Tuesday, April 29, 2014

I (heart) Gardening - pass it on

The winter was a long one. This is a much-lamented fact. Wherever you found yourself on any given snowy or frigid day between November and this morning (April 29th), there was bound to be someone in your proximity with whom you could connect on a very personal level just by bringing up the bleepin' winter weather.
I try very hard not to complain out loud about cold weather because what I truly despise is stifling heat. That being said, this very long drawn-out winter actually numbed my green thumb. I think I forgot it was there.

Then, last weekend, I remembered.
I think it happened when I was out running one morning and the birds were kicking up a very spring-like racket all around me. It might have been when I reached down and plucked some dead leaves off a shrub and noticed green buds beneath. When I slipped my sandy gardening gloves onto my hands and grasped hold of those branch-snippers, I felt the excitement for the first time in a LOT of months.

I had forgotten about gardening completely, it seemed. I hadn't felt that tug to want to plant things in muddy little containers and perch them precariously around my house and check back for growth every half hour. I think I just felt like it was still winter.

Then last weekend, I drove up to the mushroom farm with my kids and collected several HEAPS of free compost. I came home and spread it everywhere! In the garden, in the flower beds,.... everywhere. That felt so good, that I got down on my knees and I weeded for a few hours. And THAT felt so good, that I cut down all the plastic rabbit-gnawed fencing from my veggie patch and I zippy-tied up some squeaky-new chicken wire. The Green in me awoke and stretched.

And I felt so good, in fact, that when I spied a baby bunny outside the kitchen window, instead of cursing and throwing sudsy gestures in its direction, I perched my son up on my hip and pointed and we both grinned quietly.

And when I came home after a very tiring and emotional day, I just pushed the back gate open and stood next to my garden (with nothing growing) and I felt instantly calmer. I'd forgotten what I love most about gardening.
The hope.
The promise.
And we all need that.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

How Teachers are Born

Cole finally loves swimming lessons.
And last Thursday evening, just a few minutes before we were slotted to leave for swimming lessons, he announced that his ear hurt. It had, he declared, been hurting all day. So my husband took him to the walk-in clinic and he had to miss swimming lessons. Fin. Du. Monde.

To console a heart-broken beached little boy, I promised we could go to the Family Swim on Saturday.
So on Saturday, I packed my own bathing suit and the kids' bathing suits and headed to the Leisure Pool (code for very shallow and very warm, a bit like a glorified bath that you share with about twenty of your nearest and dearest).

Cole loves the Leisure Pool because he can touch and keep his head above water wherever he is. This is great because his version of swimming looks  a lot like drowning, but he can sustain it for a few seconds and then he puts his feet down. Amelia hangs out on the stairs or she perches on my outstretched arm and glides along happily.

Suddenly, Cole called to Amelia, "Do you want me to teach you how to swim?" And Amelia replied in her Amelia-type way, "Sure!"

So Amelia and I sat on the steps and Cole demonstrated all the types of swimming he'd learned. First there was the front glide. The back glide (apparently, the arms are different, I guess I wouldn't pass Swim Kids 3). And then the Bear Glide. It was obvious Cole was holding his fingers in the shape of a claw as he did this, which made me giggle because I'm pretty sure that's not technically very aerodynamic. Following this was the Lion Glide and then the Falcon Glide. Then the Watermelon Glide, which looked a lot like drowning. I stood close my son and smiled reassuringly at the Life Guard so she would know that I-got-this.

After the presentation of all the glides, I said to Cole, "Wow! Your teachers are VERY creative to find all these neat names for the glides." (I know she takes them on imaginary expeditions through jungles and to the Arctic - this seems very in-keeping with those themes).

But Cole shook his head, "Oh, this isn't what my teacher calls them. I'm just trying to make it interesting for Amelia!"

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Un-Cookie #12: Apple Pies

I'm sure it will not escape your notice that apple pies are not cookies.
I wanted to end the 12 cookies of Christmas on a nostalgic note, but I had run out of steam by today (Christmas Eve) and didn't want to mull through the motions of a meaningless kind of easy cookie just to make it to 12. Instead, I thought I'd share a tradition in our family - baking apple pies from scratch.

I was assigned to bring dessert to the Loftus Family Dinner.
And although I don't make nearly as good an apple pie as my mother does, I get better every time I try. Incidentally, my own mother didn't learn to bake pies until she came to Canada, married my father, and learned from his mother. My grandma's apple pies were famous before my mother's, and although I have no illusions about my pies becoming as famous as my mother's or grandmother's, I do enjoy carrying on the tradition.

I used the Joy of Cooking as a guideline. Here are a few key points.

#1: Use tart apples that will hold their shape. I used Granny Smith. My mother swears the key to her apple pies were the wild apples she scavenged from the trees in the vacant properties near our house.

#2: Read the chapter introduction in the Joy of Cooking on Making Fruit Pies. I am the opposite of a perfectionist and I love to cut corners and I often skim instead of reading. When I finally took the time to read the blurb about making fruit pies in the Joy of Cooking, I had a lot of Ah ha! moments and my pie-making game got upped instantly.

