Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Tomato & Red Lentil Soup

Wow, I was very happy with how this soup turned out. It was really very simple to make and the tomatoes and lentils combined just as I hoped they would. Thanks to the tomatoes, the soup stays a lovely strong red colour. It is really worth tracking down the smoked paprika (not a local product, alas; it will hail from Spain) as it really adds a special flavour.

8 to 12 servings
2 hours - 20 minutes prep time

Tomato & Red Lentil Soup
2 cups dry red lentils
6 cups (1 1/2 litres) canned crushed tomatoes
4 cups water
2 or 3 bay leaves
4 large shallots
2 tablespoons sunflower or other mild vegetable oil
2 teaspoons cumin seed, ground
1 teaspoon smoked hot paprika
salt & freshly ground black pepper

Put the lentils, tomatoes, water and bay leaves into a large soup pot, and bring to a boil. Simmer until the lentils are very tender and indeed dissolving.

Once the lentils are very soft, peel and slice the shallots, and sauté them slowly in the oil until golden-brown. Sprinkle the ground cumin seed over them towards the end of their cooking time. Mix them in with the soup, and remove the bay leaves. Add the paprika, and season with salt and pepper.

Purée the soup until very smooth. Like most bean or lentil based soups, this keeps well and is perhaps even better reheated the next day. Like most such soups it will also likely get very thick, and need to be thinned a little with more water. It makes a lot; it could be cut in half quite easily. On the other hand, it will keep well.

Last year at this time I made Roasted Butternut Squash & Pears, and Baked Bone-In Ham with Mustard Glaze.

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Louise's Emergency Salsa Dip

This was devised by my cousin Louise once when she was faced with unexpected company and needed to come up with something to nosh on pronto, and it was so well received that she worked it into an official recipe. I can report it was very well received here too; I was quite amazed at how quickly it vanished. Light versions of the cream cheese and mayonnaise are not only acceptable; I recommend them. Even so, it's very rich.

About 4 cups of dip
Serves 8 vultures or 20 grazers

Louise's Emergency Salsa Dip
250 grams cream cheese (light is fine)
1/2 cup mayonnaise (light is fine)
1 to 1 1/2 cups prepared salsa
1/2 to 1 cup grated extra-old cheddar cheese

Soften the cream cheese in the microwave for 1 or 2 minutes, until soft enough to work with a spoon. Mix in the mayonnaise. When thoroughly blended, mix in the salsa. Heat again, until the mixture is quite warm.

Sprinkle the cheese over the top, and set the dip under the broiler until the cheese is melted and bubbling. Serve at once, while still hot, with chips or crackers.

Last year at this time I made Rutabaga with Caramelized Onions.

Monday, 29 December 2008

Lemon Squares

My first thought was that this isn't very local, but in the end it's just the sugar and the lemons... not too bad to make once a year. Everyone loves these. They don't keep well, but they don't usually hang around long enough for that to be a problem.

40 squares
1 hour - 20 minutes prep time

Lemon Squares or Bars Make the Crust:
1 1/2 cups soft unbleached flour
1/4 cup sugar
a pinch of salt
2/3 cup unsalted butter
3 or 4 tablespoons cold water

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Mix the sugar and salt into the flour. Cut the butter in until it is the size of small peas. Mix in the water until the mixture shows signs of sticking together and forming a mass of dough. At this point I find it easiest to finish mixing it by hand. Press the dough evenly over the bottom of a 9" x 13" baking pan.

Bake the crust for 15 minutes, until just browning at the edges.

Make the Filling:
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup soft unbleached flour
a pinch of salt
4 extra-large eggs
the finely grated zest of 2 lemons
2/3 cup lemon juice (from 2 to 2 1/2 lemons)

Mix the flour, sugar and salt. Beat in the eggs. Wash and dry the lemons carefully, and grate in the zest. Beat in the lemon juice.

Pour the mixture over the prepared crust, and return the pan to the oven. Bake for about 20 minutes, until set and lightly browned at the edges.

Let the pan cool completely before cutting the bars or squares.

These don't keep very well, and should ideally be eaten within 24 hours, or a little longer.

Last year at this time I made Rutabaga with Caramelized Onions and Spinach, Avocado & Mango Salad.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Smoked Salmon Trout Paté

A favourite nosh for parties and buffets, and extremely easy to make. You can use plain raw salmon or salmon trout if you prefer; just poach it until it is cooked and proceed in the same way.

12 servings
30 minutes prep time, plus 4 hours or more to set

Smoked Salmon Trout Pate
400 grams (1 pound) smoked salmon trout
1 bay leaf
1 cup stock (about; from cooking the trout)
2 tablespoons powdered gelatine
1/4 cup minced chives OR dill OR green onions
1 cup mayonnaise
the juice of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
salt & pepper

Poach the salmon with the bay leaf in 1 1/2 cups of water. I peel off the skin first, and add it to the poaching liquid but discard it once the fish is done. Simmer for about 20 minutes.

Flake the trout, checking for and discarding any bones. Put it into your food processor as you work.

Put 1/4 cup of your cooled trout stock into a bowl, and sprinkle the gelatine over it. Heat the remaining stock, and stir it in to the gelatine mixture until the gelatine is completely dissolved.

Meanwhile, keep adding the remaining ingredients to the food processor: the chopped fresh herbs, the mayonnaise, the lemon juice and the seasonings. Whizz until finely blended. Add the gelatinized stock and whizz again.

Pour the mixture into a prepared mold. Oil the mold lightly first if you plan to unmold the paté (and it can look lovely unmolded, especially if you have a nicely shaped one.) Unmold and garnish with a bit of the fresh herbs you used. Serve with crackers or thinly sliced baguette.

Last year at this time I made Classic Baked Beans with Pork and Chocolate-Ginger Graham Squares.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Bacon & Potato Chowder

Wildly varying quantities of bacon listed; you can be as discreet or as decadent as you like. I went pretty much in the middle.

Unlike a lot of soups I make this one doesn't do any better for sitting, although it will keep fine for a few days, so you can dig in right away. Like a lot of soups I make, it's a meal in itself.

6 servings
45 minutes prep time

Bacon and Potato Chowder
6 medium potatoes (700 grams, 1 1/2 pounds)
1 litre (4 cups) water

250 to 500 grams (1/2 to 1 pound) good lean bacon
3 medium onions
3 stalks celery (optional)
1/4 cup flour
salt & pepper
2 cups milk
4 cups finely shredded savoy cabbage (optional)

Scrub the potatoes well, and cut them into 1 centimetre dice. Put them in a soup pot with the water, and boil them until tender.

Meanwhile, chop the bacon. Peel and chop the onions. Chop the celery.

Cook the bacon in a large skillet until crispy. Lift it out and set it aside. If there is a lot of fat in the pan, drain most of it off, leaving a good coating in which to cook the onions and celery. Cook the onions and celery until soft. Sprinkle them with the flour, and season with salt and pepper. Mix well, and when the flour begins to brown, slowly stir in 2 cups of the potato cooking water. Once that's in, slowly stir in the two cups of milk.

