I hope I never lose my sense of wonder. If that makes me naive, then so be it.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011


Every Christmas growing up, we had it. Thanksgivings too, I think. My first time roasting a turkey as a newlywed, I called my mom to ask for it. Every Christmas and Thanksgiving, I have made it. Without fail, if I'm making a turkey dinner, it is there. 

Mom's turkey stuffing. Potato, seasoned bread, onion, and savoury - so much savoury! Likely my favourite part of the meal, I would make far more than could go into the bird. We'd fill it up, roast it, then combine the turkey-ified stuffing with the rest to stretch it farther. Of the leftovers stuffing was the dish I most diligently tried to squirrel away in a forgotten corner of the fridge so that I could sneak it out, Gollum-like, and make it mine, all mine. Problem was, the rest of the family felt the same way. So good! We all love it.

(side note: I partially credit Mom's stuffing with starting me on a road of cooking without recipes. When I asked her how she made it, all the ingredients were "about this much" in handfuls. So - thanks, mom!)

This year I saw a recipe that I want to try. It's got apple, sage, rosemary, sausage, cranberry - and looks delicious. But really, it's not as simple as simply adding another side dish. This is stuffing. The part of the meal that overshadows the turkey for some of us. There's only one cavity in that bird, and only one thing can go in it.

I am realizing as I type this that I don't know where Mom got the recipe and I may indeed be going farther back into the family history with my heresy. Oh dear.

I confessed to D that I was thinking about this new recipe, and he gasped (okay, a little theatrically for humorous effect, but gasp he did). Then demanded a road test. So tonight I'll try the new recipe with a roasted chicken and we'll see.

If it works though, I am seriously considering roasting two smaller turkeys to still have the old standby.

Monday, 14 November 2011

daring cooks, november

I enjoy tea. Black, green, oolong, chai - a cup is such a nice break or a pick-me-up during the day. This month, though, I got to expand my use of tea and cook with it.

Sarah from Simply Cooked was our November Daring Cooks’ hostess and she challenged us to create something truly unique in both taste and technique! We learned how to cook using tea with recipes from Tea Cookbook by Tonia George and The New Tea Book by Sara Perry.

I really wasn't sure how to do this one on my own, so followed one of the recipes given: Beef Braised in Rooibos Tea with Sweet Potatoes. Stew is always good, right? Even if it uses (a) tea, and (b) a tea I have never heard of. The stew began with the flour-coated beef browning in my cast iron pot, then the aromatics: onion and celery cooked a bit to soften before adding tomato paste and garlic. Sounds pretty normal for stew to me, but instead of adding beef stock, a litre of rooibos tea was added. 

Rooibos tea
 Rooibos tea is from South Africa (and I'll assume dear friend EMP will recognize it!), and is a lovely red leaf that in turn made a reddish tea when steeped. The tea itself was one I will try again for sipping, but this lot went into the pot. 

Then the other seasonings: ginger, orange peel, and cinnamon sticks. All simmered for a couple of hours making the house smell amazing, and then sweet potatoes were added to finish cooking. A bit of fresh cilantro, and there it was.

Finished stew
Delicious!When I make sweet potatoes, my go-to is usually the southern cooking version, done with egg and butter and brown sugar and (to my kids' delight) topped with more sugar or marshmallows. But this time, the potatoes simply absorbed the flavor of the tea-citrus broth and showcased their own sweetness. The mix of spice was delicious! All of us thoroughly enjoyed it.

Russian Earl Grey tea
I decided to wrap up the meal with the tea theme so made Earl Grey lemon shortbread cookies. Buttery, lemony rounds were prettily flecked with the tea leaves, and made for a nice finish. I used Russian Earl Grey, a more citrusy version of the classic tea.

All in all, the meal was delicious, and I have been thinking of other tea-food combinations. The shortbreads will become a part of our Christmas baking, and I will definitely try that stew again. Thanks, DK hosts!

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

when life gives you evaporated milk

I've been craving donairs. They were the late-night study food in university, shaved seasoned meat coated with  garlicky sauce in a pita. A real Maritime thing. Not being there, I looked up a recipe that I'm trying tonight - the meat is made and cooling - but realized this morning that the sauce called for canned evaporated milk. Of course, none was to be found on the kitchen shelf. 

No problem! I thought. I am adventurous! I will make some.

My darling Le Creuset saucier was called into action (yes, it weighs more than a pan that size should. But it is happy and red and makes me feel like a real cook when I use it), and I started simmering milk. All was going well until I was explaining to the girls why I was cooking milk, and A, who was helping by putting groceries away, poked a can around the corner of the cellar door. "You mean this?" Oh. I did have some, after all.

So here I was with hot milk on the stove. What to do? Crème anglaise. I've wanted to try it for a while, and the transition was easy: some sugar stirred into the hot milk, six egg yolks beaten with more sugar until they were light and "lightly ribboned into the bowl". It looked ribbonish, so I think I got that right. The yolks were tempered (add some of the hot stuff to bring up the temperature gradually, so when they're incorporated into the hot milk they don't turn into scrambled eggs) then added to the milk, and all cooked to the right consistency. A splash of vanilla, and there it was. And it tastes AMAZING. Close-your-eyes-when-you-taste-it good. Sweet, not in a cloying way, but a gentle, simple sweetness that comes of having four simple ingredients.

Sometimes being wrong is annoying. Other times, it leads to sweet serendipity - in life, not just in cooking.

The crème wants something lovely to go with, so I'm making a not-too-sweet chocolate cake (but it would be so good with fresh berries, with tarte tatin, with baked meringue... the list goes on). Even if the donairs don't come quite up to my Maritimer standards, I know dessert will be good.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

end of summer part 2

 Ducks. Now there's something we'll do again. They entertained as they grew, making us laugh as they swam in their little pool or walked around shaking their tails. It's some sort of reflex thing they seem to do, and made me smile every time. They like to hang around in groups and even when they did get out of their pen (as when they realized that they could fly), they just sort of wandered around until we opened the door to let them back in. Two got much larger so we figured they were the drakes. I learned after ordering them, though, that the slaughterhouse we take the chickens to doesn't process ducks.

