Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What's really going on?

"There isn't a lot going on right now." How often do we say or think that? I haven't blogged in a bit because it feels like there's nothing going on. In reality, a lot has been going on. Some of it is more personal or family centred than I share in my blog. Some of it is just boring. And some of it has left me a little dazed and disillusioned.

For example, an online community of foodies that I nurtured for nearly a decade fell apart last week. We were a tiny group. Maybe a dozen on a really good day. But we had shared a lot. We were friends. Or so I thought. Turns out I was convenient, not cared about. I could set up and manage the actual community site, so I was needed. But eventually they all found social networking and showed their true colours. I'd been used.

Please don't think that this is a "poor me" type entry. It's not. I was just stunned by the emotional reaction I had to losing an online community. To losing people who, for the most part, I'd never met "in real life." To those who think that cyber relationships aren't real, I can tell you that you're wrong. Without spending one's life online, one can still cultivate relationships with other real people in a virtual domain. And when things turn sour, it hurts just like it hurts "in real life."

Other things that have been going on, but seem to fall into the category of "nothing going on" have been lovely weather, playing outside, baking some really good cookies and realizing that Easter is almost here. I could make a blog post about any of those, I guess.

Okay, I'll share the cookie recipe.

Toffee Dream Cookies

2 1/3 all purpose flour
1 pkg (102g) instant vanilla pudding mix
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 C butter (if using unsalted add 1/4tsp salt to the recipe)
1 C packed dark brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp real vanilla extract
2 C toffee bits (I just used a whole package - I think it's slightly less)

1 Preheat oven to 375F. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, pudding mix, baking powder, baking soda and salt, if using. Set aside.

2 In a large bowl with an electric hand mixer, or in a KitchenAid, cream butter and brown sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down. Add eggs, one at a time, until well combined. Beat in vanilla. Scrape down the sides again.

3 On low speed, or by hand, slowly add the flour mixture until just combined. Mix in the toffee bits.

4 Using a cookie scoop or spoons, drop tablespoonfuls of dough about 2 inches apart on parchment lined cookie sheets. Bake one sheet at a time for 8-10 minutes, until the edges start to turn light golden.

4 Cool in pans on wire rack for 5 minutes before transferring the cookies directly to the rack to cool completely.

Recipe says it makes 3 1/2 dozen. I used a small cookie scoop and got 60 cookies.

My kids declared these to be the best cookies ever. High praise indeed. Especially when it comes with hugs and "I love you"s.

So there, I had something to share after all. LOL

Monday, March 15, 2010


Originally uploaded by Mama__B
Is that an unfamiliar word to you? Paska. It was unfamiliar to me too until just over a decade ago, when I joined a Mennonite Brethren church. It was there that I learned about this sweet yeast bread with it's creamy white frosting and ubiquitous rainbow sprinkles.

Paska is an old world Easter bread. Many in the MB faith have Russian and Ukrainian roots, which bring to us foods like Paska, and borsht (often without beets). I can't recall when exactly I first tasted this sweet Easter bread, but I know that I was instantly enchanted. It was rich and golden, with a soft, yeasty crumb and a sweet frosting, dotted with tiny balls in rainbow colours. More frosting was served on the side for spreading over each slice. Definitely NOT diet food.

After a little asking around, I was given THE recipe. Not that there is one recipe for Paska. Quite the opposite, actually. But I got the recipe that I'd first tried. The one that everyone talked about. The one that defined Paska for me. And I'm going to share it with you.

1 pkg yeast
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 cup warm water
1 cup milk, scalded
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tsp salt
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 lemon, juice and rind (grated fine)
4 1/2 to 6 cups white flour

Dissolve the yeast in the sugar and water. Set aside.

Mix the scalded milk, butter (cube it while scalding the milk), sugar and salt. In a very large bowl, combine the milk and yeast mixtures. Stir in the eggs, vanilla, lemon juice and rind. Gradually stir in the flour, one cup at a time, with a spoon. By the 3rd cup, the mixture will get stiff. Add the remaining flour with your hand, mixing, but not kneading. Additional flour is only needed if, after 4 1/2 cups, the dough is still sticky. Add what you need a bit at a time.

