30 September, 2008
We returned from the funeral. It was a sad but comforting weekend. It is always nice to be with family. Spread around the country as my husband's family is we wish it wasn't just weddings and funerals that brought us together.
I had a terrible cold until about Sunday, and last night my tummy started in knots. Hence the day on the couch. The Monster is in daycare and I will give the babe all the attention she needs, but thankfully she naps a lot!
24 September, 2008
In an effort to clean out the garden before this week's frosts set in I picked all the mint. Planted in anticipation of never made summer mojitos there was a lot of mint. A perfect opportunity to make Hubby's favourite, mint chocolate chip ice cream. I found what seemed to be a straighforward recipe, went shopping for chocolate, and patiently made my ice cream.
I say patiently made my ice cream because during this process I learned a few more lessons in ice cream making.
Fifth lesson in ice cream making: Make the custard or whatever base you are using the day before. I steeped the mint leaves in the cream on one afternoon, made the custard after the babes were in bed, and after covering with plastic wrap, refrigerated the custard until the following afternoon. A really cold base means the ice cream freezes faster and there are less ice crystals. In other words, creamier ice cream.
Sixth lesson in ice cream making: When you are putting the ice cream in a container to harden, place plastic wrap directly on top of the ice cream. This too reduces ice crystals = creamier creamy ice cream.
Seventh lesson in ice cream making: if you are putting chocolate in the ice cream, let the Monster eat some chocolate. Better yet, make chocolate chocolate ice cream. She liked the ice cream well enough, but she kept asking for more chocolate.
I tried to follow the recipe exactly, hoping for good direction. Unfortunately, I had less mint than they called for and not enough half and half. But I am tremendously happy with the way I did things. The only thing I would change is to use less chocolate, yes, less chocolate. Just an ounce or so. When you are chopping it yourself you get lots of little pieces that, at times, overpowered the ice cream. I would also halve the recipe. This nearly overwhelmed my ice cream maker. It makes a good amount of ice cream, more than this family needs sitting around in the freezer.
Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
(adapted from The Kitchn)
1 1/2 cups fresh mint leaves, washed
2 cups half and half cream
1 cup whipping cream
1 cup milk
1 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
4 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla
5-6 ounces chopped semi-sweet chocolate
1. Bruise the mint leaves with a mortar and pestle, or simply the butt end of a wooden spoon, until you can really smell the mint.
2. Whisk the creams, milk, sugar, and salt together. Toss in the mint leaves and heat until hot, but not boiling or simmering. Cover and remove from heat. Let sit for an hour or more. Refrigerate after a few hours if you are not making the custard right away.
3. Strain the mint leaves from the cream base. Heat to a simmer.
4. Whisk the egg yolks. Add about a cup of the cream to the yolks, whisking vigourously. Then stir the egg mixture into the cream. Continue to cook, whisking continously, until the custard is thick. Stir in the vanilla.
5. Strain the custard into a clean bowl. Place plastic wrap directly on the surface on the custard and refrigerate a few hours or over night.
6. When the custard is cold, make ice cream according to your appliance's directions.
7. Chop chocolate. Add chocolate to the ice cream maker just before your ice cream is done. Pour into a container and place in the freezer to harden for a few hours before enjoying.
23 September, 2008
In the meantime, we are off for a funeral this week. Hubby's grandfather passed away on the weekend so we are going to Kelowna to celebrate his life with the rest of the family. Babies are so nice to be around when there is sad news. Even being sick my girls'cries sound sweet to me this week.
See you next week.
19 September, 2008
Having the Monster help make dinner, from every single step does not guarantee that she will actually eat the dinner you've made together. Isn't that something that we, as parents, are told to do to encourage picky eaters to eat? Give them ownership and they'll want to try it! Unfortunately for us, that isn't working lately with our curious two-year old.
We finally got some more heat this week, allowing my tomatoes a chance to actually vine-ripen. Well, some of them. I happily went out and picked them to make dinner last night. Combined with some left-over pie crust, and the Monster's favourite feta cheese we made a galette.