"Oh? Why not?" I asked. "Well," the lady there informed me, "water birds have different feathers. They have an under layer that our plucking machines won't remove. The places that process them wax them."

Waxing ducks.

Of course the thing that immediately sprung to mind was ducks sitting at a spa, having their legs waxed. But as I read up on it, they literally dip the carcass in paraffin wax, let it harden, and off come the feathers. Oh, the things I learn.

No worries, I thought. We'll find a place that does them. The one I did find, however, was an hour's drive away. Two hours in the truck for five ducks didn't seem like good economics. And so, we decided (or maybe just I did? I can't recall. Maybe D just nodded at my latest silly idea) that we would do it ourselves.

I won't give details, as this is not in any way a how-to blog, except to say that their end was quick and humane (though the twitching is unpleasant), plucking is a terribly tedious business, and maybe waxing would have been a good idea after all. D, with his experience of field dressing after hunting, did the removal of the insides, and we quickly chilled the birds. The two large ones were 7 and 8 pounds finished, too big for the freezer bags - so I quartered them and made stock from them, while the other three went in the freezer whole at about 5 pounds each.

The next day we had one of the breast halves, cooked to sear the outside, rare on the inside, and with a glaze of pan juices, white wine, balsamic vinegar, and honey. And - oh. my. Amazing. 

I also realized, as we ate it, that I had a different appreciation for what I was eating. We had raised, killed,  processed, and cooked this meat. I didn't order it at a restaurant, didn't pick it up off the shelf. I don't say it in a holier-than-thou way, I just realized that having been involved in every step of the process, I felt different about the food I was enjoying. Sentimental? Maybe. But it's how I felt. I think I appreciated it more than I had before.

end of summer part 1

Our farm summer is over: the garden done, all the meat birds gone in various ways, the cows returned to their home farm. 

 Some kale and chard remain to be eaten, but it was a nice summer with the garden. Not the greatest for tomato yields, but what we got was delicious. 

 We raised and took two batches of meat birds to the slaughterhouse, putting 32 roasters into our freezer. In a way the chicks have become pretty normal for us, though the arrival of the new little ones is always cause for squeals from the girls. A dozen new layers joined us this year, bringing the total to 13 along with Mini-Me, the sole remainder of our last bunch. She doesn't lay any more but has attained pet status. 

This summer's experiment was pheasants and ducks. To sum it up, ducks were adorable and pheasants were pretty but flighty. But of course we always have to look at the success of the venture, i.e., how did they taste, and were they worth the effort? 

The pheasants were gorgeous as their feathers came in. The colours! Greens, rusty red. brown speckles, and even iridescent purples when the light hit them right. Stunning. And as they strutted around their run, they really did look lovely. That was before they escaped, were recaptured, and escaped again. So, I have no idea how they tasted. Likely not worth the effort, though in a couple years I may be crazy enough to try again.

Monday, 24 October 2011


Rehearsals, rehearsals. The band has another concert date on the horizon (November 5th!) and so we are hard at work bringing the music together. This time is an even bigger musical variety than last time, and Uberguitarist has once again pulled seemingly disparate elements like Grieg and the Beatles together into what will be a fun music lineup.

 'Blank Page' will debut there, too. My new song born out of a friend telling me to be creative by starting with a blank page. I think I took it more figuratively than she meant, but hey, I'll take the inspiration I can get.

The process of taking a song from the bare words and chords and getting it performance-ready is like going from a blueprint to an actual building. The page gives the outline, the craft and execution makes it real and multi-dimensional. We worked through it last week to get the band familiar, but I still have ideas and fine-tuning that will make it be what I want. Ideas that make sense in my head don't always sound quite right when I actually hear them, and hearing something gives new ideas. It's a very organic process as it grows, changes, and adapts to itself.

It's been good to discipline myself to finish the songs that have been floating around, half-done. As I've encouraged our girls to bring their short stories to completion, I'm reminded that while I don't write stories, these song fragments are my equivalent. Giving them shape and structure lets them finally get out of my head. And really, there's enough clutter in there already...

Friday, 14 October 2011

daring cooks, october

This month I got to try a food I'd never tasted, only heard referred to in silly songs. And it was fabulous.

The October Daring Cooks' Challenge was hosted by Shelley of C Mom Cook and her sister Ruth of The Crafts of Mommyhood. They challenged us to bring a taste of the East into our home kitchens by making our own Moo Shu, including thin pancakes, stir fry and sauce.

A dish from northern China, Moo Shu is most commonly made with pork, and almost always contains cabbage and egg. It's basically a stir fry of thinly sliced vegetables and meat served on thin steamed pancakes with a complimentary sauce.

Pancake cooking- one of many.
The part of the recipe I thought would be the most tedious was the preparation of the little pancakes for wrapping the stir fry. I envisioned a long, drawn out process, but was pleasantly surprised at how easily handled the dough was, and how quickly I was able to cook the pancakes while working on the stir fry itself. 

To flour was added boiling water and a little oil. That's it. It was left to sit after mixing for 30 minutes to relax the gluten (thus making rolling them thin much easier), and the resulting dough after kneading was great to work with. Sections of the dough were cut and rolled out into thin pancakes which then cooked oh-so-briefly in the skillet before being set aside. They quickly stacked up on my plate, ready to be filled. 

Action shot! Stir fry in the works.
For the stir fry I did remember to cut everything beforehand, which made for a streamlined cooking process. Lean pork, napa cabbage, bamboo shoots, scallions, and shiitake mushrooms (the ingredient 'fungus' in the recipe was cause for some strange looks and giggles amongst my girls)  were all thinly sliced and tossed into the pan in turn to cook. Scrambled egg was added just at the end and stirred through the dish to complete it.

As for the hoisin, it seemed to go together easily - I don't have first-hand experience with it, because 11yo sous-chef M was very excited to have a part of the recipe to do on her own and so took over the preparation (as if I was going to argue with an eager young cook?). She dutifully mixed the ingredients, whisking and chatting and generally making things fun, and we both agreed that the homemade hoisin was much better than the store-bought. In fact, when we made it again the next week (a sure sign it was a hit), she immediately claimed hoisin-making as her thing to do.
Hoisin sauce - yummy.

