September 30, 2013

the perfect sunday / Brueckner Rhododendron Gardens

There's nothing better than lazing in bed until 2 p.m., especially when coffee and quiche are involved. So that's just how Bobby, Maple and I spent this past Sunday. 

When we finally peeled ourselves out of bed in the afternoon, we packed my Yankees lunchbox with sandwiches and cookies, dressed Maple in her going-out hoodie and drove to Port Credit. 


We didn't have an exact destination in mind; we just happened to end up at the Brueckner Rhododendron Gardens after driving by and thinking it looked like a nice place to have a picnic.

The sky was overcast and there was a chill in the air - perfect weather to have lunch along the lake.




Port Credit holds a special place in my heart. When Bobby brought me to Ontario for the first time - a couple of years before we moved here - one of our stops was this lakeside village. I fell in love with its picturesque, nostalgic charm.  



Maybe it's because I was born in the seaside village of Port Jefferson that I feel so at home here? A subconscious connection, perhaps?




For whatever reason, Bobby and I both really like spending time here. Even though it's still technically in Mississauga, we are considering a move to Port Credit instead of Toronto. 

Maybe what we're really looking for is a simpler, quieter life.


spoiled dog & a recipe: rosemary garlic potato wedges

The leaves have been changing and falling but it's still warm outside. It stays in the 70s during the day and only gets cool at night, which I suppose is when the leaves are changing.

It's a little disappointing since autumn in Ontario is the big thing I've been looking forward to since I moved to Canada, and I feel like it's happening while I'm sleeping.

In doggy news, Maple has developed a funny habit of sleeping on any clothing we may leave on the bed. Sometimes she'll seek out a single sock, other times the full load of colors fresh from the dryer.

It's very cute but kind of a pain when we need to fold and put the laundry away.


She's also taken to sitting on the couch with us while we eat. 

When we first got Maple we tried to train her to keep her distance while we ate but then we'd turn around and she'd be sandwiched behind one of us on the couch. Most of the time we don't hear or see her jump up; she's so light and quiet that she just appears, like the Cheshire cat.

We've officially given up trying to train this out of her. She seems less interested in eating our food and more inclined to just be near us. We know it probably goes against everything written in doggy training books but she's harmless. 

And it's hard to say no to that face.



It's been a while since I've posted a recipe; weeks in fact. It's not that I haven't been cooking but that I've been too tired to photograph any of it. Food photography can be a real pain when you're trying to get dinner on the table by a certain time.

But I do like documenting my recipes on this blog because it's an easy way to round them all up in one place. I don't know how many Sunday mornings I've pulled up my zucchini quiche blog post on my phone. I like to keep the phone on the kitchen island and refer to it like a cookbook.

Today I'm sharing my recipe for rosemary garlic potato wedges. It's a simple but wholesome alternative to frozen French fries - much more satisfying and gourmet-tasting.


Rosemary Garlic Potato Wedges

2 large baking potatoes, unpeeled
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary leaves or 1/4 teaspoon dried
1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese  

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. 

Scrub the potatoes, then cut them in half lengthwise. Cut each half in thirds lengthwise. There should be 6 wedges from each potato. 

In a large mixing bowl, toss the potatoes and all ingredients except for the parmesan cheese until evenly coated. Place the potatoes on a baking sheet in a single layer. Each wedge should be laying flat.

Bake for about 30 minutes, turning after 20 minutes. They should be crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. Allow to cool for a few moments before serving, then sprinkle with parmesan cheese and salt to taste.

September 29, 2013

etobicoke

Bobby and I recently spent an afternoon in Etobicoke, a neighborhood just west of Toronto that we're considering moving to this winter.



It's an older neighborhood, originally settled in the late 1700s by Europeans whose presence is still felt there.



The neighborhood is a good compromise between city and suburban life. There are some beautiful tudor houses and tree-lined streets decorated with picture-perfect families walking their chocolate labs.

But there are also plenty of restaurants, boutiques and gritty brick buildings lining the main drag of Lakeshore Boulevard. And it's only a 10-minute subway ride to downtown Toronto. Best of both worlds.



