Sunday, January 26, 2014

Dilly Mashed Potatoes

Number One son gave me a cookbook for Christmas that is fast becoming one of my favourites. Malcolm is a great cook and he showed me the recipes he loves best - see all those post-it tabs along the top, those are his favourites.   All the recipes are organized by season using seasonally-available ingredients.  I love this!  

The fruit and vegetables used each season (starting with spring) in the Simply in Season cookbook

I remember as a child, we only ate fruit and vegetables that were available in season or could be stored, and fresh produce was supplemented with canned and frozen fruit and veggies.  In winter the fresh vegetables were carrots, cabbage, beets, potatoes, rutabagas, parsnips, brussel sprouts, and onions.  Did I miss any?  Those are the ones I remember appearing regularly.  Now you can go into a grocery store at any time of the year and find almost anything your little heart desires - even perishable produce, like fresh blueberries or asparagus.  

Not that I want to go back to the restricted diet of yore, but it does make sense to, as much as possible, eat produce that is grown locally and harvested in that season.  It is definitely better for the environment not to transport food from half way around the world.  I'm also concerned about the amount of pesticides and use of contaminated water in some of countries so I am choosy about where I buy my fruit and veggies from. 

Buying locally and in season, also results in better quality food, both in terms of nutrients and flavour.  Also when you haven't had certain fruit or vegetable for the better part of a year, the turn of one season to the next is greeted with much enthusiasm.   Who isn't thrilled when strawberry and asparagus season finally comes round in the spring or when the first crunchy apples appear in the fall.

I'm happy to have a little more variety than back in the day, but I do try and limit my purchases of produce that have come from far away and I attempt to buy more locally-grown produce when possible.

Simply in Season helps you make the best of seasonal foods with a variety of tasty recipes.  The cookbook is put out by the Mennonite Central Committee, who also published the More-with-Less cookbook.  Mennonites are famous for their down home cooking style and this cookbook is no exception.

My son said the Dilly Mashed Potatoes (page 263) are their favourite way to make mashed potatoes now, so I had to give the recipe a try.  Fortunately I already had all the ingredients on hand and they were all storage vegetables (except the green onions in the original recipe, but I didn't use them).

Here is the recipe with my modifications:

5 large potatoes, peeled and diced
4 large carrots, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion
1 1/2 tablespoon fresh dill or 1 teaspoon dried dill
1/2 cup plain yogurt or sour cream
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, grated (optional)

1.  Boil the potatoes and carrots until soft.  Drain, and mash.
2.  Melt butter in a frying pan and cook the onions until they are translucent (about 10 minutes).  Add the dill in the last few minutes and continue to cook.
3.  Add the onions and dill to the mashed potatoes and carrots.
4.  Stir the sour cream/yogurt and salt and pepper into the mashed potatoes.  Mix well and transfer to a greased 2.5 L casserole dish.  Add grated cheese on top if desired.
5.  Bake uncovered for 30 minutes at 350F.  May be frozen before baking - to reheat from frozen, bake 1 hour covered, then 20 minutes uncovered.

I'm looking forward to trying some more recipes from this cookbook.  Focaccia (page 90) here I come!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

7 in 14

Is it too late for New Year's resolutions?  And by resolutions I really mean goals.  I love taking stock of where things are and deciding on some projects and plans for the upcoming year.  It keeps me focused, motivates me to get things done, and helps me reset my priorities.  I feel like I'm only just now coming up for air and getting my brain organized so, late or not, here are my goals for 2014.  I'm keeping it simple this year and only setting myself seven goals.  

1.  Keep the stairs clear of clutter.  See what I mean about keeping the goals simple.  I think this should be doable.  I have such a bad habit of putting things that need to go up or down on the stairs.  Not only is it a tripping hazard, but boy does it look messy when you come in the front door as that is the first thing you see.  I've decided that climbing the stairs to take each item to where it belongs should be part of my exercise regime. I actually started this goal back at the beginning of January and I have kept it up for three whole weeks.  Yay me!