As we sat around the table, spooning the moo shu into our pancakes, drizzling hoisin, rolling them up and enjoying them, it was great family time to share the events of the day and commenting on our new meal (all thumbs up!). We got to try something new and spend some focused time together, laughing and talking. 

And really, isn't that one of the best things about good food? 

(side note: I can't figure out why (a) I have to have the font this large, and (b) there are extra spaces between my paragraphs. There are only single spaces between until I post it, and the 'small' font will only print as teensy. Minor annoyance, and I do hope to figure it out. Visually, it bothers me.)

Monday, 26 September 2011

on guilt and looking forward

Eight years ago, JB left us. I still miss my nephew, my friend, my kindred spirit. And more than a few times in the intervening years, I've heard "won't it be good to see him again someday?" more often than I care to count. Yes, it's true. Yes, it's well meant. But selfish me wants him here, now - not there, later.

But it's true. I hold on to that hope. So I got the picture of getting to heaven and seeing Jesus, and seeing JB. And I will confess the latter had me more excited.

Enter a little good old-fashioned Sunday School type guilt. Shouldn't I be looking forward to seeing Jesus more? I mean, He is my Saviour, He died for me and makes this future reunion possible. It's Jesus I want to be more like: loving those society deems unlovable, caring for people - really caring - like He did, bypassing hypocrisy and religion for real, true life that makes a difference. The "correct" answer is, it's Him I should be looking forward to more.

Then I remembered something. My parents were coming to visit one time. And our daughter R, about 4 or 5 years old, was bubbling with excitement to see them. The window was covered with hand (and nose) prints as she strained for the sight of them. "When, Momma, when?" I was excited too, of course, but kept my excitement below her frenetic level as we watched and waited.

There! The car pulled in at the end of their long journey. My little one's bouncing echoed that of my own heart as she ran and threw open the door. We both went out and I smiled as she ran ahead, chatting and laughing as she hugged and was embraced in turn.

I stood back, myself so happy to see them, but rejoicing in the love of my daughter for her grandparents and they for her. I paused to capture the vignette in my mind as I moved forward for my own hug. I'm so glad you're here, we said, with a strong hug that was no less full of love for my daughter's usurping of that first contact.

It is that happy union that I look forward to. And someday, when I arrive home at the end of my own long journey and the door is flung open, I look forward to both hugs. R is a lot like her cousin JB, after all. Maybe, like her, he'll run ahead for that first hug. The first of many.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

daring cooks, september

I'm late in posting this, and with my camera continuing to be disagreeable, it's lacking in pictures. Which is too bad, really, because this month's challenge had some very good visuals of before and after. The challenge was to make stock and soup, with the option of making a consommé.

Peta, of the blog Peta Eats, was our lovely hostess for the Daring Cook’s September 2011 challenge, “Stock to Soup to Consommé”. We were taught the meaning between the three dishes, how to make a crystal clear Consommé if we so chose to do so, and encouraged to share our own delicious soup recipes!

A word on consommé. I have a history with it. When a child of around 11 or 12, I opened the fridge one day to see a drinking glass of clear, dark brown liquid. "Coke!" I thought, "someone poured it but didn't finish it. A little drink? Don't mind if I do!", and proceeded to take a healthy swig of the stuff.

Beef consommé. Cold.

I wouldn't recommend it. I do recall a mad dash to the kitchen sink to spew out the surprise, and shuddering at the thought for some time after.

But, years pass, taste change, and consommé gets warmed up (much better than cold, trust me). Or in this month's case, made.

I make stock all the time. If any sort of poultry is roasted, the bones, skin, and some herbs and aromatics get tossed into a pot with some nice cold water, then simmered for hours to make some stock for soups or stews or risottos. Waste not, want not, right? The stock is strained, and used right away or frozen for later use. It's usually flavourful, reminiscent of the original meal: sometimes rosemary and lemon, sometimes sage and savoury, sometimes a hint of smoke and spice from the grill. 

But it's always cloudy. So, this month's challenge to make crystal-clear consommé was an intriguing one; accomplished through some simple kitchen chemistry, it appealed to the science-loving side of me too.

The cloudy particles in the stock, too small to be taken out with my sieve, could be caught in strands of albumen. So, egg whites (yes, really) were whipped up into a froth, then stirred into the warm stock. This simmered for about 45 minutes, the whites floating on top in what is aptly called a 'raft'. 

Sure enough, the liquid under the raft clarified and at the end of the time I was able to spoon out beautifully clear, delicious liquid. Care must be taken not to disturb the raft (or the particles will get back into the soup), but all in all it was a technique I'd definitely use again.

We enjoyed the chicken consommé simply, with fine shreds of carrot and chives floating prettily in the bowl. It's a beautifully elegant starter to a meal. Herb biscuits to go with? Of course! 

Monday, 12 September 2011

inspiration is a funny animal

Writing is a funny thing. And I don't speak here of those who craft plots, who create characters who draw us into their lives, their struggles, failures and triumphs. I am a pathetic failure at trying to do that. I am eternally grateful to those who do; to live among their pages for a moment is a rare and precious gift. Then again, maybe writing is funny to them too, but I just don't know about it.

I'm talking about the kind of writing I do.

For me, in my limited experience, some comes immediately, and some comes slowly and carefully. It reminds me of cooking sometimes, a thought I've already visited. Today, just now in fact, was a strawberries-and-balsamic moment (this will make sense upon reading that link). A lyric has been flirting with my mind lately, teasing it and jumping around just out of reach. I finally caught a couple lines of it yesterday, so sat down to type it tonight.

I wrote a complete song having nothing at all to do with that lyric. Not a bit. Not even stealing the concept and re-applying it. A complete new song sprang out of nothing more than a thought I had while I was hanging a shirt on the clothesline this morning (really, doesn't inspiration strike at the most mundane moments, sometimes?).

It's new, it's darker than some of mine. It's not an emotion I live with but one I visit from time to time. A complete song. Well, a lyric. Musically? I have no idea except to tell D "heavy, and minor."

And of course, the other lyric went skipping happily away, having eluded me for another day. I can hear it giggling.

