Hot Chocolate

Yesterday morning when I woke up it was a frosty -18°C (0°F) — okay, technically -17.9°C (-0.22°F), but the weather network rounded up. That felt like -27°C (-16.6°F) with the wind chill. Non-natives to the area might just think, “Well, that’s Canada for you, it’s always ridiculously cold there.” Okay, sure, it’s colder here than in many places, but not usually so early in the season. This is February weather. In November it’s generally grey and dreary, and hovers around the freezing point. Yesterday was the coldest November 22nd in the history of the city, beating the 1972 record by three and a half degrees. My friend in Whitehorse pointed out that it was a “balmy” -4°C (24.8°F) where he lives.

So I feel that I am justified in commenting on the fact that winter has come quite early to this neck of the woods. Don’t get me wrong, I actually like winter — for a while. I enjoy the changing of the seasons. It’s when the season doesn’t seem to want to change that I don’t like — either the stifling, humid days of high summer or the dragging, freezing days of the most intense part of winter. Those days when it seems like all there is to do is endure the season, not enjoy it. And it seems like that part of winter has come on pretty darned fast this year. Heck, my husband went on a ten-day business trip, and when he left it was still autumn. When he returned home, it was February.

The kids, though, don’t mind the biting cold all that much, because it means hot chocolate when they get home from school. They walk, you see, so the weather hits harder than if they just hopped on and off a school bus. It won’t be the hearty meals that they remember fondly from this time of year — at least not until they get a bit older. No, it will be that warm mug of hot chocolate with tiny marshmallows while they read at the kitchen table and let the worries of the day fall away. Or perhaps, on slightly warmer days, that same mug after coming in from playing in the snow, red-cheeked and raw-nosed. How do I know that? Because it’s one of my favourite childhood memories as well.

Ladysmith Oktoberfest

This past weekend I headed out with Thing 2 to the cottage that my parents were renting to help them clean it out for the season. Not coincidentally, this happened to be the same weekend as the Ladysmith Oktoberfest celebration, so we had to stop on by. I’m mostly of British, Irish, and Scottish descent myself, although heaven knows that our family tree hasn’t been tracked back very far, so it’s possible that there are many other nationalities mixed in there further back. My husband, though, has strong ties to German and Poland (close to the German border) through his maternal grandparents, so my children share this heritage as well. I thought it might be nice for Thing 2 to get a glimpse of this part of her family history.

Oktoberfest in Ladysmith is a pretty big deal locally. As of the 2016 census, there are only 448 people who live in the Thorne township; I would estimate that less than half of that population lives in Ladysmith proper. Nonetheless, when Oktoberfest rolls around, the hotel and nearby cottages are booked solid, and the fields and yards nearby are filled with campers and trucks and tents. People come to visit with friends, take in the entertainment, shop, dance, drink, and celebrate their cultural heritage. After all, a large percentage of the population thereabouts is of mixed British Isles and German descent — which is why, despite being in Quebec, the area remains predominantly anglophone.

For Thing 2, the highlight of Oktoberfest was the live music. Music has always been able to soothe this savage little beast. She sat, enraptured, as the Kyle Felvhaver Band did two sets. When the Ottawa Valley Step Dancers came in, she was enthralled by the rhythm that their shoes tapped out. And when the band played slow dances and waltzes, her eyes followed the dancers on the floor as they circled around the room. She enthusiastically proclaimed to me that when she is old enough to take music at school, she wants to be a drummer! With Thing 1 starting to learn clarinet this year (just like her dad did), I have a feeling that between the two girls, any peace and quiet we ever did experience at home is now a thing of the past. And yet I can’t begrudge them an instant of it.

Thing 2 also insisted that I take a picture of the decorations on the ceiling with all of the “fairy lights”.

Of course, Thing 2’s second-favourite part of the day was the Bratwurst sausages, which might just be her favourite food ever. She managed to eat a whole one herself, which was pretty incredible considering their size.

Sadly, the weather for Oktoberfest was not the greatest; it alternated between rain and shine all day. But this meant that before we left the cottage for the last time this season, we were treated to an especially brilliant rainbow over the lake. Not a bad goodbye, if you ask me.

Tornado

This past Friday, September 21st, the Ottawa-Gatineau area experienced two tornadoes. We’d had tornado warnings in the past which never amounted to much more than a nasty storm with high winds, so I honestly had expected the warnings to be down-graded just like every other time. Actually, I was out photographing the promotional photos for my last post minutes before the storm struck. I was editing them as the wind picked up, thunder rumbled, and the deluge started.

My family was extremely lucky: the tornadoes never came close to us. The stronger tornado, a high E/F3, flattened parts of Dunrobin, and then moved on to Gatineau. The second twister, a E/F2, moved through the southwest end of Ottawa.

The thing that I think a lot of people not from around here don’t understand — especially those in the central part of the US, where they get something like 500 tornadoes a year — is that tornadoes are extremely rare around here. So far as I can tell, we’ve never even had one of any strength touch down in Ottawa (although there was an F1 that hit Gloucester in 2000). Because of this, we’re really not prepared for them! Our natural disasters tend more towards slower, cumulative events, like extremely cold and harsh winters, ice storms, and floods. Nobody has a storm cellar, although most single family homes have a basement or are built on a concrete slab — no crawlspaces under homes here unless it’s a motor/mini home, since with our winters pipes and floors would freeze. We don’t have tornado sirens or drills; the emergency alert that was supposed to be sent to all cell phones in the area simply did not reach a lot of customers. I know that I got the message, but my husband didn’t; my father did, but not my mother. Many people continued on with their days as usual, knowing that a storm was brewing, but with no idea of how strong it would be. As a city, we are extremely lucky that no fatalities have been reported so far, although some people are in critical condition.

