Updates and a DIY

First the good news:
D's cousin is this close to taking over the world (she is number 9).  She is a close friend of mine and I am over the moon with all of the accolades that she is receiving.  I am also a little intimidated and hoping against hope that she takes care of me in my old age.  Very, very proud.

Next the 'not as good' news:
I am not a DIY person.
I typically do not enjoy 'Doing It Yourself'.
I am still not sure what prompted me to take on this project aside from saving money and not knowing anyone who might be stupid enough to do it for me.
I also have a sore throat.
I have not cooked much but just enough to keep everyone alive.  This is still our kitchen...

Please note the big holes where normally the solid surface of a counter top would be.  This also means that we have no sink or drain in which to wash dishes.  Apparently dishes chores are off once the location of the sink changes.
I have distracted myself by stripping, scraping and sanding two sets of stair rails.

This is one of those stair rails
This is what it looks like after one coat of stain.  I am scared and not quite sure what to do next.

In other news, we have raspberries.  This is a big deal for us because the last two years have produced nothing even close to 'bowls full' of raspberries. We are happy.


Summer updates:

This daisy is in my back yard.  It is beautiful.  There are bugs.

This is pretty much what life is looking like here.  Worst part - no breakfast.  I can deal with no food pretty much any other time of day except breakfast.  Day two of finding breakfast elsewhere and I'm a bear... a bear in March.  Kids think that muffins and hot chocolate for breakfast is cool.  They are not having any trouble adjusting.

It's our 'Renovate all the things' project.

Kitchen edition:

Front Hall edition:

Deck and Balcony edition:  No picture available yet because it doesn't start until next week.

Kid #1 is going into high school in approximately 1 1/2 months.  I see her for probably no more than 20 minutes a day between her friends and her bedroom (and what I can only assume is copious amounts of netflix and tumblr)

We have no vacation plans... none... not even one plan.

I have decided to try my hand at making my own pepper sauce.  The bones seem easy but I imagine that it will take a little tweaking to get the recipe to my taste.  At least the basic ingredients are cheap so I won't waste a lot of money if it blows chunks.

Kid #2 has finally mastered biking on two-wheeler.  He hasn't yet mastered the starting and stopping of biking.  He went 'biking' with a friend yesterday.  I stood and watched them.  I became that Mom - the one that stands there and gets super edgy and uptight that her kid is going to fall or get run into or slam into a tree or something.  That Mom.  I had to close my eyes.

I really wish I were posting my rhubarb curd ice cream with white chocolate but can't because I haven't made it yet.  It sounds finicky but the idea occurred while I was trying to sleep and it made sense at the time.  I'm going to try it because I've decided that I need to work harder on my follow through.

I have some lovely little things happening in the garden this year.  Unfortunately, the raspberries have completely taken over the rhubarb and the poppies.  It turns out that tomato plants don't really like me that much and have decided to boycott growing in protest.  Pleasant surprise: I have dill where I planted none.  Nobody here likes dill.