Monday, 22 August 2011

art and questing and mosaika, oh my

*disclaimer* I wrote this right after the first weekend in August, then planned to add photos. My camera is being cantankerous though, seemingly has something against my computer. So, here's the plain old blog.*

Our planned long weekend camping trip being cancelled, we decided to fill up Saturday with a series of things exploring our city that had been on our radar to do for a little while now. We slept in (D's main request for the day) then headed downtown to spend a couple of hours at the National Art Gallery, seeing works by Caravaggio at the temporary exhibition, then touring the main gallery to "ooh, ahh" at some pieces and "huh? really?" at others. R and A liked the more realistic works, while M was quite taken with cubism.

A walk back to the market, itself alive with the farmer's market, shops, and street performers, to La Moulin de Provence, garnered us some delicious pastries. Refreshed, we headed to the Hill for the main adventure of the day: UrbanQuest

I had booked our quest, printed up our clues, and we had set the start time as 4pm. Why the start time? This is one thing we loved about the UrbanQuest idea: you have a quest (okay, that part is pretty obvious). Clues to find, fill in, and solve as you walk around the area exploring. Ultimately, the completed quest leads you to a restaurant for dinner, where a reservation is waiting for you two hours after you start your quest. 

The girls had a great time searching for the next place to go, deciphering the poem that gave our clues. Some answers were found by observation, some by reading signs, and a couple with a google search and asking people. A lot of walking, but we had been warned about that part, and we got a good, not-too-strenuous workout. Once finished we had solved a phone number to call to get the final clue, which took all the info we had and gave us the key to our code. This, entered online, would give the last piece of the puzzle: the address of the restaurant. This was where we got a little derailed as we tried to use D's blackberry but couldn't access the site. So it became an exercise in innovation as we hopped over to the Mac store at the mall (just closed) and finally to an internet cafe (got it!). I realized later, they had sent a very nice email to me as our quest began, with a mobile link that would have worked fine. Oops. We'll know for next time.

Supper was great as we relived the day, ate some good pub-type food on the outdoor patio, and generally shared some laughs about what we had done and seen. While there we decided to stay in town for one final show, so hiked back to the truck for our folding chairs and blanket, then meandered back through the Market (did I mention, a LOT of walking? Not sure of the distance, but out of curiosity had started my ipod pedometer after the art gallery. The end of the session had 13,000 steps) to Parliament Hill. 

We staked out our spot, then sat in chairs and lay on the blanket, waiting until 10pm when the Mosaika show began. Side note: there is just something wonderful about sitting on the lawn in front of the national government buildings, relaxing (yes, I dozed off) and laughing with thousands of other people around us doing the same. We are truly blessed in this country of ours. 

As to the show - wow! A half-hour show of music, sound and light projected onto the Parliament Buildings. Seeing the grand structure used as a sort of movie screen was amazing, and the show a creative, well-executed mix of history, culture, and national pride. If you see the Mosaika website, those images are not enhanced; it is literally how the show looked. It was educational, too, and conversation as we walked back to the truck involved the trans-Canada railway, strikes during the Great Depression, the Famous Five, and Terry Fox's Marathon of Hope. Looking up at the sky, a few stars could be seen and so light pollution became another topic. We returned to a quiet farm, the sky full of bright points of light, all tired but happy with our day.

Today, my legs are complaining.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

chocolate bacon cake

It's D's birthday today, so yesterday I found myself thinking yesterday that some sort of cake was called for. What to make for him... so I laughingly thought, if only I could make bacon into a cake! I mean, bacon? Of course. It makes everything better. My initial thought was to make a rectangular cake, then use colored strips of fondant melded together to look like a slab of bacon.

Yes, really.
Then I realized, that would be cruel. The next thought: chocolate cake. With bacon. And I'm pretty sure a light bulb appeared over my head. The bittersweet flavour or chocolate should work beautifully with the smoky saltiness of bacon, right? I love sweet/salty combinations.

A little internet searching later and I found that my idea was not so original; other people had made various takes on the concept of chocolate and bacon. But the cakes looked too fluffy for what I had in mind. Instead I turned to a recipe from a lovely book passed along to me by older sister S. On Rue Tatin (by Susan Hermann Loomis) is a great combination of story, food, and recipes, one of which is for a gâteau au chocolat rich in chocolate and dense in texture.

So. I made two cakes, then took more dark chocolate that I melted with hot cream to make a ganache. Ganache is one of those things that is just simple and amazing (aaah French food, you've done it again). Chocolate and cream and butter, to which liqueur or brandy is often added. I added bacon. Of course.

A few slices were cooked, thoroughly drained and blotted, and chopped fine. The ganache was the filling between the layers and the top frosting. Feeling vaguely like the guys on 'Epic Meal Time' I cooked and crumbled more bacon to cover the top. A sprinkling of fleur de mer to gently enhance the saltiness finished it off.

The result? The name had us laughing, the cake looked phenomenal, and the flavours worked as I expected. The drawback: the chocolate was a bit too rich. A sliver would be enough. But in those bites that gave you the mouthful of chocolate, then smooth ganache, and finished with the bacon smokiness at the end, we had 'wow' moments.

We enjoyed supper al fresco, setting up a table and chairs on the lawn in the shade of the trees, popping open bottles of Rieme French sparkling lemonade (picked up on a whim and a new family favourite), Pellegrino, and a nice red wine from Jabulani Vineyards. We feasted on grilled corn on the cob and steak, with some pasta in a pesto I had made from basil in the garden.

The mosquitoes obliged and stayed away, so we could relax and enjoy a lovely meal outdoors. Then the kids got silly so D threw them in the pool.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

daring cooks, july

July! Summer! Heat! And, another challenge: fresh pasta.

Steph from Stephfood was our Daring Cooks' July hostess.  Steph challenged us to make homemade noodles without the help of a motorized pasta machine.  She provided us with recipes for Spätzle and Fresh Egg Pasta as well as a few delicious sauces to pair our noodles with!

I have an Olympia stainless steel hand-crank pasta roller. I don't remember buying it; it was early on in my married life and I was likely in a culinary mood. I've used it fairly often, though I wouldn't say it's a regular item at work in my tiny kitchen. It usually lives up on the shelf by the hand blender, winking at me when I open the cupboard door. When I have time and extra hands to help (the kids love rolling it out!) I do prefer the quick cook time and the taste of fresh, homemade pasta. But I've made broad noodles every time I've used it. So with this challenge, I wanted to try something new and so decided to go with stuffed pasta.