I simply rolled out the pie crust and placed it on a cookie sheet. Drizzled with some fruity olive oil (purchased on this trip), quartered and left whole tomatoes from the garden, a clove of fresh garlic, a handful of chopped fresh oregano and marjoram, and loaded with some sheep's milk feta, the pie crust happily wrapped itself around this bounty of summer. I only had to coax the edges up to keep it all together. The Monster helped with every step, taking a keen interest in distrubuting everything across the crust. Another liberal drizzle of olive oil and into a hot oven for about 20 minutes.
To be honest, I think Hubby got annoyed with me gushing about this galette even before we ate it, but I just knew it would be good. And I was right. We devoured it, especially after the Monster ate one 'patoe and a hunk of cheese and declared herself, "All done." More for us.
Hubby did complain that there was no meat to the meal, as I served it with a tossed salad. We did both agree that it would make an excellent brunch dish accompanied by some poached eggs and greens or as a side to a roast pork. And I think it would be an excellent way to bring summer to your winter table as the high heat would concentrate the flavours of lackluster winter tomatoes.
As for work this week, I actually pieced the back of it already. If Hubby was home and up for it I might be able to get out to a shop and get it basted, using their tables. I might just have to clean the kitchen floor and do it there. You see, I am quite anxious to get going on quilting this one. I've decided on a recipient and I want to be able to take it to him as soon as possible.
My boss has been in the hospital since March. After a barrage of tests and treatments he is now waiting for a heart transplant. He is a young guy for this to happen to (early 50s), and has a gorgeous family in his wife and 10 year old daughter. I knew him for a few years before I took my current job and he's always been a source of inspiration for me. He is so committed to what he does and to the people around him. And right now he is going insane in the hospital, complaining that he is fully institutionalized. I hope this quilt can bring him some brightness and comfort.
While working on this quilt I started thinking about all the fabrics that are a part of it. I haven't bought any fabric of late, making everything from stash. In this quilt alone there are fabrics from many other quilts. So I like to think that I am extending the hugs to my boss from all the other recipients of quilts with the same fabric. That means he is getting hugs from my nephew, my sister-in-law's sister and her husband, my brother and sister-in-law's niece, my old boss and her first baby, a quilting friend in the US, and a few more from Hubby, the Monster, and our family.
16 September, 2008
The family went to Slow Food Calgary's Seventh Annual Feast of the Fields on Sunday. There were local restaurants cooking food sourced from a number of local producers. The food was great, the music was fun, the location was fantastic. The Monster was mostly whiny and picky and the baby was fussy. I think it was a day for the babysitter...
Slow Food Calgary is devoted to the protection and promotion of regional cuisines, ingredients, and local purveyors. At Feast of the Fields a number of local restaurants teamed up with local producers to showcase ingredients, taste, and talent found here.
Hubby and I were looking forward to the day. It had been a tough week for both of us and the promise of good food and a day out kept our spirits up. When Sunday bloomed into a gorgeous Indian Summer day and the girls napped well beforehand we thought we were set. You could smell the grills as you approached the garden at Rouge, starting us salivating.
Unfortunately, the Monster was not in the mood for a garden party, asking us for a tea party at a friend's house instead. She was temporarily placated by some lemon water when we got there. And until we found some bacon on one of the specially prepared treats she wanted nothing to do with the food. Hubby and I busily gorged ourselves on everything she wouldn't eat, and then some. Tomatoe and bacon soup, duck proscuitto, blackcurrant and yoghurt tartletts, and more.
Then we found ourselves a spot in the shade, with a good view of the garden and the band. The Monster found some other kids - including ones in the best t-shirts with the slogan "Slow Eater" on them. And when Jessica Beacock, one of the chefs from Rouge, came out to harvest some nasturtiums from the garden the kids flocked to her. She gave them a lesson in edible greens and even let them pick some flowers to taste. The Monster liked the peppery taste so much she helped herself again.