We had lunch at a sandwich shop, then drove up and down Lakeshore like a couple of undercover cops, checking out the locals and sizing up the neighborhood.


We meandered down some beautiful, hilly side streets along the waterfront and tried to imagine what it'd be like to live there. (I would've taken photos of all this loveliness but I didn't feel right photographing other peoples' homes.)

We passed a house with a pumpkin perched on the front porch steps. Yellow leaves flitted off the trees in the breeze.

I thought about how sweet it would be to live in a neighborhood where children line up for Halloween candy at your door. That doesn't happen in high rise apartment buildings.

I'm not sure if it'll be in Etobicoke, Mimico, north, south, east or west Toronto...  but I feel like we're getting closer to finding whatever it is we're looking for.

September 26, 2013

hmmph

I feel down today. There's no reason why. Sometimes you just wake up feeling hhmph.

Maple seems to be feeling it too. She's been moping around all day. Maybe she's projecting her sadness onto me. That's right - the dog's to blame.

I decided that the only way for me to feel better was to make Toll House cookies. I always make sure I have all the necessary ingredients to make chocolate chip cookies or fudge brownies at any given moment. You never know when the mean reds might strike.


Bobby's mom is coming to visit us in a couple of weeks for Canadian Thanksgiving. This will be her first time traveling to us since we moved to Canada so we're working together to spruce up the apartment and tie together some loose ends that have been hanging since we moved in.

We're just now getting around to hanging artwork and installing under-cabinet lighting which has been sitting in its original package on a shelf in the kitchen for the past four months.

Better late than never?

We went to IKEA the other day and looked at some things we've been talking about buying all year, like this shoe cabinet for our foyer:

But with only three months left on our lease, we agreed that it doesn't make much sense to buy something new that may not fit in our next home.

We did end up getting some fancy ass drinking glasses that make us feel much more grown up than we really are, a roasting pan and various kitchen gadgets.

I must say, I'm in love with my new veggie peeler. The blade is so sharp and it gives such a smooth peel that I danced a jig while peeling a zucchini today. It really is the small stuff that makes me happy.




Tonight I'm going to pull our Halloween decorations out of storage (aka a giant Tupperware container on the patio). Then I have to drive downtown to pick up something I left at a friend's house. Then I'm coming home to eat more cookies watch TV and relax with my little family.



September 21, 2013

pumpkin mush

Poor little Maple. Her stomach's been on the fritz for weeks.

We took her to the vet who thought it was viral, something she picked up from contact with another dog. I thought it could be due to the stress of Bobby being away for a couple of weeks. She really does love her daddy and is sad when he travels. Could that be what's upsetting her stomach?


But it'd been about three weeks and although she regained control of her bowels and Bobby was back home, something was still off. I won't get into details but things just didn't look right when she went to the bathroom.

I finally decided to put on my doggy detective hat and hop onto some online forums. I learned that some dogs simply have weak stomachs. Even if they appear to be fine, a lot of dogs (especially smaller ones) are full of anxiety and nerves.

Maybe the world is just too big and scary for them.

Admittedly, the canned dog food we were giving Maple wasn't the greatest quality. I used to feed Parker cans of Pedigree with no problem but the mystery mush may be too much for Maple's little body to process.

She ain't no iron-bellied hound, that's for sure.

So I decided to create a food for her that is gentle on the stomach to see if that solved the poop problem. I read through some recipes for homemade dog food and had to laugh at how seriously some people take it.

Probiotic powders? Fish oil capsules broken over the food? Not for us. I love my dog but let's keep it within reason. She's already the best-dressed, best-slept member of this household. do we really need to add 'best-fed' to that list?