I made the pasta from my usual recipe; 2 eggs, a pinch of salt, 2 t vegetable oil, and 1 1/2 cups of flour. Yup, that's it. It's stirred until it forms a ball, kneaded for about 8 minutes, then rests for 30 minutes in the fridge before getting rolled within an inch of its life on the pasta machine.

For filling I thought on flavours and chose chorizo sausage, goat cheese, and basil. The garden is positively full of it these days and I love its fresh, lemony taste in everything I'm cooking lately. I cut the flat sheets of dough into squares, piled on some filling, put a top piece on, and made it round while sealing the edges with a biscuit cutter. They actually looked pretty good (though A said one, my first attempt, looked "pretty mutated").

Ready to cook!

For sauce I made a light mix of tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, and a bunch of herbs from the garden: basil (of course!), thyme, oregano, and some chives. Chicken stock and white wine were added, all simmered away while we made the pasta, and a touch of cream was added at the end. Yum. My three food critics (our teenage and pre-teen daughters) all loved the mix of tastes, but we all agreed that the sausage was too defined a texture for the filling. Next time, prosciutto, perhaps?

Finished ravioli with tomato cream sauce
I've been calling this 'ravioli' all along, then realized my pasta terminology might not be right. I did look it up and as long as it's filling between two sheets of pasta, we're good. And that is the plural: a plateful is ravioli, but if you just have one it's a raviolo. There's my word geek moment of the day.

Broad noodles and pesto
As typically works out with my cooking there was more of one part than the other, and we ran out of filling before dough. The rest we cut into my usual broad noodles, boiled them up, and a run out to the garden for a handful of basil leaves (pureed with olive oil and garlic - sadly, no pine nuts!) gave us a nice pesto to toss them with. The fresh taste was perfect for this summer evening.

The one negative? I ate too much. :)

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

and a partridge...

It feels like I should have a partridge here, in a pear tree no less.

A trip to the co-op today to pick up my order and I brought home 16 chicks (white Cornish Rock), 5 ducklings (white Muscovy), and 4 pheasants (ring-necked). The ducks and pheasants are a trial, having never raised them before. The chicks are a regular summer feature here on the farm, one batch already done this year.

They're all settled into their little homes, having been shown the waterers, food sprinkled liberally at their tiny feet, and heating lamps keeping things nice and cozy. But there's something about the ducks and pheasants: they are awfully CUTE. The ducks are yellow and fuzzy, with large dark eyes, little duckbills and teensy webbed feet. The pheasants, dark and striped, are smaller than sparrows and have skinny legs that seem to be a little too long for them yet. They doze standing up, then fall off their stilt-legs and stand up again, blinking.

Here's hoping they get ugly before they reach market weight.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

lazy hazy crazy days

July has pounced out of the bushes, leaving poor June far back in the distance as we race through summer. We spent a wonderful week in the Maritimes, reconnecting with family and reminding our kids that even if they were born inland, they still have the ocean in their blood. We relaxed, played with family, the kids hit the pool, I kayaked, D golfed, and we ate many marine creatures - mussels, shrimp, lobster (oooh, lobster, how I've missed you). We visited a beach with its red-soiled cliffs and sandstone shore, the kids clambering around, skipping stones, and discovering shells and stones in the edge of the calm water. After PEI we had a couple of wonderfully restful days at the cottage, time with D's family, canoeing on the lake and hearing the loons at night.

Our official reason for heading to PEI and the reason for the bonus of my whole family being out east at once was celebrating Dad and Mom's 50th wedding anniversary. The evening we officially marked the event, I looked around the room and thought what an amazing bunch of people this is, and how blessed I am to be a part of it and bring up our three girls in such a rich heritage. With 22 of us under one roof there were lots of laughs, reliving memories and making new ones. In a quiet moment alone on the deck one night I thought about the one who wasn't there with us. Wish he could have been.

We came home to a lawn not gone as rampant as I would have thought, but - oh, the garden! The veggies are ready for eating. And eating. And eating. The Swiss chard has grown, the thick dark leaves a lovely contrast to the bright yellow and red of the stems (and has furnished us with two chard gratins already, with more to come). The kale is lush, the broccoli looks almost ready for eating, the beans will succumb to being steamed with butter for supper tonight. Tomatoes have started setting, the herbs are fragrant, the cucumber vines are wandering around, and the pumpkins simply will not stay in their home, instead wandering about and visiting all the other plants. Corn is growing, carrots coming along, lettuces looking healthy and ready for salads.

Now if only the pool would cooperate and stop being so cloudy.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

daring cooks, june

Summer is here, and this month's cooking challenge was one that for our family is closely tied to warm days of eating outside, enjoying food off the grill: potato salad. The one I make and grew up with is a creamy combination of potato, egg, onion, and mayo, along with a few other flavourings. The twist on this challenge, though, was to make it healthy.

Jami Sorrento was our June Daring Cooks hostess and she chose to challenge us to celebrate the humble spud by making a delicious and healthy potato salad. The Daring Cooks Potato Salad Challenge was sponsored by the nice people at the United States Potato Board, who awarded prizes to the top 3 most creative and healthy potato salads. A medium-size (5.3 ounce) potato has 110 calories, no fat, no cholesterol, no sodium and includes nearly half your daily value of vitamin C and has more potassium than a banana!

While there are lots of different takes on potato salad around the world, including hot ones with oil dressings, and many kinds of potatoes to choose from, I opted to take our family fave and make a lighter version.

Here's what I came up with.
For the salad:
2 1/2 lbs red potatoes, skins on
1 med red onion, chopped
2 hard-cooked eggs, chopped 
1/2 c diced red pepper

For the dressing:
1c plain low-fat yogurt
1T prepared mustard
1/4 t freshly ground pepper
1/2 t fresh dill, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt just to taste

Boil potatoes in salted water just until tender. Cool, cube, and combine with all vegetables. Mix the dressing ingredients until smooth and stir to coat the salad. Chill for a few hours or overnight.