Fennel, pepper and sausage Crostata

It's summer.  I realize that turning on your oven in the middle of the hottest season may not be your thing.  If you have been reading me for a while (say at least as far back as last summer) then you might have gathered that I'm not big on the grilling/bbq thing.  In fact, that is an understatement.  I don't care about it to the point of considering selling my bbq... if it were in decent enough shape to sell that is.  It's not.  There is almost no time that I even consider using my bbq in favour of my stove/oven.  I don't know why.  It's a fault I guess.
It may be one of those nature vs nurture things.  Once the weather got decent enough in southern Ontario, my Dad would unveil the bbq, clean it and get it fired up.  We would bbq on weekly basis for the most part.  Now when it comes to food, my Dad is into simple and honest.  Having said that he's come a long way - he now believes that garlic is something that could conceivably be used in a recipe without wrecking it (I think that he even goes as far as eating garlic bread once in a while), he also has been seen consuming pizza (something that the rest of us had to eat when he had already gone to bed because it was gross) and I have even seen him eat lasagna - stop the presses.  I am told by my Mom (whom I just assume is honest and trustworthy) that Dad ate chicken curry once and although I'm sure it's true I will only fully believe when I see that with my own eyes.  Back then though, Dad was a farmers kid to the bone.  Garlic was something you hang around your neck in case of vampires, pasta may or may not be a real food and only if served with potatoes as well.  BBQ meant meat, on a grill, cooked through (really cooked through) and served... buns optional.  Rubs, sauces and garlic nowhere to be found.  It didn't sell me on grilling and perhaps that is what has stuck through all of these years.  It's a great excuse story and I'm just gonna go with it.
We will fire up the bbq if we are having people over for dinner or a big party or something but it seems like such a bother to do it otherwise.  And we make sauces.  Sauces are essential - D is the sauce man for the most part.  The sauces get put on everything.  Would you like some chicken with your sauce would not be an inappropriate question.  Veggies are also essential.  On a skewer, preferably marinated and when done right might just outshine the burgers and chicken.  It's a production.

No grill was harmed in the making of this recipe. A oven was heated up about it though but unharmed as it turns out.  For those of you who may be hardcore bbq people at this time of year I think that there may be a very good way to make this whole recipe happen on your grill.  You could grill your veggies in the marinade at low heat and then get the grill up just a bit and do the pie itself.
This has nothing to do with anything really but I thought that you all should know that kid #2 has eaten only hotdogs for the last 60 hrs.  Extended 8th birthday celebrations.  I'm not joking... even for breakfast.

Fennel, Pepper and Sausage Crostata
serves 4

2 cups flour
1 cup unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1 inch cubes
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
3 tbsp parmesan cheese, shredded
1/3 cup ice water

1 lb sausage of choice - whole and uncooked
1 red or yellow pepper, deseeded and sliced into 1 inch thick strips
1 lg or 2 sm fennel bulbs, washed and cut into 4 or 5 pieces
1 med/small zucchini, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/2 inch strips
salt and pepper
1 tbsp brown sugar
4 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 cup mozzarella
1/3 cup parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 300° F
Place all of the cut vegetables on a large baking sheet.  Add the sausage.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Sprinkle on the brown sugar.
Add the olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Toss everything together and spread out evenly on the baking sheet.
Bake for about 30 minutes.
Remove from the oven and cool for about 15 - 20 minutes

Combine the flour, salt, sugar and parmesan together in a large bowl.
Add the cold butter.
Cut in the butter with two knives or a pastry cutter until the butter is no bigger than little peas and everything looks kinda of crumbly.
Add enough of the ice water to keep the dough together in a ball but it shouldn't be too wet.
Cover the dough and let it chill for about 30 minutes (you can let the veggies and sausage cool)

Put it all together:
Preheat oven to 350°F
Line a large baking sheet with parchment, cornmeal or a silicon liner
Slice the cooled sausages into 1 cm thick rounds
Roll out the dough (edges should be rough not even) to about 1 cm thickness and place on the parchment.
Spread the cooled veggies and sliced sausage evenly on the dough leaving about a 3 cm edge around the circumference.
Sprinkle the mozzarella and parmesan cheese on the top.
Fold the edges over on to the veggies. Brush the edges with a little olive oil
Bake for about 45 minutes or until the crust is golden brown at the edges.
Cool for about 10 minutes before serving.

Asparagus, Chicken and Potato Lasagna... goodbye asparagus.

We are approaching the end of the school year here.  I really cannot tell whether it's a quick approach or a ploddingly slow one.  It changes each day.  It feels like it's been so long and so much has happened throughout this school year but at the same time it's gone so fast that I haven't had a chance to catch my breath.  My brain is having trouble computing how to figure it out.
I'm not sure how I'm going to wind down from this year or whether or not I can.  It usually takes me the whole month of July to get into a different head space.  This year we've had a grade 8 graduation to prepare for (guess what - they now do a hotel dinner and dance for grade 8 graduations), an 8 year old birthday party to plan (hopefully for the last day of school), 3 major house projects to keep on top of (thank you to D for basically looking after nearly all of that) and four more birthdays to look forward to in July.  My brain is having trouble computing.