At the end of the day Hubby and agreed on two things. One, it appears that you need money to be a foodie in this city. While I won't discount the importance of an organization like Slow Food, the event wasn't cheap. And it seemed that a lot of people there weren't afraid to show off that they have money. There isn't anything wrong with that, but it makes me wonder about the rest of the world. Good food isn't only for the rich, but I'll save that tirade for another day.
And two, as much as we want to expose the girls to local producers and new tastes, we would have had a better time if we'd gone by ourselves. Sure, there were lots of kids around and we believe it is important to introduce the concepts of Slow Food, but it might be better to wait until she is a bit older to appreciate an event like this. Or maybe we just wanted a date.Sources:
Slow Food Calgary
Slow Food Edmonton
14 September, 2008
After another week as a single parent I was rather excited for our picnic. The Monster was not. But I was smart, I went to the playground. Of course, that meant she spent most of the time playing and very little eating. Half an apple and half a pie. She hasn't been eating much of anything lately, perhaps she is getting some molars? How could I worry when she tore around the park, happy as could be? I even managed to nurse the baby while she climbed and slid. Oh, and I ate about 4 pies... Talk about emotional eating, or they were just that good.
To make the pies I took my mealy peaches, about 4, and a couple of ripe bartlett pears, tossed them with some vanilla sugar and a couple of tablespoons of flour. No recipe, just some peeled and chopped fruit in a bowl. You could use any combination of fruits. Next time I'm doing apple and pear together.
I made some pate brisee, cut it into 4 inch squarish shapes, and filled with a few tablespoons of fruit. Then I simply pinched the edges, brushed with a beaten egg and a bit of milk, then sprinkled with some raw sugar for extra crunch. Bake at 350 degrees Celcius for about 15-20 minutes.
Here is the recipe I use for crust. It is my standard for all pie crusts. Originally, I always used Martha's, but now I add the vinegar and have more consistent results with a tender, easy to work with crust.
Pie Crust (based on a pate brisee)
Enough for two single crusts or a double crust pie.
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1 cup cold butter
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp - 1/4 cup cold water
1. Mix together the dry ingredients.
2. Cut the butter into smaller pieces and add to the dry ingredients. Pulse together in a food processor and cut with a pastry blender until it resembles a course meal.
3. With the blender running add the vinegar and the water, one tablespoon at a time until the dough is moist but hasn't quite come together.
4. Turn out onto a clean surface and bring together into two discs. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill at least one hour or ready to use.
5. Roll out on a floured surface and use.
Meanwhile, we are heading out shortly for a Slow Food event. Hubby and I are excited for some good food and company. I'll admit, I would have loved to get a babysitter, but it is a beautiful day and the event is in a garden. It will be tiring to chase after the Monster and still have time to eat and visit, but I hope she finds something yummy to eat.
13 September, 2008
Then, on Thursday, I ran into a girl that I knew from high school. Turns out she only lives a few blocks from me. And she is a new mom, with an adopted 14 month old. Oh, and her husband is stationed in Afghanistan with the Forces so she is doing the single mom thing - all the time. I am in awe of women (and men) who can handle life alone like that. You definitely need good support systems.
This week, thankfully, my neighbours were home so they were able to come over once and watch the baby while I ran out. If I didn't have them I don't know what I would do! Especially this week when our phone and internet went out and was only fixed today. They were also some friends simply to talk to.
On the plus side, I did take as much time as I could to sew - during naps. Today I finished the top of this quilt. I liked this picture so much that I am posting it first. After no internet for nearly a week I have to play catch up with my posts. And while finishing it today I came up with the name: Inspired Improvisation.
09 September, 2008
Every good Italian thing - like pancetta, caciocavallo, the best sandwiches in the world, and canolli - is worth a road trip. Shortly after Hubby and I got married we moved across the city, a mere 5 minute drive to what is arguably the best grocery store in the world - the original Italian Centre Shop. Aside from the farmers' market and milk from the chain grocery store, we bought everything else we ate from this store. Tucked into an inner city neighbourhood this corner of Italy (and Europe) brought us great gastronomical, social, and aesthetic (you should have seen the boys in the deli) pleasure.