Add the contents of the skillet to the soup pot with the now-cooked potatoes. You may wish to mash the potatoes very coarsely first. Add the bacon.

We ate the first half of the soup as listed, then I added cabbage to stretch it. I cooked the cabbage in just enough water to cover it, until it was tender, then added it to the soup. You could add it to the potatoes as they cook, with a little more water, if you wanted it there right from the beginning - and you might; it's a good addition. Especially if you haven't got the celery.

Last year at this time I made Winter Tomato Soup and Ginger Apple Salad. Gosh, I should do both of those again; they are definite favourites.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Aunt Helen's Raspberry Rice Squares

If there is one thing I associate with Christmas it's "squares". When I was a kid we looked forward at Christmas to receiving a care package from one of the great-aunts - Aunt Hilda I'm pretty sure, not Aunt Helen, but maybe it was Aunt Alethea or Aunt Florence, or maybe it was a joint effort - which always contained a present for us kids (something hand-knit,) a fruit cake and selection of baking; cookies and squares. Later on when we went to visit various great-aunts for the holidays, there was always a good selection of squares to sample. I always looked for these ones, made by Aunt Helen.

Aunt Helen's husband worked for Dainty Rice and so Aunt Helen had lots of rice based recipes (and of course no member of the family dared to buy any other brand of rice until long after Uncle Leonard had retired, or possibly even died.)

When we put together a collection of family recipes a few years later I lobbied for this particular recipe to be included. I was happy to note that if a rice-based pastry was used as the bottom layer, these become gluten-free. You may however, use whatever type of pastry you like best as the bottom layer; it should be lightly pre-baked.

25 squares
1 hour 30 minutes - 1 hour prep time, plus time to ice the next day

Aunt Helen's Raspberry Rice Squares
To Make the Pastry:
1 cup white rice flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup ice-cold water

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Mix the flour and salt together, then cut in the butter with a pastry cutter until it is in pieces the size of a small pea. Mix in the cold water, and stir until the mixture begins to stick together. Press the dough evenly over the bottom of a 9" x 9" baking pan.

Bake the pastry for 5 to 7 minutes, until it looks semi-firm. Don't overbake it. Set it aside to cool. Reset the oven to 350°F.

To Finish Baking the Squares:
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 extra-large eggs
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2/3 cup white rice flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 to 3/4 cup raspberry jam

Cream the butter, and work in the sugar, until well blended and light. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Beat in the almond extract.

Mix the salt and baking powder into the flour.

Spread the jam evenly over the prepared crust.

Mix the flour into the butter and egg mixture, and spread the resulting batter evenly over the jam. It will seem like it isn't a lot of batter, and you will need a spatula to help you.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until just firm. Let cool. Once they are cool I generally wrap them and ice them the next day, but they can be iced any time they are completely cool.

To Ice the Squares:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup icing sugar
2-3 tablespoons milk
a drop or 2 of red food-colouring, if desired

Cream the butter well and mix in the icing sugar alternately with a few drops of milk to keep the mixture somewhat loose. When all the sugar is in, and you have a good spreading consistency, you can add a little food-colour. I practically never use food colour, but I do think a bit of pink in the icing here emphasizes and balances the jam visually. I also don't make these more than once a year - they are inextricably linked to Christmas for me.

At any rate, ice the completely cooled cake and cut it into squares. Keep them in a well-sealed tin or freeze them if you are not going to be eating them within a week.

Last year at this time I made Apple & Lemon Bread or Rice Pudding, and Icebox Cookies in Four Variations.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Vegetarian Lentil Tourtiere

I've been working on a vegetarian version of tourtiere for a couple of years now. I'm not sure I've got it perfected, but it's not bad, and if anyone has any ideas for making it better, I'd love to hear them.

Use whatever pastry you like, or prepared frozen pastry even. I used a sturdy pastry designed for meat pies, which was delicious, but which contains eggs. I'm not posting it here because it also smoked like heck while it was being baked. Maybe once I get that little problem fixed.

6 to 8 servings
2 hours - 1 hour prep time

Vegetarian Lentil Tourtiere
pastry for a double crusted pie

1/2 cup brown or green lentils
2 small bay leaves
1 medium potato
1 medium onion
1 to 3 cloves of garlic
1 small stalk of celery
150 grams (1/3 pound) soft tofu
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup chopped fresh mushrooms
1/3 cup quick-cook rolled oats
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1 1/2 teaspoons savory
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup tomato ketchup or tomato paste, thinned a little

Cook the lentils with the bay leaves and the potato, scrubbed and cut into 1 cm dice. I used 1 1/4 cups of water and a pinch of salt, and cooked them all together in my rice cooker.

Meanwhile, make your pastry and set it aside to rest.

Peel and chop the onion and garlic, and chop the celery and mushrooms. Chop the tofu finely. Mix the spices and set them aside.

Sauté the tofu in 1 tablespoon of oil until the pieces are brown and crisped at the edges. Add the remaining oil and the onion, garlic, celery and chopped mushrooms and continue sautéing. When they are soft , add the spices, and mix in well. Add the oatmeal, and cook for a few minutes more, stirring well, until the oatmeal is lightly toasted.

Remove the pan from the stove, and mix in the lentils and potato. (Discard the bay leaves.) Mix in the tomato paste or ketchup.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Roll out the pastry, and line a 9" pie plate. Place the filling in the crust, and top it with the remaining pastry.

Bake the tourtiere for about 1 hour, until the crust is golden brown.

Last year at this time I made Sautéed Parsnips and Roasted Butternut Squash & Shallots.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Tales of Snowmageddon

We're back at home through the rest of the week, although it seemed like a near thing last night.

The plan was that we would head down to Waterloo on Saturday, do a few (okay, a lot of) chores including going to the mall*, then attend Meeting for Worship Sunday morning. Dad and his partner Trevor would come up and join us for Meeting, then we would all go out for lunch, and the exchange of presents.

We headed down Saturday morning, and got most of our chores done. Then Dad called and said that he and Trevor weren't coming, on account of the weather. Hmph. Wimps; worrying about a little snow. We live in Canada, dudes.

After a little sulking, a new plan was formed. We would put off cleaning the halls at the apartment until after Meeting, then we would head back up home, which would let us get a head start on getting ready for the next phase of Christmas madness, assuming it didn't get cancelled due to weather.

At around 4:30 we duly started off towards the great north road (that would be Highway 6.) Everything was fine until we got past Elmira. Then the sun went down, and the wind began to blow across the open fields in earnest. We slowed down to a jerking crawl; there were spots where we couldn't see more than 10 feet, and we each peered intently to our side of the road to make sure we weren't driving off of it as we inched along. Fortunately there wasn't a lot of traffic, although we almost collided with a snowplow that had veered way over into the middle of the road at one point. We'd speed up for a couple hundred metres when the wind died down for a moment or there was some kind of wind-break along the side of the road that allowed us to see the road. When I say we'd speed up I mean we would get up to 40 or 50 kilometres an hour. The road was actually very clear at this point; the snow went whipping by so steadily that there was no opportunity for it to accumulate. It was all in the air.