Knead the dough 6 or 8 times and take it out of the bowl in a ball. Clean and dry the bowl and butter it lightly. Put the dough ball back in and butter the top with your fingers. Please do not use sprays. Cover with a tea towel and place in the oven with the light on for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until double in bulk.

Punch down the dough and knead once or twice in the bowl. Turn it over and butter the top again. Cover with the tea towel and put back in the oven for another 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Punch down again. Divide into loaves and knead them individually once or twice. Put the loaves into greased bread pans, punch them down to flatten them. Butter the tops once more and put back into the oven uncovered for 1 1/2 hours.

Remove from oven and place away from drafts. Heat oven to 350 degrees and bake the Paska for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown. Let stand in pan 15 minutes to cool. Turn onto a wire rack.

1/4 cup shortening
1/4 cup butter (or all butter)
2 cups icing sugar
1 Tbsp milk
1/2 tsp vanilla

Beat all ingredients together, adding more milk if necessary. Ice the Paska tops and serve extra alongside. Icing can be frozen. Add lemon to the icing if desired. I like to, though it's not strictly authentic. *

Makes 2 large or 3 regular loaves. Can also be shaped into buns.

* Speaking of "authentic" there is another common way to enjoy Paska, which is with a spread made with cottage cheese and boiled eggs. I've never tried it, but I found a recipe here. You may want to scale it down.

So integral to Easter is Paska in our church that we even serve it (unfrosted) for communion on Good Friday. And this past Friday several women got together to make hundreds of Paska buns for Easter Sunday snack.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The snow is almost gone

Woohoo! There is rain in the forecast, which should take care of the last of the snow. Not that we've had a lot this winter. None at all until January (which made for a drab looking Christmas). But this last dumping has been persistent. It is my sincere hope that we have seen the last snowfall of the year.

Winter weather can be odd here. A few years back, only half an hour or so away, there was a freak snow storm in mid-October that crippled a town. It was massive, sudden and a total shock. At the other end of the spectrum, I've seen light snow in early June. Actually, I've seen it on Labour Day, too. So the only months when I've never seen snow are July and August. Then there was the year that my husband began gardening in early March, and it never did turn cold again until the next winter. By mid-April we were chomping at the bit to plant, but nothing was in the nurseries until May.

We finally got to plant some bulbs last Autumn. Our last house had dozens, of all varieties. For now we only have tulips here, I think. Maybe a few daffodils, but I don't think so. Either way, I'm looking forward to seeing them poking up out of the garden. We need to get some crocus bulbs and snowdrops for next year.

I've been planning the vegetable garden, too. Lemon cucumbers, heirloom tomatoes, beans, chard, radishes, golden beets, lettuces and Chinese greens... We are really looking forward to getting going on all of it. And herbs. Each year I grow Thai Basil, which I adore. I hope my Cotton Candy mint survived the winter. Ditto the parsley and chives. I know the lemon thyme did. I picked some the other day. Such a hardy little plant! The Greek oregano I bought last year wasn't a favourite. I think I'll go back to Italian varieties. I found this particular Greek strain (Kaliteri?) to be too astringent and soapy.

The learning curve is daunting. We're trying a new approach, using a grid to plant in. It will help me tremendously. I suck at proper plant spacing (as I'm sure I'll see evidence of yet again when I see our garlic sprouts). And I've never been good at successive planting. I tend to plant a row, and then have too much at once to deal with. This grid method will hopefully help with that too. We have to construct a few net structures for things like the cukes and tomatoes, so that they grow vertically. Must remember to ask Linda at the Tree and Twig about indeterminate tomato varieties. This is all so new to me.

Even still, it is worth it. There is something so satisfying about walking out into the garden and picking the night's salad. Or enjoying "yard snacks" of beans and raspberries and cherry tomatoes with the kids. Watching them just wander over to a bush and take something and eat it makes me so happy (not that it's a fight to get our kids to eat veggies anyway, thankfully).