Still life with asparagus.  This is the happy graduate.
The funny thing is that you feel at loose ends with yourself for a while.  Don't know what to do next and end up just sitting on the couch for an inexplicable amount of time.  Then you move to the computer and do the same... probably not even touching the keyboard or mouse once.  Just starring at the screen.  This may happen repeatedly before a kid reminds you that they have to consume food to survive.  Damn.  Then back to couch... damn, I have no clean underwear.  Damn.  My brain can think but somehow cannot prompt my muscles to movement.  All of a sudden summer hits and  everything kind of stops and something as simple as going to a doctor appointment means I'm done for the day.  It's weird and terrifying.  Nothing, and I mean NOTHING becomes more desirable or important than reading a book and drinking a cold beer in the back yard.
These are the things that happen when summer begins.
Asparagus season is technically done and I'm slow on the draw with this one.  If you happen to live somewhere further north where asparagus is still producing then go nuts.  Otherwise, you could always consider a replacement.  Maybe broccolette or fresh green beans.  Something green though.  It needs to be green for my brain to compute it as correct.

This is definitely asparagus and chicken that you are looking at...
To illustrate how much my brain is not computing - I happily edited through all of my photos for this post until I looked back at the photos I had uploaded last week... yup - I was editing the wrong recipe the whole time. Fortunately, I caught the mistake before I posted a recipe for chicken and asparagus  with pictures of chocolate cookies.
In the meantime, I'm going to claw my way to the last day of school and let myself fall deep into couch mode for a few days.

Asparagus, Chicken and Potato Lasagna adapted from Food52

8 - 9 medium/small potatoes, thinly sliced
1/2 cup onion, diced
2 lg bunches asparagus, hard ends removed
3 cups cooked chicken, torn into med/small pieces

3 3/4 cup milk, warmed for about 4 minutes in the microwave
6 tbsp butter
6 tbsp all purpose flour
1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
1 tsp mustard powder
1/2 tsp nutmeg
salt to taste
1/2 cup sharp cheddar, shredded
1/3 cup parmesan, shredded

1/4 cup parmesan, shredded

Preheat oven to 350°F
Butter a 9x13 baking dish.

Heat a large, heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium heat.
Add the butter and lower the heat to med/low.  Let the butter melt completely.
Whisk in the flour and mix thoroughly with the butter.
Gradually add the warm milk, whisking constantly.
Once all the milk is added continue whisking until the mixture begins to thicken.
Add in the worcestershire, mustard powder and nutmeg.
Mix well.
Add in the cheddar and 1/3 cup parmesan.  Whisk until melted in.
Add salt to taste.

Place a single layer of the sliced potatoes on the bottom of the prepared pan.
Place about half of the asparagus spears on top of the potatoes.
Sprinkle on half of the onion.
Layer about half of the chicken.
Repeat the layering process a second time which should finish everything.
Pour the cheese sauce over everything.
Sprinkle with the remaining parmesan.
Bake covered for about 45 minutes.
Remove the cover and bake for another 35 minutes or until the mixture is bubbly and browning at the edges.

Rhubarb Lemon Cake

And then the World Cup.
I did not grow up in a place that recognized the World Cup.  In my little town about an hour outside of Toronto, soccer was a thing you played after school when the hockey season was over.  Filler I guess.  When I moved to Montreal the World Cup was a thing that was recognized for sure but I was a broke student in the music faculty.  I didn't really give a crap about team sports generally and had no money to go to the pub with my friends to socialize... and watch the game.  Hence, this soccer thing was not at all on my radar.
My subsequent move to Trinidad served to school me in the 'joys' of cricket more than anything else. I thought that all of these people must be talking about croquet.  Never heard of cricket and therefor it can't be that important.  After, I've been around and would have heard about it if it were a big thing.  Yup - it's a big thing... not croquet after all... turns out most of the world knows about a lot of things that I didn't even know existed...imagine.  Cricket and all of it's test match weeks and day long games are huge... HUGE.  Who knew.