I eventually put the reasonable parts of some recipes together and created something I've dubbed Pumpkin Mush. Maple scarfed this down like I'd never seen before. She licked the bowl clean, then licked the floor, then licked around her water bowl for crumbs before looking up at me expectantly, wanting more.
Note the orange pumpkin stain around her mouth.
Yeah, that isn't coming out.
Here's the recipe:

1 pound lean ground beef
15-oz can pumpkin puree
1 cup carrots, cooked and chopped into bite-size pieces
2 cups long-grain white rice

I cooked the beef and the rice separately (no salt/seasoning; doggies don't need additives!) and then combined them in a large bowl. To that I added the pumpkin puree and cooked carrots. I mixed it all together and was left with this:


I measured out 3/4 cup servings into zippy bags and now have enough to feed Maple for a week. One baggy can be reheated in the microwave for 25 seconds (it won't melt) and then the contents can be dumped straight into Maple's food dish. So simple!


Yes, it's pricier than buying Pedigree but last night she ate her first bowl of Pumpkin Mush and this morning made her first solid poop in 3 weeks! It worked literally overnight.

I'm so pleased with this that I may look into making from-scratch dog biscuits next. What can I say, I've got a pampered pup.

But no fish oil capsules for her. Got to draw the line somewhere.

September 18, 2013

vintage show




I rented a booth at a vintage show in Toronto on Sunday, sharing the 10x10 space with a friend. It turned out to be a really great experience.

Not only did I succeed in getting rid of a couple of boxes of items I'd been holding onto all year, but I got to meet so many cool people. The residents of the Leslieville neighborhood are hands-down the friendliest people I've met in Canada so far.

It was difficult getting setup with Maple there; she refused to stay on her blanket under the table so she alternated between sleeping in my arms and sleeping on a chair I was trying to sell. 

I thought it was important to bring her out to socialize. 

But she wasn't feeling all that social.


All in all I'm really happy with the experience and am very much looking forward to next month's show, should my in-the-air schedule allow me to attend.

I drove home in the rain, utterly exhausted and ready for an evening of soaking my toesies in my foot spa and eating a chocolate bar.

But I noticed something on the balcony. My first thought was that it was an injured bird, but then I thought, "No, that's crazy, it must be some trash that blew here in the wind."

Turns out it was a little bird but he wasn't just injured; he had passed away. His poor little body was laying there in the drizzle, his feathers collecting raindrops.

It was so sad.

I was afraid to move him in case he was still alive/in the process of dying so I left him out there for a couple of hours hoping he'd come to and fly away.

But he didn't.

I searched for the most civilized thing to put him in before deciding on a paper bag from Whole Foods. I circled him a few times trying to gather the courage to pick him up. I wrapped two plastic baggies and a paper towel around my hand (can't be too safe... remember the avian flu epidemic?) and in a fit of shrieks and squeals, scooted him into the paper bag.

I was surprised by how light he was - he felt like he didn't weigh more than a few ounces. That made me feel even sadder for some reason. I walked him to the trash chute in the hall, said goodbye and that I was sorry he had to die and dropped the bag down the hole.


 Poor little guy.

September 13, 2013

adieu to summer

After a few suddenly hot and muggy days, Mississauga woke up to a windy 50 degrees this morning. It's grey and cloudy, just like I remember autumn on Long Island. Acorns are falling from trees and I spied my neighbor heading outside with her winter coat on. 


My first summer in Canada has drawn to a close. It was a difficult period of my life as I sat on my hands, feeling helpless and hopeless about my immigration status. Money was tighter than ever and tempers sometimes got the better of us... but I choose to believe that there is always some good in the midst of hard times. 


And so, as I bid a hasty adieu to summer, I will still fondly file away a handful of happy memories:

the fields of wildflowers,

evening barbecues,

Maple bounding down the hiking trail with Bobby. 


Here's to a happy and peaceful autumn.



September 11, 2013

goodbye summer and a recipe: roasted pear & apple sauce

The last two days have been unseasonably warm. The temperature went from the high 60s to mid 90s quite literally overnight. It feels like summer's last gasp for air before going gently into that good night.

I spotted my first changing leaf today. It felt a little out of place since it was about 85 degrees when I took this photo, but the little red leaf seems to be nature's way of telling the warm weather to go away.