As we approached Mount Forest, the visibility improved considerably, to our great relief. We were thus somewhat perplexed when we got to the north side of Mount Forest and found a sign declaring the road closed. After some debate, we decided to press on.

The road continued to be much better than it had been, and we made good time to Durham. Sure enough, there was another "Road Closed" sign on the north side of Durham. We stopped to chat with a couple of truckers who had pulled over then decided we would continue north, since their main worry was liability for the goods they carried. We also had no idea how long the road closure would last, or what we would do while it lasted. (We found out later that the local arena had been taking in weather refugees; we weren't aware of any hotels in either town and still hoped to get home anyway, however many hours that might take.)

North of Durham it finally became clear why the road was closed.

The wind continued as wild as it had been all along, but now the snow was starting to accumulate on the road. At first, it wasn't too bad, although as it got deeper, we got slower and slower. By the time we got to Dornoch we were starting to get seriously anxious. By the time we got to Williamsford, we were actually starting to think we should have stayed in Waterloo, or even Durham. We debated what to do as we drove through Williamsford (not a town, not really a village - more of a hamlet, although it did boast a variety store, and it was even still open) and continued on. But then the snow started to get really deep. We agreed to turn around, and we returned to the variety store. The storekeepers told us that there was a motel about 7 kilometres up the road, at Chatsworth. They didn't know of any B&B's any closer. They let us use their private washroom (whew) while we debated what to do. Meanwhile, another man joined us, who was also driving north and debating his options. We agreed to exchange cell phone numbers, and travel together to the motel in Chatsworth.

As we got into our cars to set off, a third car hurtled by heading north. We were impressed and a bit astonished at how fast they were going - it wasn't a big car, and clearly not the kind that would have 4 wheel drive. The good news was that it had plowed a path through the snow that we could follow. We followed.

About 3 or 4 kilometers up, we passed it, in the ditch. The other guy, in the lead car, went a little further, while we worried about stopping and helping versus not losing sight of the guy ahead. However, he just didn't want to stop in the middle of the road, and turned around at the next intersection. It wouldn't have mattered if it had been our intention to continue without stopping to help or not; it was also plain by then that the snow was too deep to go on. We went back to the stuck car, where the other driver took the three people in it into his minivan. We followed him back to Williamsford, where the variety store had now closed for the night. We pulled up in front of it, and prepared to be stuck there for a while.

I went over to chat with a man in the house opposite, who was plowing his walkway. He invited us in, and told us we could stay in his house until the road opened. I told him there was an awful lot of us, but that wasn't a problem - he invited us all in: me and my sweetie, the man with the van and his three children, and the three people from the stuck car. We all piled into his large kitchen, where we joined his adult children and their partners and children, who were also stuck there and unable to return to their homes after visiting.

Since we had been unable to give Dad his Christmas present, a selection of cheese and crackers and chocolates, we hauled it in from the car, and we all sat around eating cheese and crackers and our hosts supply of Christmas cupcakes and drinking coffee and yacking. We called the motel up the road, and discovered it was full anyway. The guy with the stuck car called a local mechanic buddy of his, and they went up and determined that the battery had been so clogged with snow that it was done for, and the mechanic promised to haul it away and fix it in the morning. The kids, after a few shy minutes, ran around and played together beautifully. We listened to the radio for weather reports and road closures, and the younger adults of the party texted friends. One of them had a friend who's father was on the snow-plowing crew, and so we got a little scuttlebutt that way. We flagged a little around 11:00, when we all started to feel like we were going to be there all night, and infinitely better though it was to have been taken in by our kindly host, we all longed to be home in our own beds. Finally, at around 11:30, we saw the beautiful lights of the snow-plow heading south. We were assured it would turn around and head north shortly, and about half an hour later so it did. We thanked our host, who was very nonchalant about having been press-ganged into having a passel of strangers take over his kitchen for 4 hours ("Happens all the time"), divided the travellers from the stuck car between us and headed for Owen Sound. Forty five minutes later we were home, our adventure over save for the digging-out (which has taken all day.)

And so, no recipe today!

*On the last Saturday before Christmas. What are we; nuts?

Friday, 19 December 2008

Rum Balls Made with Cake Crumbs

It was for these that I made Cocoa Sponge Cake earlier this week. I doubled the recipe, and that required the entire cake, including the fallen middle which in fact was not as bad as it looked. I didn't put in any chopped dried fruit or nuts, but I think I might, next time. A little candied peel perhaps, or dried apricots if I can't find any nice peel and some rum-soaked raisins sound about right, along with a few chopped walnut pieces.

So why do I go to the trouble of baking a cake just to make rum balls? It's not only because that way I know the flour is organic, and therefore won't give me any grief. It's also because cake crumbs make a far better rum ball than those made with cookie (wafer) crumbs. The texture is lighter and smoother. The end result is also less sweet and I know there are no nasty industrial fats in there either. I find it altogether preferable and worth the effort. After all, I make these once a year.

The amount of rum that goes into these depends on how dry your cake crumbs were. Mine were fairly moist, due to the same problem that caused my cake to fall, and did not absorb quite as much rum as usual. They're still pretty rummy. (Please don't gorge on rum balls and drive!?) As for the huge range in chocolate required, it depends on how large you make your rum balls - smaller rum balls have more surface in total and will require more - and how thickly you coat them. I used 300 grams to coat my double batch (48) of rum balls. It made a thin but sufficient coating I would say.

Rumballs with Tea
24 rum balls
1 hour - 40 minutes work time, not including making the cake

For the Rum Balls:
4 cups chocolate cake crumbs
1/4 cup unsweetened dessicated coconut
60 grams (2 ounces) dark chocolate
3 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup apricot jam
1 cup chopped dried fruit or nuts (optional)
1/3 to 1/2 cup rum

Make the cake crumbs by running chunks of stale chocolate cake over a coarse grater. Mix them with the coconut and set them aside.

Put the chocolate, butter and apricot jam into a large metal mixing bowl on top of a double boiler and heat until the butter and chocolate are melted. Stir in about half the cake crumbs, then about half the rum. Repeat with the remaining cake crumbs and rum. Mix gently but well.

Cover the mixture and put it in the fridge to chill for 20 or 30 minutes.

To Coat the Rum Balls:
150 to 300 grams good dark chocolate

Line a large baking tray with parchment or waxed paper. Scoop out spoonfuls of the chilled rum ball mixture and form into balls. Place them on the parchment as you work. I used a 1 5/8" disher (2/3 ounce) which I thought made a very nice size; neither too big nor too small.

Meanwhile, put the chocolate into the top of a double boiler, and heat until melted. When the chocolate is completely melted, use a fork to lift a rum ball into the chocolate. Roll it around until it is completely coated, then lift it with the fork again, letting it drip for a few moments to remove excess chocolate, then return it to the parchment paper.