#3: Add butter chunks to the pie filling before you put the "lid" on the pie.

#4: Brush the top with milk and sprinkle with sugar before cutting the vents in the upper crust.

#5: Bake with people you love. And don't be afraid to sacrifice a bit of dough and apples for the sake of a budding baker's education.

Merry Christmas!!!

Cookie #11: Peanut Butter Blossoms

 Peanut Butter Blossoms ended up being a great cooperative task, which kept my kids from fighting with each other for about five minutes while they unwrapped the chocolate kisses.
Peanut Butter Blossoms
from Better Homes and Gardens: New Cookbook
1/2 c. shortening
1/2 c. peanut butter
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 egg
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1 3/4 c. flour
I mixed all the wet ingredients in a bowl, then added in the dry ingredients.
I rolled out balls of dough on a cookie sheet and cooked them for 12 minutes at 350 F.
Then, when they came out of the oven, I immediately pressed the unwrapped chocolate kisses into their centres.
If you leave the cookies on the cookie sheet, the chocolate will melt.
As soon as you press the chocolate kisses into the centres, you need to use a lifter and move them to a cooling rack.

Merry Baking!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Cookie #10: Skor Bars

Hello! It's Mary! I'm contributing one little recipe to Melissa's crazy baking frenzy. These are one of my favourite treats over the holiday season. I baked them up (with some lemon bars) for my co-workers. Yum.



3/4 cup butter
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 can (300 ml) sweetened condensed milk
2 Tbsp butter
1 pkg (300 g) milk chocolate chips
1 pkg (225 g) toffee bits (aka skor bits)


Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 13"x9" cake pan and line with parchment paper overlapping two sides for easy removal.

Cream first three ingredients and press evenly in prepared pan.

Bake in preheated overn for 20 to 25 minutes or until light golden. Cool on wire rack while preparing filling.

Heat sweetened condensed milk and 2 Tbsp butter in heavy medium saucepan, stirring constantly over medium heat for five to ten minutes or until thickened. Spread over baked base. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes longer or until golden.

Sprinkle milk chocolate chips evenly over top. Bake two minutes more or until chocolate is shiny and soft. Remove from oven. Spread chocolate evenly. Sprinkle toffee bits on top, pressing lightly into chocolate. Cool completely. If necessary, chill just to set chocolate before cutting into bars. Store at room temperature.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Cookie #9: Lemon Bars

Lemon Bars
Admittedly, this is not a very good picture.
I love baking, but after spending all weekend shovelling and fighting colds and cleaning up toddler sharts, you're lucky to get ANY snapshots, frankly, of the cookie countdown. In fact, I think I deserve a very special cookie-crusted-crown for even taking on an extra few batches and, even better, blogging something.
That being said, I will simply link you up to a recipe.
This is not the one I used. Yet, it claims to be the best.
 I guarantee, if you're any kind of a cook, you have a cookbook in your cupboard right now with a recipe for lemon bars. It could be the Joy of Cooking or one of those spiral-bound leaflets sold by churches with a compilation of all the time-tested recipes of the ladies of the congregation. I took my recipe for my very first cookbook. I still have it. It is my Better Homes and Gardens book. It's spiral bound and it's got tabs to separate the cookies from the cakes from the salads from the poultry recipes. And it's now also got a million folded up pieces of paper with scribbled recipes that I come to again and again. Like Uncle Kevin's Jalapeno Potato Salad and Auntie Liz's Caesar Salad and Hilary's Chickpea Salad and Mom's Amazing Banana Muffins.
Anyway, take whatever lemon bar recipe you have on hand, but just be sure you use real lemons and real lemon zest. I usually don't go that extra mile, but this year I did and it was like eating lemon meringue pie. It was the lemoniest of lemons.
Happy Baking!

Cookie #8: Saltine Toffee (a.k.a. cookie crack)

This is a dangerous, dangerous substance to have in your house. But eating it is probably akin to looking squarely into the face of heaven. It's divinity for the mouth. If you make it, have a plan for getting it out of the house once you've had a reasonable number of pieces, because I can't be held responsible for the amount that you might otherwise eat.
Saltine Toffee 
1 1/2 sleeves of soda crackers with salted tops
1/2 c. butter
1 c. brown sugar
approximately 2 c. of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray it with cooking spray. Then cover the bottom of the baking sheet with soda crackers, leaving no spaces between them.
3. In a small saucepan, heat the butter and brown sugar on medium high until it reaches a rolling boil. Pour it over the soda crackers.
4. Bake in oven for 5 minutes.
5. Let cool 1 minute, then sprinkle the top with chocolate chips. These are supposed to melt, but mine didn't. So I put the whole thing back into a warm oven for a minute, then used a spatula to spread the chocolate overtop of the toffee.
6. Let cool to room temperature. Then refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
7. Break with your hands into pieces.
8. Store in an airtight container for up to a week. (As IF!!!!)
and Carolyn (my cookie guru) who first tainted my soul with cookie crack.

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