It was simple, and we all enjoyed it. While I missed some of the mayonnaise-type flavour, this was a nice change. The dressing was creamy and had a pleasant tang to it and - surprise of surprises! - my yogurt-hating hubby really enjoyed it and said I should keep making it that way. So that, in and of itself, spoke volumes for the taste. It's a snap to make and will be one we enjoy a few more times this summer.

Monday, 6 June 2011

oh, my puppy

D took him to the vet who confirmed not only the diagnosis, but that it was very aggressive and one of, if not the largest such tumors the vet had ever seen. Our hard decision, while still painful, was confirmed and as planned if that was the case, D had him put to sleep while there. He brought Samson home and we buried him down by the creek, beside Tasha's grave. He had run along that stretch many a time in his life here.

Good bye, Sammy.

I will miss the way he romped with the girls, picking up a log or large branch and carrying it around before dropping it with a thunk at our feet, then sitting back on his haunches and staring fixedly at it, waiting for us to throw it. If we weren't fast enough, he'd nudge it with his nose, then sit quickly and politely back, perhaps with a small whine as if to say, "there it is! I pointed it out to you. you can find it now, and throw it for me! hooray!"

I will miss the feel of his warm, thick coat and silky ears.

I will miss the way he would lick the remnants out of a tuna can, chasing it around the floor and getting every bit out.

I will miss the way he was a loyal companion to our girls, playful and gentle with them, protective of his charges.

I will miss the way he would pounce on toys with both front paws, then freeze until he was sure (or thought he was sure) he had it.

I will miss the lunk-headed things he did (most of them, anyway), making us shake our heads in disbelief while we smiled and had a laugh.

I will miss the eagerness with which he joined me on my morning run, his face alight and panting with that big goofy smile of his, and making me feel a bit safer by his very presence (who wouldn't feel safer with a hundred-pound German Shepherd?).

I will miss his puppy kisses, slobbery as they were.

I will miss the way he chased things in his sleep, his paws twitching as he was in hot pursuit in his dreams. He did that earlier today, one final chase - and it made me smile that he got one more. I hope it was a fox.

I will miss him.

Sunday, 5 June 2011


Samson. Archie the Wonder Dog. Sam the Mighty Hunter.

Our pretty boy dog, whose goofiness and occasional idiocy have been cause for laughs but who has been such a good dog, has cancer. An aggressive form that has, quietly and insidiously, grown on his spleen. We had no idea until he couldn't walk this evening and we made an emergency trip to the vet. Spleen hemangiosarcoma.

It's in constant danger of rupturing and causing him a slow, painful demise by internal bleeding. A canine time bomb of sorts, something we don't want him to go through. And so tomorrow, if our family vet confirms the diagnosis, we say goodbye to Sammy.

Tonight, we sat with him and shed some tears together. There will be more to come.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

food, meet writing

I've been pondering a phrase I came up with a few years back. On trying to think just when, it was in our old house, so that puts is back at least 8 years. I'm not sure I was the first to come up with it, but it was new to me and summed up perfectly that certain 'aaaahh' I get as a reader when words are put together in just such a way that it rolls off the tongue, flits happily around your mind, nestles snugly into your thoughts.

A Delicious Phrase. If a reader could taste the words, it would make them sit back and savour.

In my (recently limited, I admit) writing of prose and (mostly) lyrics, I wriggle with glee when I find them. But as I've been pondering them today - mowing the 3 acres of lawn gives one much time for thought - I realized that those delicious phrases reflect different types of food - the fast 'wow!' and the slow 'aaahhh'.

Here's what I mean.

Sometimes when cooking you toss the ingredients together. They're the perfect ones, the just-right mix of flavour and texture, and immediately you taste it and - pow! there it is. Like strawberries steeped in sugar and splashed with baslamic vinegar. Yes, really. It will make you think of strawberries a whole new way, and you will apologize to them for not having given them enough credit. Some of the words come all in a giddy rush and jumble, clamouring to be let loose and - pow! there's the expression, the turn of words, the wow moment.

But sometimes it all stews. Flavours mingle and marry, and what you first put in the pot to cook oh-so-slowly takes on a new identity. Like the cassoulet I made a few months back. It was started days before so the duck could get to know the rosemary and fat, the beans could sit and talk to the onion and garlic, and the whole could come together and quietly sit, sharing themselves until - aaaahhh! The top was lifted off the roasting pot and there! There! A spoon in the mouth, and you sat and pondered the taste you were experiencing. There are phrases that come like that, too - adding a bit of this and a bit of that, sitting and reading and rereading, changing and editing. And finally, one day you realize it's done. And the timely bits you added in make it wonderful. Where it was a week ago, a month ago, just wasn't right, but it needed time to stew and mature to where it was ready.

And with that deep thought, I have made myself hungry and shall go eat. Or write. I'm not sure.

Thursday, 5 May 2011


As we sit here in the annoying limbo that is spring coming, almost but not quite, the snow gone and the sun warm but the wind still chilly, I find myself again pondering the question: what to do with this place?

While the cows have returned each year, I am aware that at the farmer's age and the fact that his kids have no interest in farming, this source of use and income will not be a forever thing. And while having a tenant farmer assures that our land is zoned agricultural and gives us the property tax benefits of that, we'd need another source of income to keep that zoning.

So today I sit here reading governmental documents that I'm sure were written by some sadistic person bent on making my brain hurt with the clauses, acronyms, and reference to other documents. Every page I read has me looking up other documents so that it's an exponential opening of pages on my browser. It's like the Star Trek episode with the tribbles. They just keep multiplying (and at this point I must earn some sort of award for combining a farm blog post with a geek reference, right?).

So today, the wind too cold and the garden too wet to do anything there, I am researching possibilities for taking the farm knowledge we do have and finding a way to use it here.

But there are interesting ideas brewing. Very interesting.

I just need to figure out those documents and see if we could actually do it.