Repeat with the remaining rum balls. Once they are all coated, set them in a cool place until set. I find it helpful to place the trays in the fridge for a while; they will be easier to peel off the parchment paper.

After that, they should be stored in an air-tight tub and kept in a cool place. They can be frozen if you like; just thaw them out 24 hours before you want them. They should keep quite well if kept cool, though. In fact I think it is best to make them several days in advance to allow all the flavours to blend and mellow.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Brussels Sprouts & Carrots

This excellent dish comes from Epicurious, and for once I have not really made any changes. My proportions were slightly different, but that was about it. I have to say I really love it when I find a simple recipe that gives a little oomph to everyday vegetables, and is something I might not have thought of myself. The sprouts and carrots really interacted in an interesting and delicious way. Oh, I did cut back on the butter. I didn't miss it; if people want more they can add a dab at the table. Also, after reading the comments I added a bit more vinegar.

4 servings (they say 6, but not in this household)
15 minutes prep time

Brussels Sprouts with Carrots
1 small shallot
1 tablespoon butter, or a bit more
2 medium carrots
450 grams (1 pound) Brussels sprouts
1/3 cup water (about)
2 or 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
salt & pepper

Peel and chop the shallot. Trim the Brussels sprouts and cut them in half lengthwise. Peel and slice the carrots.

Heat the butter in a large skillet, and sauté the shallot gently until soft. Add the Brussels sprouts and carrots, and sauté until lightly browned. Add the water, and cover the skillet. Cook the vegetables until just tender, and the water is absorbed. Add a little more if necessary, and towards the end add the vinegar.

Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Santa Claus Parade in Holstein

On Saturday we drove to Holstein for their annual Santa Claus Parade. We heard about this at the Holstein Farmers Market in the summer, and thought it sounded very interesting. It's another non-food post creeping in, but hey! I do sometimes think about other things besides food.

Not that I planned to miss out on eating. We arrived around noon; I was uneasily aware that there isn't any restaurant in Holstein, but I hoped that with a planned start-time of 1:00 p.m. some food would be available. In fact, we could have gotten soup and sandwiches at the Optimist Club, a sausage (onna bun) by the variety store or, our choice, a bowl of chile with bread, cake and tea or coffee and a spot at a communal table in their basement, all for$5 at the Holstein Presbyterian Church. The cake was from a mix, but the chile was lovely, and what a deal.

Thus fortified, we headed out to the main street to wait.

The Holstein Santa Claus Parade is notable for being unmechanized. All the parade participants are either on foot, on horseback or in an animal-drawn wagon. Well, so it was advertised. In fact, there was exactly one motorized vehicle, which set the pace and started off the parade.

Next came a somewhat ad-hoc looking but tuneful little pipe band.

And then the parade proper began.

There were quite a number of people on horseback.

There were a lot of horse-drawn wagons.

With horses of considerably varying sizes.

One person brought his sheep.

One wagon had people singing carols, and another had a fiddle player in the back.

There were quite a few very light vehicles being pulled by miniature horses.

I think these are mules?

I was a bit surprised that there wasn't a lot of effort at costumes made by the participants. Lots of Christmassy hats, on both people and animals, but not many costumes. Also, while people decorated their wagons with tinsel etc, none of them were floats as such.

The result was a very different feel from any Santa Claus parade I've been to before. It was obviously much more of a community event, where the point was not to come and watch but to bring your animal friends and parade.

There were even a few small vehicles being pulled by dogs. One dog opted to be a passenger, and a very good passenger he was, too; staying calmly seated in his sled all the way along the parade route.

And finally, Santa Claus went by, thus ending the parade. I understand Santa returned to the park to consult with his constituency later on.

We got onto the road and followed the parade up the street to the place where we had parked. It took us a while to get back on the open road, what with all the traffic, but we were all very satisfied that it was a day well-spent.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Cocoa Sponge Cake


As you can tell by the photo, my cake didn't quite turn out. Sponge cakes are tricky. Most cakes, muffins, etc, are really quite easy to make and you don't even need to be all that scientific about measuring. That is not the case with sponge cakes.

I'm pretty sure I know what went wrong with my cake. I could not find any organic white (unbleached) soft (pastry) flour so I used soft whole wheat flour. I did not adjust the quantity, and the amount of bran in it displaced a certain amount of the required starch; and thus, my batter was just a tad too thin.

There are other pitfalls with sponge cakes. They don't contain any fat beyond the egg yolks, and are easily overbaked in which case they will be dry. Of course, if they are underbaked, they will also fall in the middle, and be soggy. It helps to have experience in cake-baking and to be able to easily recognize when a cake is baked before you start making sponge cakes.

The good news is my cake is still perfectly usable for my purposes. I made it because I needed a source of cake-crumbs for rumballs. I'll be posting the recipe for rumballs in a day or two. Not-entirely-successful sponge cake can also be used in trifle. Cocoa sponge cake with either custard or chocolate pudding, canned sour cherries, some kirsch and plenty of whipped cream makes a delectable "Black Forest" trifle.

8 servings
1 hour - 20 minutes prep time

Unsuccessful Cocoa Sponge Cake
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon cocoa

1 1/2 cups soft unbleached wheat flour
1/2 cup cocoa
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 extra-large eggs
1/2 cup cold water
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Trace the bottom of a 9" springform pan onto a piece of parchment paper and cut it out. Grease the springform pan with some of the butter. Line the bottom of the pan with the parchment paper, and grease it with the remaining butter. Sift the tablespoon of cocoa into the pan and shake it to coat the bottom and sides evenly with the cocoa. Tap out any excess cocoa. Set the prepared pan aside.

Sift the flour with the cocoa and baking powder, and set it aside.

Separate the eggs into two mixing bowls. Beat the egg yolks with an electric mixer for 2 or 3 minutes, until very light and lemon coloured. Beat in the water, sugar and vanilla. Beat well for about 5 minutes.

Wash and dry the beaters for the mixer. You must do this.

Beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until stiff.

Fold the flour gently with a spatula into the egg yolk mixture. Then carefully fold in the whites. Do not over-mix. There should be no large lumps of visible egg white, but white streaks are okay. Gently spoon and scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Most recipes suggest running a knife through the batter to make sure there are no large bubbles trapped in it, but I think it is better not to mess with it.

Bake the cake at 375°F. for 30 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out with just a few crumbs on it. Loosen the sides of the pan and cool the cake on a rack.

Last year at this time I made Sweet Potatoes with a Spicy Ginger-Garlic Sauce.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Instant Biscuits

These are not the world's best biscuits - for that you require butter, and another 5 or 10 minutes - but they are pretty damn good and no work at all. And they will always be better than purchased biscuits for the simple reason that biscuits have a half-life of about 30 minutes: the further away they are from a hot oven, the less interesting they become. Consequently, I have never had a purchased biscuit that wasn't kind of stale and flat-tasting. Eat 'em while they're hot! But I don't really have to tell you that...

