So many chives, so little thyme…(ha!)

Summer is here. She snuck in overnight; hidden until today by rain, wind and booming thunderstorms. The sun is shining and my gardens are teaming with mint, basil and chives; all ready to be muddled, minced and whisked into mojitos, salads, dressings and omelettes. My potted chives are back with a vengeance this year. They are full of blooms and for about a month now I have been snipping off stalks to add to my salads and eggs.

Fun chive facts:

  • Did you know the entire plant including the bulb and flowers are edible?
  • They generally grow back every year and are so hard to kill many refer to them as the “gate-way herb” for helping people find their green thumb!?
  • Don’t have a garden? Stick some in a pot and they will be just as happy on your balcony or in a sunny window!
  • Chives like full sun, they enjoy being well watered and the more you cut them back, the more they continue to grow.
  • They have a light onion flavour that adds a fabulous summery taste to anything from potato salads to homemade salad dressings.

Last week I was touring around Instagram (as I do) and was too busy admiring a pretty flower filled mason jar to realize that it was full of chive blossoms. Honey and Butter, a local company known for their beautiful cakes, inspired jellies (like lilac and champagne!), cookies and curd had filled a jar with white wine vinegar and chive blossoms to make an infused vinegar. It was brilliant and beautiful.

Taking a page out of their book, I filled up jars with my myriad of blossoms (which I de-bugged and rinsed thoroughly), a sprig or two of thyme and I promptly drowned it all in white wine vinegar. My plan is to let the jars infuse for a week or so (it gets more purple with each passing day!) and then strain them with a cheese cloth. I figure the final product will elevate my salad dressings, roasted veggies and anything that vinegar generally tastes good on! Small jars would make beautiful and thoughtful gifts for friends and the hosts of summer BBQ’s.

Happy infusing all!

Ps. I am officially finished of the first year of grad school and work is providing a little extra downtime- expect more posts!

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“Bad weather always looks worse through a window.”- Unknown

Last week we had a snowstorm. When I say snowstorm, what I really mean to say is that we got close to 70 cm’s of fresh, white powder in less than 24 hours. That is enough snow to fully bury a car, to close schools, to stop busses and enough to form snow banks taller than a person.

Working as a nurse, I am considered an essential service worker. This means if I am scheduled to work I am expected to make it work. Hospitals don’t close, patients continue to need care. Many times I have found myself shovelling out at 5 am and travelling to work with a shovel in the backseat and a bag of traction sand. I always seem to make it.

Last week was a different story. I was not scheduled to work and happened to have company staying from out of town. We picked up essentials in advance, planned some meals, dug out the board games and my sister trudged through the thick of the storm to join us and have a sleep-over. It was the best snow day I have ever had and luckily we didn’t lose power.

It was so fun that I decided to produce a “Snowstorm Survival Guide for Grown-ups”. Adults only because there was a lot of liquor involved….

Snowstorm Survival Guide for Grown-ups

1: Prepare in advance.

Get groceries, plan meals, have candles and batteries incase the power goes out. Our shopping list included..

  • Breakfast foods- Bagels, eggs, avocado, cheese, coffee, cream and all the fixings to make spicy gin caesars (gin is superior to vodka in my opinion- try it for yourself!). Gin, Clamato, lemons, celery salt and seasonings.
  • Snacks- storm chips, water, pop and gatorade (you know, incase you get a hang over).
  • Supper- Pizza dough or the ingredients to make it (I get mine from a pizzeria up the road for $2 a ball- can’t beat it!) as well as toppings to dress it up (we used pesto, mozzarella, onions, shaved summer sausage and fresh basil).
  • Liquor store run – besides your gin, you may also want beer, baileys, prosecco and wine (like I said this is a grown-up snow day).
  • Make sure you have cat food. They will resent you if you don’t.
  • Also note: calories and grams of carbs do not count on storm days. Look it up, that is the truth.

2: Be comfy.

Lay out your comfiest sweats so you can roll out of bed and into them while the coffee is percolating. Place winter gear on radiators so they are warm. This will make going out to shovel- which you will have to do, a tiny bit easier. No need for makeup, bathing is optional.

3: Plan activities to pass the day.

Pull out board games, plan a special cocktail recipe, have a great play-list on hand and maybe a movie or two to fall back on.