Unlike so many Canadians who love summer and are sad to see it go, I'm thrilled because I kind of hate it. Growing up in southwest Florida amidst hurricanes, mosquitoes and 100+ degree heat every day will do that to a girl.

In other news, I decided to start Weight Watchers today. After a candid conversation about dieting with a friend the other evening, I realized how unhappy I am with the weight I've gained since moving to Canada. Left to my own devices, I'd eat banana bread every single day and tell myself it's healthy because it has fruit.

(Today I actually had a banana without the added sugar, flour and cream. Banana bread, minus the bread. It was a big moment for me.)

I'm not the sort of person to go to meetings, weigh-in and discuss my weight loss journey. I'm just not that social. So I'll keep a food diary and track my points there (thank goodness for fatsecret.com; it does most of the work for me). I did this 3 or 4 years ago when I was living in Orlando and I lost 15 pounds. My goal this time is 20 pounds by Christmas.

I think I can do it. I just have to stop trying new recipes!


And speaking of new recipes... the other night I made some roasted pear & apple sauce, proving that I am a master at turning perfectly fine, healthy fruit into something that will sit on the hips for many months to come.

Note to self: pears and apples = yes. Butter and brown sugar = the enemy.

But damn was it good with that pork loin.


Roasted Pear & Apple Sauce

juice and zest of 1 navel orange
2 pounds red apples
2 pounds Bosc pears
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 Tablespoons butter
3/4 tsp. cinnamon

Peel, core and quarter the apples and pears. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and toss until the fruit is fully coated in juice.

Bake in a covered casserole dish for 1.5 hours at 350 degrees. Mash with a potato masher or mix with a whisk until the fruit breaks down into small chunks. Can be served warm, at room temp or cold from the fridge. This will make enough to fill a couple of mason jars.


September 9, 2013

from clueless to foodie & a recipe: maple cinnamon granola

I credit Bobby with my passion for cooking. Before I met him I was dating men (okay, man-children at best) whose entire culinary educations lived and died with Hamburger Helper. 

When I was living in New York I dated a guy who once brought Lucky Charms and milk to my dorm room, poured me a bowl, and told me it was his "speciality." Needless to say, we never saw each other again.

I actually did date a professional chef in Orlando but he was more interested in checking out his own reflection in the oven door while his osso buco braised than getting to know anything about me. I couldn't overlook such vanity.

Besides, he was a Republican. It never would have worked.


Once I met Bobby, I got the kick in the ass I needed to actually try to cook something myself rather than wait for someone else to cook for me. He was 18 years my senior and regaled me with stories of past dinner parties he'd thrown and travels to some of the farthest corners of the world. 

I was completely intimidated and desperate for him to see me as worldly and experienced too. What would he think of me once he found out that I'd never eaten a mushroom or a sweet potato before? How embarrassing.

I have to laugh at some of the things I fed him when we first met. I remember cooking a hamburger to death on the stovetop, sticking it inside a pita and calling it Greek food. 

Like a gentleman he ate all the crap I fed him without a complaint, but now we both laugh about how clueless I was.


It's because of him that I was motivated to learn how to really cook - to study food programs on TV and read through cookbooks like novels. It wasn't anything he said or did; just his presence made me want to appear grown-up and self-sufficient, and somehow in my mind that meant that I needed to learn how to cook. How very 1950s of me? 

None of this has anything to do with granola per se, except that I could never have fathomed making anything from scratch six years ago. Now I know that toasting oats and honey is a pretty basic thing to do in the kitchen, but just the idea of making granola would have sounded daunting back then. I would have quit before I even began.

I was thinking about this while preparing this recipe today, thinking about how far I've come and how valuable that sense of intimidation ended up being. It pushed me to not only be a better cook but, I think, a more enlightened person. 

So here is my low-fat granola recipe, which I dedicate to Bobby, without whom I would probably not even know how to turn the oven on.


Maple Cinnamon Granola

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (not instant or quick-cooking)
1 cup raisins
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat oven to 275 degrees F.

