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?

Blizzard

Yesterday was a snow day here in Ottawa — and by that I don’t mean the standard “school buses are cancelled, but schools and everything else is still open”, which is what generally happens around here. A large storm was incoming, so the elementary and high school boards closed the schools entirely the evening before (meaning no after-school extracurricular activities) and didn’t reopen them until this morning. All of the colleges and universities cancelled everything for the day. Anyone who had a job that let them work from home was encouraged to do so — and this is a government town, which means a lot of office workers. Any retail outlet that could keep the lights off did so, or at least waited until later in the day after the worst of the snow had been cleared to open to the public.

What this meant for my little family is that we were all home together yesterday. My husband worked from home while I watched the kids, both of whom were excited for the extra day off to complete their Valentine’s Day preparations. The four of us spent a good hour and three quarters clearing the driveway in the afternoon — well, my husband and I cleared it while the kids ever so slowly worked on the walkway. It was a lot of work, but at least the weather was lovely, hovering just below freezing and sunny once the snow stopped falling.

I have to admit that this season has really gotten me down. I’m not usually subject to the winter blues, but it’s been a rough year. There hasn’t been a week where someone hasn’t been home sick since the fall, which really isn’t helping. January was the snowiest one on record, which meant the kids missed a lot of school because of snow days as well. Between the sickness and the snow and the many very cold days, I think we’re all feeling kind of housebound.

So when I was out grocery shopping early the other day in preparation for the storm, I grabbed myself a bouquet of flowers at the cash. I know they’re probably meant for Valentine’s Day, but I thought that our house needed a bit more colour to contrast with the snow outside. Roses are traditional this time of year, but I am particularly fond of lilies, since that’s what I carried at my wedding. (I am also partial to orchids, since they’re my husband’s favourite flower and what he wore on his lapel at our wedding.) Every time I see these flowers they make me smile, and I remember that it won’t really be that long until we start seeing green outside again too.

Hearty Hamburger Soup

The plague, aka the nasty cold with a sore throat and a cough that has been going around, hit our house hard this week. While I am desperately trying to fend it off, Thing 2 and my husband have succumbed, and Thing 1 is starting to show symptoms. It’s also been ridiculously (if seasonally) cold the last few days, averaging about -35°C (-31°F) at night with the wind chill. All of this together means that the best thing for everyone to eat is a nice, hearty soup.

So last night I made Hearty Hamburger Soup in my Instant Pot. It’s actually a stove top recipe, but it’s easy enough to adapt; I just did all the sautéing in the cooker, drained off the fat, added the rest of the ingredients and then pressure cooked for 30min. This is a dish that I’ve been meaning to make for years, and the ingredients are generally the kind of thing I have stocked in my pantry and freezer. I’m told that my aunt makes a killer version of this dish, but I haven’t been able to wheedle her recipe away from her. The Allrecipes version was quite nice, though. I made the accompanying bread earlier that day in the bread machine; it was Egg-Enriched White Loaf on page 67 of Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf by Jennie Shapter (2002).

A Few Things

Thing the First:

This morning we found Candy Cane in the kitchen, sitting on the clock that usually sits under a glass dome above the cabinets.

Thing the Second:

With twenty days to go, I finally finished knitting the Vero Shawl (Rose Bower colourway) for my aunt who is always cold — and who I am pretty sure doesn’t read this blog. It will go in the mail tomorrow and will hopefully arrive on her doorstep before Christmas.

Thing the Third:

I have started on the family’s Christmas stockings. The first one, for Thing 2, is closer to the end than to the start, although there seems to be an awful lot of yarn left to go. I’m knitting this one in hand-dyed Fleece Artist Blue-Faced Leicester Aran (100% wool) in what I believe is the Red Fox colourway. I bought this yarn years ago as part of the Elmira flap hat and fingerless glove set; I knit the hat (which I still love — Ravelry pattern entry here), but I never got around to the gloves. Since this is Thing 2’s favourite colour palette, I figured the yarn would make a lovely Christmas stocking instead.

Thing the Fourth:

I made pancakes and apples for dinner yesterday. I’ve been trying to use up ingredients we already have in the pantry, and there was some pancake mix in there left over from the summer (not sure if it was from camping or the cottage). Paired with some chopped apples and with a drizzle of maple syrup on top, it made a lovely meal!

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.

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!