Monday, 25 April 2011

planning and scheming

Spring is here. I know because the flies have been emerging from the windows, buzzing around in their dopey hey-I-slept-in-a-window-frame-and-just-woke-up manner. I know because I can hear the waterfall from the house. I know because the crocuses, and now the daffodils, have dared to poke their heads up and start blooming. I know because the grass has green shoots peeping out. I know because the sump pump runs on a regular basis, removing the melt water from our cellar. I know because the chickens no longer stay in their coop, but wander over to the house - though we seem to have lost two yesterday, thanks to a fox or something.

I know because we had the conversation.

"What do we want to do on the farm this year?"

Oh. So, so much to do. But we prioritized.

1.the garden boxes repaired and the whole garden back to full production on the veggie front. We don't need to enlarge it, as it is large and can put out all the produce we need for a summer and even some to freeze for winter. The herb box alone makes me smile. I love fresh herbs.
2. some sort of fence around said veggie garden, so the chickens can't wander through at will and demolish the lettuce I'm trying to grow (see #1 on full production). They also love fresh veggies and just look at me when I scold them for decimating the new greens.
3. continued cleanup of underbrush along the laneway (a never-ending job if ever there was one).
4. grading the footprint of a barn torn down a couple of years ago, making it mower-safe.
5. two batches of meat birds, the first one coming in a week or so.
6. I might raise some ducks for meat this year along with batch #2 of chickens.
7. host a few dinner/pool parties (gotta have some fun plans along with the work ones, after all!).
8. plant some honeysuckle around the house. I fell in love with the smell of it at Disney World and want some here, too.

And today? Nothing so ambitious. School projects, housecleaning, and some laundry on the line. That smell alone is enough to convince me it's spring.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

daring cooks, april

This month brought a fun new challenge - edible containers. This was a fun challenge, as it was a little more about taking flavours I knew and combining them into a bowl that could be eaten, rather than trying entirely new cuisine. I have loved the journeys through Peru, Japan, and France these past months, but this month's was enjoyable in its own way.

Renata of Testado, Provado & Aprovado! was our Daring Cooks’ April 2011 hostess. Renata challenged us to think “outside the plate” and create our own edible containers! Prizes are being awarded to the most creative edible container and filling, so vote on your favorite from April 17th to May 16th at

I did two variations, both appetizer-type things that were enjoyed by the tasting panel (my family, my sister, and brother-in-law). First was a polenta cup with a Caprese-type salad. I love polenta, it's a summer favourite when I grill squares of it on the BBQ. I made a batch with onion and herbs, then shaped it into cups in oiled muffin cups (a sticky effort, so took some time) then chilled until it set. The cups were filled with a mix of grape tomato, boccancini, fresh basil, salt, pepper, and prosciutto. Nice and fresh, and had me itching for summer when my garden will be full of fresh herbs. Yummm...

The second version was made from cups of overlapped oiled wonton wrappers that I baked until they were crispy and golden. These were filled with some noodles that I'd coated with a sauce made with peanut butter, soy sauce, Thai chili paste, minced hot chilies, and oyster sauce for an Asian version. These were the favourite with most of the taste panel.

Another fun month in the kitchen! Thanks to a family holiday, my time to experiment was shortened this month, but it definitely got me thinking of new ways to serve goodies.

Sunday, 20 March 2011


Sometimes my kids amaze me. Sometimes it's with their ability, their perseverance, their intellect, their hilarious senses of humour, their achievements, their faith and integrity.

Of course between all those times we have the clothes not picked up, chores not quite done, homework half-attempted and given up, bickering over little things, and those sorts of things that make us all human.

Sometimes, though, that amazement is just in the simple ways they are themselves. These glimpses of the precious people they are, the young women they are becoming, often stop me short and make me think, "how did we ever get to such an amazing place?"

I'm blessed beyond what I deserve in these girls, and I hope never to forget that.

Friday, 18 March 2011

another year in history

It's the time of the school year when for a couple of weeks everything else is shelved and the girls get to work taking all their research of the months before and putting it into presentation-ready form for the Historica Fair. They learn about a specific area of history but also learn research, organization, and presentation as they described their project and answered questions for the judges. We had three projects from our house this year, for the last time as next year R will have passed the grade 9 upper age limit.

M covered the story of Vincent Coleman, hero of the Halifax Explosion of 1917. A very cool story (the vignette that inspired her to research this is here), we found newspapers from the days after the event at the National Archives and she learned about his life and even covered the possibility that he didn't stop the train.

A had a sort of followup to last year's project on Vimy Ridge, as one of the soldiers from the cemetery there was brought back to Canada in 2000 to lie in state and be buried as our Unknown Soldier. She learned about the tomb's history and structure, built a scale model of it, and reported on the unknown's last journey to Ottawa.

R was back after a year off and revisited a topic of a few years back, this time in much more detail and depth. She learned about the New England Planters, a group of immigrants to Canada from (you guessed it) New England to take up free land left behind after the Acadians were expelled. This group included some of our ancestors who were, pretty much, land grabbers. She learned about changes this group brought in construction and government, as well as the back stories of how they came to live in Nova Scotia.

They did a great job. A took first prize in her age group at the fair, but all three girls are able to go on to Regionals in April.

Monday, 14 March 2011

daring cooks, march

Another month, another chance to make food I had never heard of - and introduce a few new favourites to our family! We got to sample Peruvian food this month and were joined by B, E and family. 

Kathlyn of Bake Like a Ninja was our Daring Cooks’ March 2011 hostess. Kathlyn challenges us to make two classic Peruvian dishes: Ceviche de Pescado from “Peruvian Cooking – Basic Recipes” by Annik Franco Barreau. And Papas Rellenas adapted from a home recipe by Kathlyn’s Spanish teacher, Mayra.

The names and ingredients had me looking a few things up beforehand (and that research made me very happy that cuy, another Peruvian dish that is basically cooked whole guinea pig, was not on the list!). Ceviche is basically fish or seafood that is cooked chemically rather than with heat. Papas rellanas con carne, meat-stuffed potatoes, had a filling with all sorts of ingredients, wrapped in a mashed potato 'dough', then crumbed and deep-fried to crisp it up. Finally, salsa criolla as a side and topping to the rest brought it all together.

Ceviche: chemical cooking. So, in a way, it's raw fish. Lime juice with hot chilies, garlic and coriander was poured over the cut fish (we used tilapia, it being the freshest white fish our local store had) and left to sit with red onions in the fridge for half an hour or so. It's really very simple to make. While the rawness had some skeptical, it was a big hit. 