As I said, my family was extremely lucky. Our only consequences to the storm were a very short power outage (we’ve experienced worse from a regular thunderstorm) and the downed lilac bush in our side yard. It doesn’t even really look like it has fallen from the front, just a bit overgrown…

But it’s pretty obvious once you go push through the branches to the back yard and look toward the front.

Despite the roots snapping, I count us extremely lucky because the bush (okay, it was over two stories, so it was more of a tree) fell away from the brand new back fence, and didn’t seem to do any damage to the houses as it fell down. Since it had multiple smaller trunks instead of one big one, it didn’t have the same impact as a true tree. I’m going to spend today cutting it apart and putting it out for garbage collection, and after that we should be able to tell if it damaged the neighbour’s air conditioner or gas meter at all.

Once again, I would like to reiterate that my family and friends are all fine, although many people I know experienced minor property damage and others went 48+ hours without power. My sincere thanks go out to the city’s emergency services, who responded quickly and efficiently to the disaster. I would also like to thank the electricity company employees who have been working tirelessly to restore power to the city, which was made especially difficult by the Merivale transmission station being taken out by the tornado. They’ve managed to route power around this station and restore power to hundreds of thousands of customers in just over two days, which is exceptional, in my personal opinion.

If you want to help those who have been affected by the tornadoes, here are some ways you can do so:

– Donate money to the Canadian Red Cross, who are providing hot meals to those in need.
– Donate food or money to the Ottawa Food Bank, who are providing supplies so that the Salvation Army can distribute hot meals, as well as helping people in need to replace the food that they have lost due to the power outages.
– Donate food to the Kanata Food Cupboard, who will redistribute the food to those most in need.
– Donate furniture, clothing, or household items to Salvation Army Thrift Stores; if you have larger items, you can arrange to have them picked up for free by calling 1-613-247-1435 ext. 228.
– Donate personal hygiene products and non-perishable foods (they now have more than enough donated clothing) in the former Sears location on the ground floor of Galeries de Hull (320 boul. Saint-Joseph, Hull sector) in Gatineau.
– Donate money to the Ottawa Senators’ GoFundMe, who have pledged to match donations up to $25,000.

Pulled Pork

Last night we had my brother-in-law over for dinner again, so I had to make a meal that was filling enough for a family of four and a grown man who is seriously into Muay Thai. I settled on pulled pork, using my trusty formula (not really a recipe per se).

This time I served it with mashed potatoes and steamed asparagus, although it would have been a perfect day to run the oven and make some fresh bread. I don’t think it went above 15°C (59°F) and it rained most of the day, so it was pretty damp as well. That’s not horrible weather for spring, but by the time we hit June around here we expect it to be a bit warmer. I have been kind of hoping to start working on my garden this week, but the weather just hasn’t been cooperating. At this point I’m just growing a fantastic crop of weeds, and that’s just sad. I can do better than this.

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!

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.

Ice Day

Yesterday was what we generally call a “snow day” around here, as in the winter weather was so terrible that school buses were cancelled and the kids stayed home from school. But it was really more of an “ice day”, since it had snowed the day before and then the temperature jumped up so we could have freezing rain coating that layer of snow, and then just plain old rain creating puddles on top of it all. It was a mess. It was definitely an ice storm, if not the ice storm.

With the kids home from school and it being too dangerous to really get out of the house (that being the whole reason for the bus cancellations in the first place), I found myself trying to wrangle two active children with increasingly high levels of cabin fever. The day was taken up with playing, crafting, snacking, NERF target practice, and video games. When the weather cleared up a bit, the girls went outside with their father to clear the driveway while I cooked supper (no mean feat after the plough had been by, leaving a burm of ice and slush between our house and the road).

On days like this, you really have to cook with whatever happens to be in the house. My pantry and freezer are well-stocked, and although it would likely take us weeks to even feel hungry feeding on those items alone, I was craving something a bit fresher. I Googled to find some recipes for pasta sauce that I could make without hitting the grocery store, and I found PureWow’s Spaghetti with Avocado Pasta Sauce. I thought that it would be ideal because it is a sauce with a creamy texture (which I adore), but without any actual dairy products.

I served the sauce over cooked spaghetti squash, with baked chicken legs (sprinkled with my usual garlic powder, sage, rosemary, thyme, summer savoury, and sea salt). I only realized after I took the picture exactly how unappetizing the sauce ended up looking, especially since I couldn’t toss it in the “noodles” without them falling apart. Ignoring the other gross things it could look like, the shine on the sauce makes it look like icing or a glaze, which it did not taste like at all. Flavour-wise, it was like eating guacamole, without the heat of peppers. Honestly, it was a little bit bland. I’d like to try this recipe again, but on actual pasta, with some fresh herbs thrown in (Googling has suggested basil and cilantro), and possibly some sliced cherry tomatoes.

At least dessert was a success! I heated a frozen apple pie from Mom’s birthday dinner (I always make two pies when I bake, one for the event and another to throw in the freezer for future use). When reheated from fully frozen, it usually takes about an hour in an oven at 350°F. I served the pie with a scoop of non-dairy vanilla “ice cream” for me and whipped cream for everyone else. There were no complaints on that score!