We took a trip to London a few years ago.  We wanted to reconnect with some of D's family and to spend time in a place that I had heard so much about.  Our trip just happened to coincide with the World Cup.  Of course this meant nothing to me until I attempted to navigate around Piccadilly Square during an England match (god help us all).  You couldn't so much as buy a cookie that didn't have the white flag with the red cross on it.  I think even vegetables were branded with it.  Tv ads and even a music video - so ghastly that I shudder a bit even remembering it - marketing how well the England team would do.  Of course being the England team (I'm sorry - I really am) meant that they didn't get too far into the tournament.  Imagine my shock when the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, gave a televised statement viewed across the UK expressing his deep disappointment (expressed by him as 'devastation' as I recall) that the team would not be bringing home the cup.  What... the Prime Minister... what's going on here.  I'm sure that all of the cakes and cookies stamped with the flag went on sale the next day.

A very dark picture of two members of my family watching a game.
For D this was a relief because finally I get it.  I understand just how important this world cup thing was.  I understand that this is something entire countries get behind in a way they never do in the Olympics.  I understand that even if you aren't from Brazil you can support them and that you'd better hope if you are in the pub that you aren't the only Brazil supporter present.  I understand that even if you've lived in Canada your entire life that when it comes to the world cup you absolutely become Italian.  I get that it's almost impossible to work at your desk during a game... and why fight it.  I know now that doing something, anything on a day when there are 3 or 4 games happening will be done by me by myself unless it happens in the 60 minutes in between game times.
I understand and I'm ok with it now.  I made rhubarb cake so that I could serve it to the construction guys in our house during the game.  'Cause I know now that they won't be working.

Rhubarb Lemon Cake adapted slightly from 'honey & jam'
makes 1 tube cake

3 cups chopped rhubarb
2 tbsp all purpose flour
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cardamom
1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1 3/4 sugar
3 eggs (or 1 egg and 3 egg whites - that's what I used)
zest of 1 lg lemon
3/4 cup buttermilk

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 cup icing sugar
cream (if needed to get the right consistency)

Preheat oven to 350°F
Butter and flour a tube/bundt pan.  Set aside.  
Combine the chopped rhubarb (I used frozen rhubarb, let it thaw and drain well) and the 2 tbsp flour until the rhubarb is completely coated.  Set aside.
Combine the 2 1/2 cups flour, baking powder, salt and cardamom together.  Mix well and set aside.  

Beat or whisk together the room temperature butter and the sugar for about 2 minutes or until light and fluffy.  Add in the eggs and continue to beat or whisk until well combined and fluffy.  Add in the lemon zest and mix thoroughly.  
Continue to beat at low speed or whisk adding about half of the flour mixture.  Combine thoroughly. 
Add in the half of the buttermilk and beat until thoroughly combined. 
Add in about half of the remaining flour mixture and beat until combined. 
Add the rest of the buttermilk and combine.  
Add the rest of the flour mixture until thoroughly combined.  
Gently fold in the coated rhubarb to the cake batter.  
Pour into the prepared pan and spread evenly.  Bang lightly on the counter to remove air bubbles. 
Bake for about 30 minutes. 
Turn the pan and bake for another 30 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean and the cake is pulling away from the edges of the pan. 
Cool completely before removing from the pan. 


