear Casserole served with pork chops with an onion soup mix glaze.

Squash & Pear Casserole
Serves 4-6

Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C).
Peel, remove guts and seeds, and cut into bite-sized pieces:
2 1/2 lbs butternut squash (approx. 1 medium)*
Core and cut into bite-sized pieces:
3 green pears
Place squash and pear pieces in a casserole dish that fits these ingredients with a bit of room to spare. Stir to mix.
Sprinkle over the mixture:
1/2 cup chopped walnuts**
In a separate bowl, mix together:
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
To the sugar and spice mixture add:
1/4 cup chilled butter***
Using two knives or a pastry knife, cut the butter into the sugar and spice mixture until the pieces of butter are a roughly even size, about the size of a pea.
Sprinkle butter and spice mixture over the contents of the casserole dish.
Bake, covered, for 50 to 60 minutes****, or until the squash is easily pierced with a fork.
Serve using a slotted spoon so that the cooking juices are left behind in the casserole dish.

*This casserole would work equally well with squash of a similar texture such as acorn squash or pumpkin.
**Chopped pecans may be substituted for chopped walnuts.
***Margarine may be substituted to make this dish vegan/vegetarian. However, the margarine has to be the kind that is hard when cold, or it will not cut into the sugar & spice mixture properly.
****This dish may be prepped ahead of time, refrigerated overnight, and then baked just prior to serving. If the dish is still cold from the refrigerator, allow for an additional 15 to 20 minutes of cooking time.