The buttermilk is important, by the way. If you don't have any, some plain yogurt mixed into milk to the right consistency and let to sit for an hour or so will do. Otherwise, go out and buy some buttermilk. Buttermilk has lots of uses and keeps very well.

8 to 10 biscuits
16 minutes - 5 minutes prep time

Instant Biscuits mixed right in the measuring cupIf you have a fairly broad 4 cup measuring cup, you can mix them right in the measuring cup.

Instant Biscuits
2 cups soft flour, unbleached or whole wheat
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder

1/4 cup sunflower seed or other neutral vegetable oil
PLUS 1 tablespoon oil
buttermilk added to the oil to make 1 cup
(i.e. 3/4 cup minus 1 tablespoon)

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Lightly oil a baking sheet.

Measure the flour, spooning it gently into the measuring cup. As I said above, if you can put it in a nice wide 4 cup measure, you don't need to dirty another bowl. Add the salt and baking powder and stir gently.

Measure the oil into another measuring cup, and add the buttermilk to bring it all up to the 1 cup mark.

Whisk together the oil and buttermilk then pour them into the flour. Stir briefly but until all the flour is mixed into the dough.

Scoop out large spoonfuls of the dough, and form by hand into a round, flat biscuit shape and put it on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the rest of the dough.

Bake the biscuits for 8 to 12 minutes, until puffed and just lightly browned at the edges. They won't get much colour. Serve at once.

Last year at this time I made Scalloped Potatoes and Barley & Salsa Pilaf.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Butternut Squash, Carrot & Potato Soup

Brrr! It's soup season here; you can expect to see a lot of soups over the next month or two. This one is fairly light; it would do well as a starter to a multi-course meal, or as an accompaniment to a sandwich.

8 servings
1 hour 30 minutes - 30 minutes prep time

Butternut Squash, Carrot and Potato Soup
1/2 medium butternut squash
2 large carrots
salt & pepper
1/4 teaspoon basil
1/4 teaspoon rosemary
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon savory
4 cups chicken stock
4 small potatoes

Cut the squash in half, and reserve half for some other use. Remove the seeds and rub the cut surface with a little oil. Roast the squash at 350°F for about 1 hour, until tender.

Meanwhile, peel and slice the carrots. Cook them with 2 cups of water until quite tender.

Peel and purée the squash with the carrots and the herbs, adding the carrot cooking water slowly to ensure a smooth purée. Put the purée into a large soup pot with the chicken stock.

Scrub the potatoes well, and peel them if you like. Cut them into small dice and add them to the soup. Simmer the soup for 15 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Maple Eggnog

Eggnog is very easy to make, even this recipe which unlike most recipes for eggnog calls for cooking the eggs. Some people worry about consuming raw eggs; this solves the problem. The only catch is that it needs to be made the day before, or a little longer - it will keep for 3 or 4 days in the fridge. But who wants to be messing with eggnog at the last minute anyway?

8 - 10 servings
15 minutes prep time - 24 hours chill time

Maple Eggnog
4 cups milk
3 extra-large eggs
pinch salt
2/3 cup dark maple syrup
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
freshly grated nutmeg
rum or sherry to taste

Whisk together the milk, eggs, salt and maple syrup, in a bowl that can go into the microwave, or else in a bowl that can be used as the top of a double boiler.

Cook the eggnog for 2 minutes on high in the microwave, then stir well. Repeat until the eggnog is slightly thickened - 8 to 10 minutes. Let cool. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled.

OR cook the eggnog over a pot of gently boiling water, whisking constantly, until thickened. Let cool. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled.

To serve, shake or stir the eggnog well. Mix in the vanilla. Add rum or sherry to taste, stir well, and top with a good dusting of freshly grated nutmeg.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Cocoa Snaps

The official Christmas baking marathon has now started. As I did last year, I made Gingersnaps to take to my First Day (Sunday) school class to decorate as an activity instead of a lesson since this was also the day of our annual Christmas pot-luck. This year I also made Cocoa Snaps. Just like the name suggests, these are a lot like the Gingersnaps, only cocoa flavoured. Duh.

Also like the gingersnaps, these are a great cookie for cutting out and decorating. But if you would rather not, they can be rolled up into a cylinder in waxed paper, chilled and cut into slices. This is a lot faster than cutting with cookie cutters.

If you are rolling them out to be cut, I have decided that both these and the gingersnaps should be kneaded for a minute or two before you start, as they cut so much better after being handled.

Cocoa Snaps
2 1/2 cups soft whole wheat flour
2/3 cup sifted cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup mild vegetable oil
1/3 cup honey
1/2 cup water

Sift the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.

Warm the honey, and mix the honey, oil and water. I usually put them all together in one measuring cup, then heat them in the microwave until the honey will dissolve easily into the water, about one minute.

Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. The dough should be fairly stiff, and not sticky. If it is too soft and sticky, add a little more flour. Feel free to turn the dough out and knead it to incorporate the last of the flour. This dough is better once it has been worked for a while.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a couple of cookie trays with parchment paper.

Roll out the dough to about 1/4" thick, and cut with cookie cutters. Place the cookies on the prepared cookie trays. Bake for 10 to 14 minutes until lightly browned and set. They will harden up more as they cool.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Whole Wheat Noodles with Stir-Fried Vegetables

Another one of my quick and easy pasta dishes for when I don't want to cook, and quick and easy hello to a Presto Pasta Night. Haven't had one of those in a while.

2 servings
20 minutes - 20 minutes prep time

Whole Wheat Noodles with Stir-Fried Vegetables
250 grams (1/2 pound) whole wheat noodles or spaghetti
1 medium-small onion
2 stalks of celery
1 medium carrot
12 to 16 button mushrooms
2 cups finely chopped savoy cabbage
2 cups bean sprouts
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 to 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons water

Put a pot of salted water on to boil. Cook the pasta until al dente, according to directions.

Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables. Peel and cut the onion into slivers. Slice the celery thinly, and peel and cut the carrot into slivers. Clean and slice the mushrooms, and chop the cabbage. Rinse the bean sprouts.

About 6 minutes before the pasta is done, add the carrots to the boiling water with the pasta. Heat the oil in a large skillet and add the onion and celery. Sauté for two or three minutes, then add the mushrooms. Continue sautéing for another minute. Add the cabbage, and immediately add all the liquid ingredients. Continue cooking and stirring for another 2 or 3 minutes, until the cabbage is tender and the liquid mostly absorbed or evaporated.

Add the bean sprouts to the pan and mix them in. Drain the pasta, then toss it with the vegetable mixture.

Sunday, 7 December 2008


"a quarter pound of butter
a quarter pound of sugar
three tablespoons of golden treacle
one teaspoon of almond extract
and half a pound of oats

I call it my mother's recipe, though she may have copied it from somewhere; she was always copying down a recipe. But this one was not cut from a magazine, or copied from a newspaper, as she did, by rubbing wax paper over newsprint to collect the words and then rubbing the wax paper on a page of the scrapbook, transferring all those little black newsprint letters. This recipe was in her handwriting: "Melt butter, sugar and treacle, and add essence. Take off the fire, add oats. Mix well, pour into a greased baking dish, and bake in an oven with a moderate fire for half an hour. Let cool. Cut into squares."