I wonder if we'll do potatoes this year? We'd wanted to last year, but didn't have a place for them. Must read some more. I'd love go grow them.

So today I dream. The temps will be around 10C, but very damp. And then comes the rain. Hopefully we won't see it get cold again. I've started to get used to the sunshine and having an open window again.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

I love marinades

I had a pork tenderloin in the fridge for supper, and I decided that I wanted to find a marinade recipe that interested me. Something beyond basic Asian flavours, or barbecue. Google lead me to this recipe, which sounded interesting. But I can't resist adding my own spin to things, so here is what I came up with.

(I used the mini-chopper attachment for my stick blender to mix this together)

zest and juice of a small orange (think clementine or mandarin)
1/4 C olive oil
3 T soy sauce
1 T Worcestershire sauce
2 t grated ginger or galangal (I keep them in the freezer and grate them on a microplane)
4 cloves of garlic (minced or grated if you aren't mixing all of this in a mini chopper)
1/4 C brown sugar
3 T dark rum
3 T Dijon mustard
generous grind of coarse black pepper (or use hot peppers to taste - I would if it weren't for the wee ones)

Combine everything and mix together well. Reserve 1/4 cup for basting and pour the rest over a pork tenderloin and let marinate for 6-8 hours. Roast at 400F or grill (directly or indirectly) until a thermometre reads 160F in the thickest part. Baste occasionally with the reserved marinade.

This marinade is sweeter than it is salty. If you're grilling it directly, keep an eye on it so that it doesn't burn.

I'll update later with how it turned out.


Well that was a hit. My husband liked it enough to ask what was in it, and both kids ate it without complaint at all, which is huge when it comes to my 5 year old and meat. He didn't protest once about it and ate every bit I gave him.

Personally I liked it, but felt that it wouldn't have done any harm to sprinkle it with a little salt before popping it in the oven. The orange was nice without being overpowering, and the rest of the ingredients complemented each other quite well. It's a make again recipe.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Need to debrief

Man, what an amazing two weeks. After non-stop Olympics, the abrupt end leaves me wanting to gather somewhere with a group and debrief. I want that connectedness back that we experienced over the past two weeks. The unending media coverage, conversations on every corner, discussions about each victory and loss on web forums, blogs about personal experiences, tweets from those who were there... I'm suffering from connected information withdrawal.

For two weeks, even as a spectator, I was a part of something. Something inspiring and amazing. My young children felt it too. As they did laps around the coffee table, pretending to be short track speed skaters, with my two year old calling, "Me team Canada Mommy!" As they sat one behind the other on the couch, leaning from side to side in an imaginary bobsleigh run. As they demanded to watch curling, to the exclusion of cartoons (fine by me). And as they asked me to sing Oh Canada, a song heard many times over these past two weeks. They may not have understood what they were connected to, but they were a part of something incredible. Something that has profoundly affected the very nation that they live in.

Quiet, humble pride gave way to boisterous, humble patriotism. We welcomed the world, and they, in turn, embraced us. The Olympic spirit triumphed over tragedy, over embarrassment, over disappointment. And our pride swelled. A "Go Gold or Go Home" attitude prevailed, and we did, indeed, Go Gold. More than any other country in Olympic history.

I'll admit, while watching the closing ceremony, I got weepy. It was such a great games, even with the tragedy and glitches. The triumphant spirit that prevailed was inspiring. I loved hearing the applause for the Georgian team again last night.

I'm no fan of William Shatner, but his bit was funny. Ditto Michael J Fox. I loved the whole thing. The way they poked fun at the malfunctioning cauldron arm, Catriona LeMay Doan getting her chance to light it (I teared up), the tongue in cheek send up of all of those Canadian stereotypes. It was such pure Canadian spirit. A tribute to our nature, our humour and our sense of fun and pride. Loved it! I FREAKIN' LOVE THIS COUNTRY!