The Italian Centre Shop was one of the things we missed the most about Edmonton when we moved to Calgary 5 years ago. There are good Italian shops here, but they weren't quite the same. Not in character, not in food, but maybe still with the boys in the deli. Sure, the aisles were too narrow and there never really is a downtime, but it is a special place.
Since we moved a second Italian Centre Shop opened in Edmonton, on the southside of town. Conveniently, it is located a mere 5 minute drive from my mother-in-law. This saves me the traffic and construction congestion to get through downtown to the original location.
Arguably, the character at the second location is just not the same. Having made a few trips there I can say that it is improving. Lack of character is more than made up for with wider aisles and the bakery alone.
Sadly, the boys in the deli are not there either. Of course, I have to say that knowing that my brother-in-law's nephew now works there. He and a bunch of older men and women. Either way, the staff are knowledgeable and generally friendly. They are quick to offer a sample if you are curious about one of the nearly 50 cheeses they carry. And, more importantly, they are quick to give you cooking advice. Pick up your number and catch the drool while they wait to serve you.
I must confess that I went a little crazy when I was there. My mother-in-law bought olives, olive oil, and feta - exactly what she came there for. I controlled myself at the deli, buying only some panchetta, proscuitto parma, caciocavallo cheese, and montasio cheese. Then I bought a few bottle of oil, some balsamic vinegar, cookies, even pop. The cart got a little crowded for the baby. And Hubby was none too happy about packing it all for the trip back to Calgary
It was all the start of something good. After our regular Sunday morning market visit I made roasted brussel sprouts with pancetta for dinner. Yesterday I made proscuitto wrapped melon for moms' group. The Monster loved the pancetta, not surpising as it is a close cousin to bacon - one of the only meats she will eat these days. She wasn't a fan of the proscuitto parma. I plan to simply nibble on the remainder of the caciocavallo throughout the week and make some fricos with the montasio cheese, although I haven't decided between apple or swiss chard.
Back at the store we finished our shopping with lunch. This location has a cafe attached, aptly named Spinelli's after the owners. We indulged in the best sandwich ever - salami, spicy capicola, ham, provolone, and hot vegetable spread all on a ciabatta. Lucky for us the Monster didn't want anything but her brownie. That meant we didn't have to share and she happily munched away on her completely indulgent lunch. And if I drank coffee I'm sure this cappuccino would have finished things off nicely, my mother-in-law thought so. I was just excited to get home and cook.
The Italian Centre Shop
Original Location: 10878 95 Street 780-424-4869
South Location: 5028 104A Street 780-989-4869
05 September, 2008
I will not, however, apologize for my upcoming bit of selfishness. You see, I am painfully addicted to my cherry jam. Rather, to cherry jam with ricotta on toast. I could eat this every day, two or three times a day. The only thing that stops me from doing this is supply.
Sure, you can get cherry jam in the store. Most of it is imported from Europe and is quite chunky and thick. I find it all rather cloying, but it will work in a pinch. This summer I was inspired and decided to make my own. So far I've made three batches and I still worry whether there will be enough to get me to the next cherry season.
Making the jam, while time-consuming - was actually quite easy. I even decided to try it without using the pre-made pectin. I thought I was rather brave, having used Certo my entire life. With a little bit of searching I came across a post by the ice cream guru David Lebovitz. It was all coming together.
Following his basic directions I pitted all my cherries (with my paring knife), cooked them down a little, measured, then added sugar and boiled away. Then I put them in my specially bought jars. (Smart me bought new jars of a different shape for all my cherry jam. That way there can be no mistake between the cherry I love and the strawberry for the Monster and raspberry for Hubby.) A half hour later I realized that the jam was not going to set. So I emptied the jars back into the La Creuset, quartered an apple for some added pectin, and boiled again. Success this time. So I tried again with cherries and peaches. Yesterday I decided that I didn't have enough in the pantry and made another batch of plain cherry.