Vineet Kaur

2.  Bake bread.  I've wanted to bake bread for years and never had the time, so why not do it this year.  My husband questioned the logic of waiting until all our hungry children were gone before finally taking the plunge and baking bread.  Yep, we will just have to suffer through all those calories and carbs.  Oh, and I don't mean that I want to bake all the bread we eat this year - no no no - just one loaf ... a good loaf!  I will be happy to say I've done it and then bake the occasional loaf when I feel like it.

3.  Paint a large-size picture.  I started painting last summer and have completed quite a few little paintings over the fall and early winter, but now I would like to try a big canvas - something say 2x3 feet in size.  I want to see how it feels to paint a large surface.

4.  Go on a trip.  I haven't been away to on an extended trip to a place unknown for the past two summers, so I'm really keen to go away this year.  I find exploring new places rejuvenates me.  I have in mind to go to Ireland, but we shall see.  If not Ireland, then some place else I haven't been before.

National Geographic

5.  Paint the dining chairs navy.  I painted the bankers chair in the adjoining family room the perfect shade of blue  (see post hereand I want to use the rest of the paint on the dining chairs.  Right now they are black and are just crying out to be painted the most divine shade of blue.  Not only will they look hip and cool since navy is the new black, but they will also look great with the gray dining table legs.

6.  Make a light box for indoor photography. I struggle with taking photos of food and I know that lighting, especially in the dark winter months, is a problem.  By the time the food is cooked for dinner it is dark and I am usually rushing around trying to get a few shots so we can sit down and eat.  I need to stream-line my photo-taking process and improve the lighting.

7.  Learn to use my camera.  (Hang my head in shame)  This goal has been on my list for about three years now. I even have a new camera and never learned to properly use the old one. Anyway it is still something I need to do.  I'm going to watch the DVD that came with the camera and learn to take photos off the auto setting.

That doesn't look too daunting does it?  I like looking back at the end of the year and seeing what things get done and what don't.  Only time will tell if I get all seven accomplished.  Are you a goal setter?  Did you make a list this year?  I would love to know what kinds of things you included.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

How to Survive a Long Cold Winter

This has been a long cold, icy, snowy winter.  I'm not sure if we have broken any records yet, but it wouldn't surprise me if we do given that it is only January and we have seen lots of winter action so far.  Anyone else finding it a long winter?

Last weekend my mother and I wanted to do something together that wasn't shopping.  The temperatures were just above freezing and it was raining so everything was a melty watery mess which ruled out any outdoor activities.  Instead we decided to go to the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington and boy was it tonic for the soul.  It may not seem to be the place to go given that the acres of gardens are under ice and snow, but their greenhouses are still open and were wonderful.

They still had their poinsettias on display in one of the rooms.  I loved all the different shades of red and pink and cream and even the poor spotty ones that look like a mistake.

Here's what the gardening staff say about caring for your poinsettia year round.

The main greenhouses had Jade plants in bloom.  We have had Jade plants for years and never once seen a flower on them.  The blossoms are tiny white clusters of very fragrant flowers.  I loved how they looked against the blue tiles.

The greenhouse showcased Mediterranean plants from around the world and was divided up by region.  It's obvious that Canada was shortchanged when they were drawing up the borders as we somehow missed out on getting any Mediterranean regions - pity because I love the climate and the plants.

Is this a camellia?  It was so pretty - like a cross between a rose and a peony.

There were two types of Bird-of-Paradise - one gigantic (which you can see with my Mom posing as scale - she loves when I use her like that) and the other more common one below that.

You may not have a botanical gardens near you, but most localities have greenhouses that you can visit. It is well worth it to see something green and leafy and blooming at this time of year.

And if you don't want to go to the local greenhouse then you could always visit Paris like Kate is doing right now.  They are having a warm winter this year and there are actually trees in blossom.  Crazy, right?