Our day went like this…

We woke up, had coffee and delicious egg sandwiches with spicy avocado and havarti on bagels. We played a game of crib and then my sister arrived and we began to make (and drink) caesars- they were delicious and went perfectly with a couple of intense games of Settlers of Catan. 

 

Next we made French 75’s- Graeme brought the fixings, all we had to do was make some simple syrup (1:1 water and sugar brought to a boil with lemon zest on the stove until sugar has dissolved – then cool). These are delicious, simple and taste even better when garnished with sugared lemon zest and served in vintage champagne glasses- we are fancy like that.  We made the cocktail in bulk, served it with a ladle and kept it chilled on the front step.  Recipe is as follows…

  • 1 pint of gin
  • 1 bottle of prosecco or champagne
  • 200 mls of fresh lemon juice (6.6 ounces)
  • 120 mls of simple syrup (4 ounces)


 

After all of the caesars and French 75’s we had some snacks- aka storm chips, and the group began to shovel out the five foot drift that had formed in the driveway. My little car was utterly buried and in the end there were six foot banks towering over the sides of the driveway- with that much snow there becomes a point where there is nowhere left to throw what you are shovelling!

Next up was wine and pizza followed by a few games of Wizard and Sequence.  It was a wonderful day and it ended with everyone going to bed full, warm and just a little buzzed.


Hopefully this can inspire your next storm day and I hope you are able to have at least half as much fun as we did!

-m

 

 

 

“Mail your packages early so the post office can lose them in time for Christmas.”- Johnny Carson

Trust me. I am not one of those people who starts Christmas just as the Halloween candy is just being discounted. I am a mid-December decorator, firmly believing that less is more and that Christmas music shouldn’t be blaring in malls country-wide until December 1st is upon us. That said, I have a tendancy to get most of my shopping done over the year, slowly picking away at it as inspiration (and sales!) comes my way.

In mid fall I try to get a little preserving done and that usually comes in the form of hot pepper jelly (find recipe here) . Every single year my stove top almost catches fire as I try my best to catch the boiling point of sugar just before it hits the “raging inferno” territory. Every single year I have delicious hand-made hostess gifts and neighbour gifts that almost cost me my stovetop. They are also a perfect stand-by for people who stop by your house unexpectedly with a gift for you (we have all been there). This year I decided to step away from the fussiness of jelly (sometimes it doesn’t set properly /sets your stove on fire) to try my hand at a holiday chutney. What inspired me were the enormous bags of cranberries that were on sale for less than two dollars after Thanksgiving and the fact that my love of a bargain left me with twelve pounds of cranberries taking up almost every square inch of freezer space.

Turns out chutney is far simpler to make than jelly, you can easily double the recipe as it relies soley on natural fruit pectins to thicken it and the flavour combinations are endless. Chutney makes an incredible addition to any charcuterie board, pairing well with a variety of cheeses and even standing up to heat when baked on a brie. Chutney is great served with pork and/or chicken and when it combines cranberries, fragrant spices and a touch of cognac, it pretty much sings out Christmas spirit.

Find the recipe below and happy holiday prepping everyone!

-M

Christmas Cranberry Chutney

Yields 12 1/2 cup mason jars

(adapted from American Heritage Cooking but some “artistic liberties” were taken)

You will need:

  • 3.5 cups of whole cranberries (fresh or frozen)
  • 3/4 cup of seedless raisins (you can omit if you hate them)
  • 1 and 1/3 cups of white, granulated sugar
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of cinnamon
  • 1.5 teaspoons of ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon of ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon of ground all-spice
  • 6 ounces of water
  • 3 teaspoons (you can omit, use less or use more!) Grand Marnier or cognac/brandy
  • 1/2 cup of finely sliced celery
  • 1/2 cup finely diced hello onion
  • 3/4 cup of diced apples (peeled and cored)

Method:

  • Combine cranberries, raisins, water, sugar and spices in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Once boiling reduce heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes or until berries really start to pop.
  • Add celery, apples, onion and liquor. Stir well and return to simmer, simmering for at least 15 minutes or until the celery, onion and apples have broken down. I personally chopped my apples roughly so they held a bit of their shape- your call.
  • If processing and canning, pour hot chutney into sterilized/still warm jars, apply lids and process in a hot water bath for at least ten minutes. Follow other processing rules you prefer, that is just how I do mine. Jars that have sealed (lids popped) properly can be stored in a cool dark place for a year or so. Ones that did’t seal properly will be good in the fridge for a few weeks.