Instead of rationing my supply, I will enjoy it all. The Monster and Hubby will not. They are not allowed to touch my cherry jam. And yes, I will have a temper tantrum if I see their fingers or spoons even in the vicinity of my cherry jam. Maybe the Monster will shake her finger at me and tell me to share, and maybe I will. Likely I won't. It is all mine, mine mine.
03 September, 2008
When travelling with a toddler it is important to note the difference between fruit farms and farms with animals. A few weeks ago a girlfriend and I saddled up all the girls (she has two as well) and went south to Okotoks for a morning at Kayben Farms. This was exciting for us moms, but a great let down for the Monster when she realized that, other than the black cat hanging out by the cash register, this farm did not have any animals.
That being said, the girls were troupers and worked up a good amount of excitement for berry picking. We were too late for strawberries but the black currants stood ready for us. The excitement lasted oh, about two minutes. At that point A (my friend's oldest) decided that black currants were gross and the Monster hated getting her arms scratched by the bushes.
My girlfriend and I stuck to it - hell we weren't giving up without a fight and at least a half a bucket of black currants. We gave the girls snacks and sent them off to pick flowers/weeds. In between policing them and making sure the babies were happy we managed to get about a half bucket. By then the girls were done with the field. We headed back to the main building, drooled over flowers, and treated the girls to a black currant slush.
I headed home with all the black currants, armed with great intent to turn them into something. I'm not a fan of jelly, preferring jam. After boiling down the currants with some water and straining them overnight I was left with 10 cups of tart juice. What to do? What to do? To be honest, I couldn't decide so I just froze the juice.
After seeing Julie's post about blackcurrant sorbet and ginger ale floats and my current fixation with the ice cream maker I thought about ice cream or sorbet. My original thought was syrup, but I was having a hard time finding instructions or a recipe. Then I saw a show on Vermont and they, of course showed a sugar shack. Hmm, you make syrup by boiling the crap out of the sap. I decided that's what I would do with the black currant juice.
First I had to find bottles. A few trips to restaurant supply stores and Canadian Tire came up with nothing. Then my mother-in-law suggested a winemaking store. Jackpot! A dozen 375 mL bottles with plastic, reusable stoppers.
It turns out buying a dozen bottles was optimistic. My 10 cups of juice, after an hour of boiling, turned into about 900 mL of thick syrup. Well, not quite syrup yet. I added in 3 cups of brown sugar, a half cup at a time. It is still a bit tart, but I didn't want it sickingly sweet.
All that's left it to make pancakes for dinner and enjoy our labour.
Winemakers Wine Co 403-258-1200
To prepare the fabric I decided to treat it with a mordant, alum. Alum is toxic, if you eat a tablespoon or more. But considering it is sold in the spice aisle at the grocery store and is approved as a food additive, I decided it fit into my efforts at natural dying. I simmered the fabric in the mordant solution of 2 tablespoons alum to about 6 or 7 cups water. I know, I should measure and give you more precise instructions, but this was done after the girls went to bed. The fabric simmered for an hour while I simmered the dye solution about the same time.
After soaking in the mordant I squeezed out the excess water, but did not rinse the fabric. Then I added it to the dye and simmered for another hour, stirring to make the colour a bit more even. After an hour I turned off the burner and went to bed. This is what it looked like the following afternoon. We decided to go swimming, so I never got to it in the morning.
I've decided to try a few more items, sticking to traditional Prairie materials. My next experiment will be with the berries of the mountain ash tree.
02 September, 2008
The Monster was colouring while we were in Kelowna. Her limited supply of highlighters and pens at Great-Grandpa's house brought about the colour scheme. For some reason I kept this picture, when I normally recycle her everyday art at this point. Using this as my inspiration I pulled fabric and started cutting.
First I cut a bunch of squares and strips. Then I slashed the squares and sewed the strips in, randomly of course. After a good press I slashed the squares in the other direction on some, creating a cross in the middle of the square. Some I left with just one strip. In less than an hour I had 14 blocks.
Who knows what this will end up as and who for? But I felt immensely better after that hour and slept well (with expected interuptions) that night. And since Hubby is not home with a paintbrush for the playhouse I will hit the basement and quilt in between loads of laundry.