The texture is not what one might expect, as the acid from the lime juice made it buttery-soft rather than tough or flaky. For taste I was cautious with the chilies; E and I were thinking more could have gone in but others thinking it was just right. The girls, sushi lovers all, dove in and liked this dish. On a side note, I had leftovers the next day and the texture had not become rubbery at all, a nice surprise.

Papas rellanas con carne
Papas rellanas: many steps, but wow, what a finish! A filling made of ground beef, garlic, onion, hot chilies, raisins (yes, really), olives, and hard boiled eggs (yes, really) and spices was put into a dough made from mashed potatoes. The dough was stickier than some I saw in the videos, but was manageable. The deep frying went smoothly (felt a bit like a pro after last month's tempura) and didn't make them at all greasy, just crisped up the outside to a nice crunch. 

They look, once crumbed and cooked, like little potatoes which seemed fitting in a meta-potato sort of way. The combination of flavours in the filling had people guessing just what it was, and all worked together to create a whole that was delicious.

Salsa criolla: this was a surprise star of the show. Made as an accompaniment, E loved this and it's so simple! Thinly sliced red onions and diced hot chilies with lime juice and vinegar. And, some time in the fridge. Yeah, that's it. The combination of sweet onion, sour lime and hot chili was amazing. I just kept going back for more.
Supper that had us wanting summer! Ceviche (front left), salsa criolla (back left), and papas rellanas (right) with corn.

While the recipe for pisco sours looked interesting, there was not a bottle of pisco puro to be found in the city. So, we went with premade mojitos, and the lime and mint in that made a nice addition to the rest.

The dinner received rave reviews from adults and kids who had it (it being a culinary adventure, we had hot dogs for the kids who were wary of the strange food). Our three girls have asked for repeats of all three dishes. Bee declared it delicious and we had some awesome cupcakes for dessert that she'd brought along.

All three dishes I will definitely make again - in fact, as I munched on the leftover ceviche yesterday, I started mentally planning a summer party by the pool with ceviche, salsa criolla, and other tapas dishes. Maybe some sangria.  Now if only I could get the snow to leave so that can become a reality...

Thursday, 3 March 2011

limber, or not

So D and I started morning yoga, thanks to a DVD with five 20-minute morning workouts that each emphasize a different technique or body area. Standing poses were yesterday, twists today, bends and other stretches in the days to come.

Yes - I now have my hockey-playing, gun-shooting, all-man hubby not only eating tofu, but doing yoga.

Truth be told, it's to help in his hockey conditioning, aid in flexibility to help his power skating. But it's been nice to get up early together and do the workout, sharing laughs as we do the poses. We decided yesterday that the reason for the name of the 'downward dog' pose was, that both dogs decided it was the perfect time to run up and lick our faces. The slobbery visit by Sam did not exactly add to the calming nature of the pose.

I've wanted to limber up, too, thinking of getting back to running as spring approaches. I have been surprised to find that I miss the morning run, but several times as I've stood at the end of the driveway I have looked down the road, thinking: soon, when it's warmer, I can head down that road again, every step challenging me and I feel an odd lift.

The DVD is good, the short workouts very doable even in terms of a busy day. And while neither of us is nowhere near as flexible as Mr. Uberbendy Yoga Instructor, and our living room not quite so scenic as the Arizona landscape behind him, it's good to start the morning with it.

Monday, 14 February 2011

daring cooks, february

After last month's foray into French food, this month's take on Japanese was a change of pace, flavour and style. And so good, eaten up and enjoyed by D and the girls too.

Hiyashi soba, veggie tempura, with some sushi and seaweed salad for good measure.

The February 2011 Daring Cooks’ challenge was hosted by Lisa of Blueberry Girl. She challenged Daring Cooks to make Hiyashi Soba and Tempura. She has various sources for her challenge including,, and

I had heard of tempura but not hiyashi soba (cold soba noodle salad). The noodles appealed to me but not D so much, not being a cold pasta fan. The tempura I was iffy about, as 'deep fried' in my mind carried a connotation of heavy breading sopped with fat. We both learned a few things.

Hiyashi soba, red pepper and scallion on top and dipping sauce beside
The soba noodle salad was delicious, the dipping sauce wonderful and the bits of daikon radish added a nice zip that didn't overpower. The noodles themselves, thin, dark brown buckwheat, had a great flavour. D complemented it as 'surprisingly pleasant', and the girls delightedly slurped theirs up.

Prepped and ready. Stove serves as counter here.
Tempura, I learned, is not heavy breading that is deep-fried to within an inch of its life and even beyond. Tempura batter is light: you are, in fact, supposed to see some of the food's own colour peeking out through the pale batter after it's done. We tried vegetable (bok choi leaves, sweet potato slices, shiitake mushrooms) and seafood (shrimp, small scallops, and calamari - yes, squid, that being A's special request). Light, not at all greasy, and delicious all around. I surprised myself by liking the squid, which was much less chewy than I've experienced other times.

Seafood tempura - delicious.

The bok choy leaves were probably my favourite, thin and crispy in their batter with bits of dark green showing as if to say, "no, really! See? I'm healthy in here! Dark green veggies, good for you and all that!"

Tempura can be eaten both hot or cold, but we definitely preferred it hot. The batter and food had to be kept cold, so that when it hit the hot oil the temperature contrast would give it the crisp we sought. The deep frying timing took a little practice, but I got the hang of dipping pieces in the batter with chopsticks, then transferring to the hot oil and fishing them out after. Doing all of this with minimal splashing is highly recommended, just for the record.

We filled out our meal with some sushi rolls I'd picked up in town along with a bright green seaweed salad made of some sort of unidentified algae but which M, our youngest, thought delicious and ate several servings.

Dessert was a bit of a twist, I dipped banana chunks in the batter, then deep-fried those, drizzled with honey, and savoured the warm sweetness. Yum.

It was a great meal and fun family time around the table; I did find it a very busy preparation, but I'm sure that would improve as I figured out the techniques a little better. Another fun month in the kitchen! Wonder what's next?