What do you do to make it through winter?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Cream of Onion and Green Pea Soup


Last weekend I tried out our new stick blender that I got for Christmas from my Mom.  I've been keen to have one of these kitchen gadgets for ages so I could make cream soups, so naturally that was the first thing I made with it.

I found the recipe in my Canadian Living cookbook and then made many changes to it so I had my own unique soup recipe and boy was it good.  I loved it with the sour cream and chopped boiled egg garnish - prettiness and protein all in one.

Here's the recipe in case you want to give it a try (and so I can find it again):

INGREDIENTS (serves 4)
3 onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
Oil for cooking
2 cups frozen peas
2 cups chicken stock (or 2 cups water with 2 teaspoons chicken bouillon)
2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 cup skim milk
salt and pepper
1/2 cup sour cream or plain yogurt
3 chopped boiled eggs

1. Cook onions for 15 minutes until translucent and soft.  Add garlic in last 2-3 minutes of cooking time.
2. Add frozen peas, stock, and lemon juice and cook for another 5 minutes.
3. Blend in batches until smooth and return to the saucepan.
5.  Add the milk and cook just until heated through. 
6.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
7.  Garnish with sour cream and chopped eggs.

I've always liked soups, but now that I have a stick blender I'm excited to try even more recipes. Anyone have a creamed soup recipe they love?  What else do you use your stick blender for?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Winter Mantel and Sideboard

I've been doing a lot of helping kids pack recently.  Well not really pack - they are old enough to do that for themselves, but more discuss what to take and what not to forget. 

William is back in Winnipeg and started classes again yesterday.  Kate is off to the University of Bath in the United Kingdom for a term, but is first going to Paris for a couple of weeks, then to Amsterdam for a few days and finally to London for a few days.  She also hopes to visit Spain over the Easter break.  There was much deliberation over what clothes to take that would work for winter, spring, and even summery weather.  She took a small backpack for her computer and books and a wheeling bag that was half filled with her sleeping bag and the rest with her clothes.  She actually had room to spare which was the goal as she will want to bring things back with her.   

I decided to draw Kate's packing list as a good sketching exercise and a little reminder in years to come of what she took.  

The last few days have been wickedly cold and there was some snow yesterday which caused Kate's flight to be delayed by 12 hours resulting in her missing the connecting train from London to Paris.  Sigh.  I will be glad when we hear that she has finally arrived in Paris.

With all the Christmas decorations down, it was time to decorate the mantel and sideboard for winter. 

I went with simple and natural for the mantel this year.  I kept the paper star and the foil birds I made before Christmas and added some pottery jugs, candles, a few things we have collected from over the years from various walks, and a plant.  The plant was growing in our front garden all summer and I couldn't bear for it to be killed by the frost so I dug it up in the fall and put it in the brown pot and it has thrived (or at least not died and that counts for something).  I like all the soft browns and grays and silvers - they are very restful.

The sideboard is a little brighter than the mantel since I kept the red and orange snowflake runner as the base.  It seemed natural then to decorate with golds, bronzes, oranges and reds.  We still have a few seasonal plants around so they got added to the sideboard along with the carved oranges.  I kept the bronze candlesticks and pine cones along the back.  I love the look of the sideboard with the candles lit during dinner.

And last, but not least, I want to thank all of you for your kind words regarding my father.  I am just now getting myself in gear and replying to you, but I want you to know that your support has meant a lot to me.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year

It's the start of a new year.  It's my blog anniversary.  It's definitely a good day to consider some wise words to live by.  I encourage you all to savour the moments that we are given ... and I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for stopping by and spending some of those moments here with me on my blog.  

Blogging has been a wonderful addition to my life.  I love how it has helped me become more creative. I love how it has encouraged me to get things done.  I love all the people I have met through blogging.  And I love how blogging has helped me pay attention to and appreciate the seasons, the moments, the little things we do to make life fun and interesting and unique.  Here's to more of that in 2014!