"Add essence." By this she meant "add almond extract," but when she made oatcakes she did add essence, her own essence. When I made oatcakes, they didn't taste anything like my mother's, though I followed my mother's recipe to the letter. They tasted good enough, but they tasted of my essence, not my mother's. There are no two cooks that can make the same dish; you'll find that essence in one and not the other. Or the essence in each is just different. I don't know. But you'll know the essence of a good cook when you find it in a dish. You'll just know. It was there in my mother's cooking. My father knew it. He'd eat the oatcakes my mother made, but not the oatcakes I made."

From "The Cure for Death by Lightning" by Gail Anderson-Dargatz.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Barley & Cheese

Right; like macaroni and cheese, only with barley. Serve smaller portions because it is denser than the macaroni would be. My sweetie said, "Pretty good, for barley!" which is about as good as it gets with him and barley, sigh. I thought it was loverly myself.

4 to 6 servings
2 1/2 hours - 1/2 hour prep time

Barley and Cheese
1 cup barley
3 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt

3 or 4 stalks of celery
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon savory
2 teaspoons sweet Hungarian paprika
OR smoked sweet paprika
2 cups milk
250 grams (1/2 pound) old cheddar cheese, cubed or grated

Cook the barley in your rice cooker with the water and salt, or on the stove until the barley is tender and the water absorbed.

Wash and chop the celery. Sauté it in a pot with the butter, until soft. Sprinkle over the flour, savory and paparika. Stir well and cook for a minute or two, then stir in the milk. Continue cooking, stirring constantly, until thickened. Add the cheese, and stir until it is melted.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread the barley in an 8" x 10" shallow casserole. When the sauce is ready, pour it over the barley and mix it in. Spread the mixture out evenly, and bake the casserole for one hour, until brown and bubbly on top.

Last year at this time I made Red Cabbage Braised with Beets.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Cabbage, Apple & Walnut Salad

Like my new bowl? My sweetie had a birthday last week, so we went down and celebrated by having Dim Sum with his family in Toronto. And since we were not that far from the Pacific Mall (and therefore Utsuwa-No-Yakata) and since I needed some little something to help me get over the shock of finding myself living with a fifty year old, I got a present.

Anyway, what's in it is a simple salad of cabbage, apples and walnuts. I sometimes forget that I should still eat salads in the winter, and go too long without something raw and crunchy. This has lots of lovely crunch.

4 servings
20 minutes prep time

Cabbage Apple and Walnut Salad
4 cups finely chopped savoy cabbage
2 medium apples
1/2 to 2/3 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup mayonnaise (light is fine)
1/2 cup buttermilk or yogurt
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
salt & pepper to taste

Chop the cabbage. Wash the apples, but don't peel them. Core them and chop them and mix them with the cabbage. Add the nuts.

Put the mayonnaise, buttermilk, vinegar, salt and pepper into the bowl with the salad. Mix well, until the mayonnoise and buttermilk are blended and evenly distributed throughout the salad.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Kitchen Sink Soup

This is not the world's most beautiful soup, in fact I will admit it is downright sludgy looking. Nevertheless it is something I make repeatedly throughout the winter, as it is so good, so wholesome and so filling. It's pretty inexpensive to make, too. Like most soups made with dried peas or lentils, it is better after it has sat for a while and been reheated once or twice. Good thing; this recipe makes lots. If you get tired of it before it's gone, put it in plastic yogurt type tubs and freeze it for later. It's tough, it will take it.

12 servings
2 days - about 1/2 hour prep time

Kitchen Sink Soup
1 cup dry green split peas
1 cup dry yellow split peas
1 cup green or brown lentils
8 cups of water
3 or 4 bay leaves
2 medium leeks
3 stalks of celery
1 large carrot
2 cups finely chopped cabbage
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 cups crushed tomatoes
2 teaspoons salt

Rinse and pick over the peas and lentils, and put them in a large pot with the water and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer them until tender, stirring regularly; about an hour to an hour and a half.

Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables. Wash the leeks, cut off any dark green leaves and the roots and discard them. Chop the remaining light green and white parts, and rinse them well. Wash and chop the celery and the cabbage. Peel and dice the carrot.

When the legumes are tender, heat one tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet. Sauté the leeks and celery until soft but not browned, and add them to the soup pot. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in the skillet, and sauté the carrot and cabbage. Once they go into the skillet add about half a cup of water, and cook, stirring constantly, until the water has evaporated and the cabbage is soft but not browned. Add these to the soup, along with the crushed tomatoes. Season with the salt. Continue simmering the soup for at least an hour, until the vegetables are tender.

Like a lot of pea and bean soup recipes, this is really much better the next day, and keeps well.

Last year at this time I made Braised Celery, Leek and Carrots, which, not so oddly, are also all present in this soup.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Pumpkin Squares

I made these with the idea that they were going to be brownies, but they really just weren't. They were very good, though. Because I thought they were going to be brownies, I used more sugar than I would normally put into cake. Feel free to cut it back. I would think 2/3 cup would be quite sufficient. And since we're talking cake, I have to say I keep having visions of cream cheese icing with these.

I used the pumpkin I froze a week or two back, and I did cook it down in a skillet until nearly reduced in half. This gives a richer, more intense flavour to the pumpkin. It also makes it more similar in consistency to canned pumpkin. Still, just as a note: when the batter is finished it is rather disconcertingly thin. It baked up beautifully though, and the squares were very moist but sturdy. They kept very well but I noted they were inclined to darken, especially where they had been in contact with the metal baking pan. It might be better to bake them in a glass pan.

16 squares
45 minutes - 15 minutes prep time

3/4 cup whole wheat or spelt flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup Sucanat or dark brown sugar
2 extra large eggs
1 cup cooked puréed pumpkin
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9" x 9" pan.

Mix all the dry ingredients together.

Cream the butter and beat in the Sucanat or brown sugar. Beat in the eggs. Beat in the pumpkin and the vanilla.

Mix the flour into the pumpkin mixture until well blended.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the top is firm and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Sweet Potato & Carrot Purée

4 servings
1 hour - 15 minutes prep time

Sweet Potato and Carrot Puree
1 large carrot, or 2 medium carrots
4 medium-small sweet potatoes
2 tablespoons butter
grated nutmeg
salt & pepper

Peel the carrot, and cut it into thickish slices. Put it into a pot with water to cover. Put a vegetable steamer on top, and add the washed sweet potatoes. Cook over medium heat until both the carrots and sweet potatoes are tender; 40 to 50 minutes.

Let the sweet potatoes cool enough to handle.Peel them and discard the peels. Mash them with the drained carrots and the butter. Season with a little grated nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste. Reheat the purée before serving. This can be done in the same pot they were cooked in. You might want to save a little of the cooking water to thin the purée with if it looks like sticking. It can also be reheated very well in a microwave.