Fiddlehead, Asparagus and Sausage Pesto Pasta Bake

I have a few problems with pesto.
I'm a little ashamed to admit it because pesto is decent tasting and it's easy to make.
My first problem is that I never know quite what to do with it.  It's supposed to work with pasta - just tossed in pasta... and not much else.  I'm not a tossed pasta kind of person typically so that's just lost on me.  D is not much of a tossed pasta kind of person either.
I've also seen it used to coat meat.  Usually chicken.  Chicken that I'm going to stick in the oven and bake or that I'm going to cook on the stove top.  Just chicken and pesto.  I'm not much of a 'just chicken' cook.
Pesto works well on bread.  As an appetizer.  With tomato and cheese or something.  I'm not much of an appetizer cook either.
The texture is weird.  It's creamy/goopy but also leafy.  That feels odd on my tongue.
It can also be a pretty intense flavour depending on how you make it - and because I make my own it can get pretty intense.  I use a lot of parmesan.  The intensity can overwhelm easily I find and it has to be well balanced out.  I always reach for cream or a creamy cheese to add in but it does add to the richness.
As you can tell by now, even though I like the idea of making pesto I'm a little lost when it comes to using it.  This means, of course, that the pesto remains in my freezer for undetermined (read: LONG) time.  This is not good for pesto... or pretty much anything.

I'm not exactly sure that pesto and asparagus/fiddleheads are a good combination but somehow this worked.  Considering I found the pesto in the back of the freezer and it had no date on it, it's amazing that this worked at all.  At least it worked the first day.  This is not one of those baked pasta things that gets better the second day.  It gets way too dry for my taste.  I would recommend making this at a time when you have a few hungry friends coming over and maybe not when you are undergoing kitchen and house renovations.
I'm not really selling this recipe I realize but if you have the right situation to serve it in OR like a sane person make about half of the recipe then you will be fine.

Asparagus and Sausage Pesto Pasta Bake
serves 8

1 lg bunch asparagus (about 1 1/2 cups), ends removed and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 1/2 - 2 cups fiddleheads, stems removed
1/2 cup red onion, diced
1 red pepper, deseeded and thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, crushed
3 - 4 cups spinach, washed, stems removed and coarsely chopped
1 lb sweet sausage (I used honey garlic), casings removed
1 boullion cube
1 1/2 cup pesto (I used homemade but store bought is just fine)
1/2 cup chèvre (soft goat cheese)
1 cup milk or half and half (5%)
2 tbsp worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 tbsp honey
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
pepper sauce (optional - you know I'm gonna throw in a little half tsp or so)
salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup parmesan, finely shredded
1 cup mozzarella, shredded
3 cups cooked pasta (rotini, penne), cooked to al dente, drained (save the water though) and set aside

Preheat a large sauce pot over medium heat.
Add in about 1 1/2 tsp of olive oil.
Add the asparagus and onion, turning down the heat to med/low.
Cook together for about 4 minutes.
Add the fiddleheads, red pepper and garlic.  Cook for another 4 minutes, stirring regularly.
Add in the sausage meat and mix well, cooking together just until the meat browns.
Add in the bouillon cube and mix well.
Add in the pesto, chèvre and milk.  Mix well and let everything come back up to temperature.
Add in the worcestershire, honey and balsamic vinegar.
Add in the spinach, parmesan and 1/2 of the mozzarella.  Mix well and cook just until the spinach has wilted and the cheese has melted.
Check tastes and add salt and pepper as necessary.
Add in the cooked pasta.  Mix and add enough of the pasta water to make the mixture reasonably thin (I used probably about a half a cup)
Pour everything into a large baking dish and spread evenly.
Sprinkle the rest of the mozzarella on top of the pasta.
Bake for about 25 minutes or until the mozzarella on top is bubbling and golden brown.
Cool for about 15 minutes before serving.