Combine all ingredients except the raisins in a bowl and mix until the honey and syrup are distributed evenly. (The raisins will burn in the oven so they should be added after the oats are done cooking.)

Spread the oats onto a greased cookie sheet in an even layer. Cook for one hour, stirring twice throughout. Once it's done and out of the oven, add your raisins. The granola will be crunchy and ready to eat straight from the oven.

Store in an airtight container and enjoy!


home cooking & a recipe: simple chicken stock

 

The past few days have been all about cooking. Last night was wild salmon, rice and roasted vegetables. Today I'm going to make granola (to mix with yogurt and strawberries for breakfast) and fresh applesauce (to go with a pork roast tonight).

And on Saturday I made the aforementioned chicken pot pie, an all-day affair that left my feet swollen from standing in the kitchen for so long, but which also left the apartment smelling amazing. It was the first really chilly day of the season (hooray!), the rain was coming down for hours and I was listening to a local classical station on the radio. Our little loft felt cozy and I was relaxed. It was definitely therapy I needed.

After I roasted the chicken for the pie, I used the carcass to make a stock. It was my first time making stock since I always forget to keep the carcass and bones, thoughtlessly tossing them in the trash only to later have an oh-crap-I-could've-used-that! moment.

For some reason this time a lightbulb went off in my head and I used the carcass and some seasonings I already had on hand to simmer a very basic but delicious stock.


I Googled a few recipes but they all called for 3 or 4 chickens. I only had one so I just kind of did my own thing. It required basically 1 minute of prep, then simmered on its own for a couple of hours... and voila: a whole quart of chicken stock!

This stuff costs, like, $6 a box at Whole Foods and that's obviously not as fresh as making it in your own kitchen. Here's the recipe I came up with:

Simple Chicken Stock

1 chicken carcass and any bones from the legs/wings/etc
1 large onion, halved
2 dried bay leaves
about a dozen whole peppercorns
1 - 2 teaspoons kosher salt
water


Place all the ingredients in a pot. It should be just big enough so that everything fits snugly - you don't need a giant soup pot if it's just the one carcass.

Add enough water to cover everything, plus about one inch. Bring to a boil and then skim any foam from the top. Lower the heat and let simmer for at least two hours. Add salt to taste

You could also add a carrot and/or celery for a richer flavor, I just didn't have these on hand at the time. Even without them, this stock is so much fresher than the stuff in a box at the supermarket!


September 8, 2013

the week's end

This turned out to be quite the week. With Bobby away in Montreal for five days, it was up to Maple and me to rule the roost. I'll take the fact that we're both still alive as a sign that we did okay.

Poor Maple was sick for most of the week.


Sparing the gruesome details, she lost control of her faculties and had to be squeezed in as an emergency at the vet's office. Bobby took the car to Montreal so I had to take a 20-minute cab ride across town to the vet.

You don't know the meaning of nail-biting until you've taken a speeding cab with a dog that's liable to crap herself at any moment. I was eyeing the driver's newspaper the entire ride, ready at a second's notice to fold it like origami into a makeshift diaper.

Thankfully, that wasn't necessary.

I spent much of the week washing rugs and sheets... and alternately administering caramel-flavored goop via a syringe and pills that I hid in peanut butter. (Skippy solves all).

After a couple of days of medicine, she started to seem like her old self. We took a nice, long walk in the rain yesterday and she had fun posing for photos.


Bobby came home from Montreal yesterday after a long week of consoling his mom and handling the unsavory bureaucratic part of death that people rarely think about - claiming the body, taking names off bank accounts and dealing with the will. He spoke very little about it during our phone calls but I have no doubt it was an emotionally draining five days.

I figured if ever there was a need for homemade chicken pot pie, it's now.


So I roasted a whole chicken that I'd stuffed with carrots and onions, and made a nice, comforting meal for Bobby to come home to.


The three of us hung out on the couch all night, watching Mamma Mia and feeling super full from dinner. The movie was meh but it didn't matter. Bobby was home and Maple was feeling better. In my eyes, it was the perfect end to a not-so-perfect week.




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