Last year at this time, I made my favourite Gingersnap recipe.

Monday, 1 December 2008

German Style Red Cabbage & Apples

I know I've said this before, but I think I'm back! Not only I have we been away quite a bit in the last week; when we were here our phone and internet have not been working. However, it seems they are now functioning again.

This dish can be made in advance and heated up as required. Fabulous colour, eh? It's great with roast meats of any kind.

8 servings
1 hour 30 minutes - 30 minutes prep time

German Style Red Cabbage and Apples
450 grams (1 pound) red cabbage
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt

3 or 4 large apples
1 medium onion
2 or 3 tablespoons bacon fat (or oil if you must)
1-2 bay leaves
2 cups water
2 tablespoons red currant jelly (optional)
a splash of wine (optional)

Shred the cabbage, discarding any damaged leaves or tough stems, and put it aside in a bowl. Toss it with the vinegar, sugar and salt.

Peel and slice the apples, and peel and dice the onion. Sauté them in the bacon fat in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. When they are softened but not really browned, add the cabbage mixture, the bay leaves and the water. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for about an hour. Stir occasionally.

If it seems too liquidy, you may wish to remove the lid and let some of the liquid cook off. The finished cabbage should be moist, but not swimming, and fairly soft - this is not one of your modern al dente vegetable dishes. Classic served with roast pork, beef or chicken.

Last year at this time, I made Honey, Lemon & Ginger Tea for the Flu - very happy not to have that this year, knock wood. Also, I made Chicken-Barley Soup as another flu-cure. Although I will cheerfully consume large amounts of both items when I am well too. More cheerfully even.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Sausage & Barley Casserole

I'm ashamed to admit we have been living mostly on very basic pasta dishes or home-fried potatoes and eggs, when we've been at home, which hasn't been nearly as often as we would like. However, we are home for 3 entire days in a row at the moment, and so I am trying to get my brain back into gear for cooking other things.

We stopped on the way up at a little country market and got some plain but good quality Mennonite-made pork sausage. A little rummaging in the fridge and cupboards turned up everything else needed for this dish.

4 servings
2 hours - 30 minutes prep time

Sausage and Barley Casserole
500 grams (1 pound) plain or garlic pork sausage meat
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (if needed)
1 large leek
2 or 3 stalks of celery
3 or 4 cups finely chopped cabbage
1 or 2 cloves of garlic

1 or 2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1 cup pot barley
3 cups crushed tomatoes
2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed black pepper

Cut the sausage into pieces, and set it aside while you prepare the vegetables. Trim and chop the leek, discarding any dark tough parts. Wash it well and drain it. Wash, trim and chop the celery. Chop the cabbage and the peeled clove of garlic.

Put the sausage into a large skillet with the oil (if you think your sausage is lean - otherwise don't bother) and about a quarter cup of water. Cook over high heat until the water evaporates and the sausage browns slightly. Turn the heat to medium.

Add the leeks, and stir them in well. Once they have softened and wilted, add the garlic and stir in well. After a minute or two, add the cabbage and another quarter of a cup of water. Cook, stirring regularly, until the vegetables are well wilted and the water has evaporated. Remove the skillet from the heat. Preheat the oven to 375°F.

If your skillet is large and can go into the oven, you can mix everything in the skillet and bake it that way. Otherwise, transfer the contents of the skillet to a large shallow casserole, such as a lasagne pan, and mix in the bay leaves, celery seed, barley, tomatoes and water. Season with salt and pepper, keeping in mind how salty your sausage is.

Cover the pan with foil. Bake the casserole for 1 hour and a quarter to 1 hour and a half, until the barley is tender.

Last year at this time I made Sformati di Broccoli, Clapshot, and Gehacktes Rinderschnitzel.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Leftover Oatmeal Cake with Apples

And what I mean by that is that the oatmeal is leftover, not the cake. Hey look! I finally cooked something. Actually, it started when my Sweetie made oatmeal for breakfast and absent-mindedly cooked an extra cup*. Well, you can't waste that. Plus there are all those apples in the cold cellar...

Leftover Oatmeal Cake with Apples
1/4 cup sunflower seed oil
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar or Sucanat
3 extra-large eggs
2 cups cooked oatmeal

2 cups whole spelt flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt

4 large apples, peeled and diced

Cream the oil and butter with the sugar or Sucanat. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then the cooked oatmeal until well mixed.

Preheat the oven to 350°F, and grease a 9" x 13" baking pan.

Stir together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.

Peel, core and dice the apples.

Mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Stir in half the apples, then spread the batter in the prepared baking pan. Sprinkle the remaining apples over the top and press them into the batter gently.

Bake the cake for 40 to 45 minutes, until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature.

*That's a clue.

Last year, I was cooking up a storm around now. There was Horace's Tagliatelle (good stuff!) and Pumpkin Custard, as well as Spicy Roast Butternut Squash and Lentil Loaf with Carrots. Hell, it was all good stuff.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

What I've Been Doing Instead of Cooking & Posting

We've been driving back and forth a lot between our old lives and our new lives, pretty much rigid with stress. Not a good thing when you hit ice on a sharp curve.

Fortunately, we weren't going that fast. The total damage was one cracked hubcap and a bent rim, about 1 hour of our time, and $50 dollars to be fished out of the ditch. Later there was another 4 hours and $80 to replace the rim. That's pretty cheap, as disasters go. And many thanks go out to the 2 kind women who pulled us over (seperately) to tell us that our back wheel was wobbling like mad.

So when is life returning to normal? Next month, I hope. Oh, please! Let it be next month.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Freezing Pumpkin

We made it home for one day this week; hopefully we will get back for one more. However, we are still back in Cambridge cleaning and painting for the most part, and when we are here, we still have a pile of work to do which precluded my doing any cooking to speak of, never mind writing about it.

However, I bought one little pie pumpkin right after halloween, and was given three others, so I spent this evening pureeing them to be frozen. First I cut a lid in each one, and removed all the seeds and loose stringy bits. The stringy bits were discarded; the seeds were washed and tossed in salt and spices then roasted at 350°F until lightly browned and crunchy. I also roasted the pumpkins at 350°F, until the largest were soft through.

Once they were cooled, they were peeled and puréed.

Then I packed them into tubs to be frozen.

If I had had time, I would have preferred to cook the pumpkin in batches in a large cast-iron skillet, stirring frequently, until thick and very slightly caramelized. This would have reduced my total quantity of pumpkin, but it would have been better quality. Howver, if I have time, I can still do it on the other end.

And that's probably it for this week... now it's back to the salt mines.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Some November Thoughts


No sun--no moon!
No morn--no noon!
No dawn--no dusk--no proper time of day--
No sky--no earthly view--
No distance looking blue--

No road--no street--
No "t'other side the way"--
No end to any Row--
No indications where the Crescents go--

No top to any steeple--
No recognitions of familiar people--
No courtesies for showing 'em--
No knowing 'em!