Blubarb Crumb Bars

And here we are... at the start of it all.  The first rhubarb recipe of the season.  I wish that I could tell you that it came freshly picked from my garden but I can't.  It didn't come from my garden.  It came from my freezer.  From last year.  How embarrassing.  How un-food-blogger of me.
The truth is that life has lately gone into end of school year mode.  Lots of papers to sign, dates to book, grad dress to shop for, uniform stuff to take care of for september - it's kept all of us hopping.  Coupled with that, every spare second has involved, ripping things out of our house, cleaning up the back yard, cleaning and bagging things for donation, painting, drilling holes and hanging important things... I can't even think clearly anymore.  Our neighbours are pretty happy with us though.  In the course of one week we have put 1 chest of drawers, 1 bookshelf, 2 chairs, 1 table, 1 large basket and 2 8lb weights on the front boulevard.  All of them were gone within a couple of hours.  I think the neighbours are now keeping watch on our front sidewalk to make sure they get first dibs.  Our kids are wondering exactly when we are going to stop and whether there will be any furniture left in the house when we do.

Please note the large power tool in the lower right corner.  

To be honest I have no problem getting rid of things.  None.  I could live with very little quite happily.  I form very few attachments to stuff.  Not always a good thing but it does come in handy when you are going through your house with the purpose of getting rid of stuff.  It can be hard to stop once you've started though.  I'm at that point right now and I know that this means I have to be careful.  I can get out of control.  I can justify almost any toss out.  I'd love to say that I would regret it later but I wouldn't.  I might feel bad that someone else feels bad about it but I wouldn't miss the thing I tossed... like I said, not always a good thing.
All of this toss talk ties in nicely to the rhubarb... and I love a good tie in.  The rhubarb is in the freezer.  The freezer and fridge that it's connected to will be donated very soon to make way for the new-to-me appliances that my BFF is handing over.  I don't even want to talk about how excited I am about it... it's awesome and I have an awesome BFF.  So knowing that my freezer/fridge is on it's way out, I'm using this as an opportunity to clear through a lot of that stuff too.  Seeing as there is still another bag of rhubarb in the freezer you can look forward to another rhubarb recipe or two coming soon.

Blubarb Crumb Bars adapted from 'Sticky, Gooey, Creamy, Chewy'

Quick Blubarb Jam makes about 3 cups

4 generous cups chopped rhubarb
4 generous cups blueberries
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup honey

Crumb Stuff

1 cup oat flour (blitz old fashioned oats in a blender until it's a flour like consistency)
1 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
pinch of cinnamon
1 cup cold, unsalted butter, cubed
1 egg

Preheat oven to 350°F
Line a 9x13 baking dish or pan with foil and butter it.
In a bowl combine all of the flours, sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon together.  Mix well.
Add the cubed butter and using two forks or a pastry cutter begin to cut the butter into the mixture.  Once it becomes fairly crumbly looking add in the egg and continue to cut everything together until the mixture is wet and crumbly.
Pat half of the flour mixture into the bottom of the prepared baking dish.  Pat down firmly
Spoon about 2 1/4 cup of blubarb jam over the bottom layer.
Evenly sprinkle the rest of the flour mixture over the blubarb layer.  Do not press this layer down.
Bake for about 40 min or until the top is light, golden brown.
Cool completely before cutting the bars (this gives the jam stuff time to firm up again)

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St Michael's Choir School is celebrating it's 75th anniversary year of service to St Michael's Cathedral. Part of the school celebration is a trip to Italy where our boys from Grades 5 - 12 will be performing and celebrating Mass. This blog will be chronicling our adventures. Wanda Thorne is the Vocal Coach at St Michael's Choir School. Gerard Lewis is the Grade 7/8 Homeroom teacher at the Choir School.

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Wanda Thorne
St Michael's Choir School is celebrating it's 75th anniversary year of service to St Michael's Cathedral. Part of the school celebration is a trip to Italy where our boys from Grades 5 - 12 will be performing and celebrating Mass. This blog will be chronicling our adventures. Wanda Thorne is the Vocal Coach at St Michael's Choir School. Gerard Lewis is the Grade 7/8 Homeroom teacher at the Choir School.
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