No mail--no post--
No news from any foreign coast--
No park--no ring--no afternoon gentility--
No company--no nobility--

No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member--
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,

Thomas Hood

Well, the weather, which has been so lovely, is now rapidly heading to something much more in line with Thomas Hood's vision of November, and I'm finding myself feeling tired and grumpy. The end of daylight savings time has made a big difference in how short the days feel.

It doesn't help that I'll be very busy for the next few weeks, and will be unable to post much if anything. (Note to tenants: Stop moving! Moving season is over. Just quit it. And next time, try to keep the damned magic markers out of reach of your toddlers. Srsly.) At least they are moving out a few weeks early and we will have time to wrestle with the magic marker before the next round of tenants move in.

In the mean time, I will try to remember a different autumn poem:

I built my cottage among the habitations of men,
And yet there is no clamor of carriages and horses.
You ask: "Sir, how can this be done?"
"A heart that is distant creates its own solitude."
I pluck chrysanthemums under the eastern hedge,
Then gaze afar towards the southern hills.
The mountain air is fresh at the dusk of day;
The flying birds in flocks return.
In these things there lies a deep meaning;
I want to tell it, but have forgotten the words."

Tao Yuan Ming

Oh and this one's good; I like this one, and it brings us back to my favourite theme:

Buckwheat Cakes

Now the frost is in the air.
Blue the haze at early dawn.
There is color everywhere.
Old and ragged looks the lawn.
Autumn's resting on the hills.
Harvested are fruit and grain,
And the home with gladness thrills.
Buckwheat cakes are back again!
Every season has its joys,
Every day its touch of mirth.
For us all - both girls and boys -
God has well supplied the earth.
What if care must fall between
Peace and pleasure now and then?
Autumn holds this happy scene:
Buckwheat cakes are back again!
Time and trouble change us all,
Youth gives way to middle age,
One by one our fancies fall
Till we reach life's final stage,
But in spite of aches and pains
And the difference old age makes,
Man devoted still remains
To a stack of buckwheat cakes."

Edgar A. Guest

Hope to be back soon, with some buckwheat cakes or other goodies.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

A Visit to Shears to You

This little outing had nothing to do with food, but I had to write about it anyway. And it is about a locally processed agricultural product...

On Saturday we went to Shears To You, an alpaca farm and mill near Listowel as there was an open house at the mill that day. They had a fabulous day for it; clear and mild. There is no sign advertising the store or the farm, but they are at 5128 Line 90, R R #2, Palmerson, Ontario, N0G 2P0 and the number is well marked. Their map instructions are quite clear. You will also know you are there by the alpacas!

These ones were hanging out near the front.

They have rather deluxe accomodation in a large house-like shed.

The guys in the back, by comparison, live in Bachelor Hall. This is the "mobile mating service" which presumably is handy, but not too handy, to the girls across the way.

"Who are you callin' a hayseed...?"

Actually, the alpacas were lovely; very calm and nice tempered, curious and friendly. They are charmingly goofy looking critters who are mostly interested in eating. Their recent sheering left them with mukluks and a funny top-knot.

When we arrived, the females were mostly all out grazing.

However, when we looked into "Alpaca-trazz" they came in to check us out.

Then they stayed around to do some indoor munching.

Next we went into the mill where we were given a tour of the processing plant. When the fleeces arrive, they are bagged and labelled. Shears To You is proud of the fact that when alpaca farmers send them their fleeces to be processed, the farmers receive back their own product. (Other mills will send back the same weight, but from random producers.) The tags will stay with the fleece throughout the milling process.

First, the yarn is carefully washed, by hand or by machine, as many times as it takes to get it clean. Generally, this is two to five times, not including the rinses, which will be more. But wait! they're not done yet: the fibres are then set through a picking machine, which loosens the fibres to absorb conditioners that will improve their ability to be spun and knit. The fibres must then rest while they absorb the conditioners.

Heres' a batch destined for socks, spread out on one of the drying racks.

After being conditioned, the fibres go on to the carder to be combed into long, soft coils called slivers (pronounced "slyvers".) This also cleans out any remaining bits of vegetation that might have been clinging to them.

Next, the coils of carded fibre are "pin drafted". This means they are combed together into rovings (the long coils of unspun fibre) to be spun. This is done at least three times to create smooth and uniform rovings.

Finally, the yarn is spun. The rovings enter the top of the machine, and are spun onto cones.

They're not done yet though; next the spun yarn must be twisted together into plied yarn to give it the finished strength, thickness and twist.

The finished yarn is then wound onto cones by the cone winding machine, or...

onto the skein winder to be wound into skeins to be sold to hand knitters.

You can purchase the finished yarn on cones or by the skeins in their shop. However, much of the yarn goes on to be made into socks. When the local sock-making industry closed down in recent years, Shears to You was lucky to be able to buy some of the old sock-making machines. Even better, the machines came with their cousin who worked for decades in the sock mills and knows how to maintain the machinery. He's now one of only a handful of people in all of North America who are able to do this.

When we were there, they were running sample socks through the machine in synthetic fibres, just so people could see the process. It's fascinating, I must say. A series of round plates (you can see them in the photo above this one) act almost like a crude computer in determining the pattern of the socks. The knitted sock appears, and is received into a drum. I say the sock; it's actually a long tube of joined socks. Each sock-to-be is joined to its' neighbours by yarn that will dissolve when washed. The almost-finished socks are then seamed shut at the toe.

And there, finally, you have it. A sock.

After all this, it will come as no surprise to hear that their socks are considerably more expensive than those produced abroad. At about $35 a pair (some are more, some are less) these are pricey socks, when you compare them to the ones generally available. When I look at the amount of work that goes into producing each pair though, I have to rate them as a bargain, really. There's a whole screed about exploitation and our unjust expectations of ever-cheaper goods which I am going to spare you here, but it sure gives you something to think about when you see the amount of work involved in making a pair of socks. Sure, large companies can make huge savings through economies of scale that just aren't possible here, but mostly we are... oh, sorry. I said I was going to spare you the rant.

When cared for well, these socks should last for a year or two. They should be hand-washed (or at least washed on a very gently cycle) and definitely air-dried.

My sweetie bought a pair to try out. He hasn't worn them yet, as the weather has been very mild (beautiful, eh?!) and these socks are going to be toasty, toasty, toasty warm. We also got some felt inserts made of half alpaca and half regular wool. (We bought seconds. Cheapskates.)

If he decides he loves them, we'll be back for more. We'll have to decide whether to order them on the Shears To You website, or if we want to have the fun of going back to visit those charming alpacas. There's a lot more information on their website, so be sure to check it out.


Oddly, when we went to the St. Jacobs market before heading out to Shears To You, we found another local sock manufacturer. This is Simcan, who produce socks designed for people with circulation problems, including diabetes. They don't produce their own yarn, but the socks themselves are made in Cambridge. Their prices are more standard. You can check them out at Simcan.