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“Romance is the icing but love is the cake.”- Julia Child

A short few months ago one of the very sweetest people and her equally sweet Irish bloke got married. It was a wonderful celebration filled with so many special moments and just as many lovely details. The night was full of dancing, great food, memorable speeches and it ended with the beautiful bride and her handsome groom singing the night away at the pub up the street (in true Irish fashion). The weather was perfect for the outdoor ceremony and it all went off without a hitch. It was in short, an incredible day.

There was however, almost a small, teensy-tiny hitch. I was in charge of the wedding cake. She had asked me months prior to her big day and after a discussion on what exactly she was hoping for we had settled on a rustic, naked style cake. I had no idea what I was in for, never baking a cake of any real magnitude before, but I figured no matter what it would all work out in the end. After a trial run of a couple different recipes for the cake/icing and a mock up of what it would potentially look like (with help and encouragement from my dear, patient, friend Heather) a recipe and plan was settled upon.

The day before the wedding, the cakes were baked- A white almond wedding cake that was enhanced by both vanilla and almond extract-four nine inch rounds. They were wrapped in four layers of good quality plastic film and frozen (as per Deb P from Smitten Kitchens suggestion- freezing keeps it fresh AND makes a cake much, much easier to frost). Lemon curd was made, as was a lemon glaze to keep the layers moist. The next day the layers were removed from the freezer and levelled with a sharp knife. As they started to thaw I whipped up a swiss meringue butter cream (found here) and slowly assembled the cake. It went cake, glaze, buttercream, lemon curd and repeat; resulting in the tallest and most tasty sandwich I ever saw. I ensured that some butter cream was spilling over the sides and I used a large, metal icing spatula to scrape the rough frosting around the cake as the cake stand was turned by my sister- resulting in a perfectly rustic and “naked’ cake. It was beautiful and all that it needed was some fresh flowers to finish it off.

I am sure by now you are all wondering where exactly the teensy -tiny hitch comes into play? Well that occurred on route to the wedding. The cake had been in the fridge wrapped up prior to the commute. It was about 32 degrees out with not a breath of a breeze. We ended up stuck behind an accident and despite the air conditioning on high, the cake got softer and softer (thank goodness I chose a meringue based butter-cream, they hold up better and can sit out for hours with no change in consistency). Halifax my dear friends, is a very, very, hilly city. With the cake plate secured between my knees and the cake itself firmly grasped between my hands, we turned onto the biggest and steepest hill that the city has to offer and half of the cake- the part secured with my hands promptly slid, almost directly off of the other half and well off of the cake plate. It was like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I hastily slid it back into place and ran with it into the reception room. Three minutes before the wedding was to begin I was preforming life-saving surgery on the cake with just a butter knife and sheer will. It survived without full CPR and I made it to my seat just barely before Kailee started her decent down the isle.

During cocktail hour my friend Heather and I went to assess the situation and to apply the decorative flowers. The cake looked great and we celebrated with a glass (well maybe two) of Prosecco. Find incredible pictures of the cake and the beautiful couple taken by the ever talented Chelle Wooten, wedding photographer extraordinaire (find her here) below. Thanks Kailee and Pearse for letting me be part of your wonderful day!

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“Life expectancy would grow leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon.”-Doug Larson

We have all done it. We are all guilty of buying (or growing) an abundance of leafy greens. So much in fact that they probably begin to wilt before you even start to make a dent in them. You are sneaking spinach into pasta sauce, making smoothies and eating so many salads that your skin begins to have a fresh, green glow when you are in direct sunlight. You may have even googled “How to bake a cake with kale”. We have all been there.

This week I did the exact same thing. I bought the biggest possible container of arugula for a mere $2.99 at Costco. At that price they are basically paying you to take it, it costs more to grow it in your own garden. We had it on pizza with company (if you have never had fresh arugula on pizza, you have never lived), I had it on chicken tacos, I ate salad after salad and still I had 3/4 of the container left. It was beginning to wilt mid week, right about the time that I had my absolute fill of delicious, peppery arugula and I decided something had to be done that didn’t involve my composting bin.

I made arugula pesto. We all know basil pesto is the bomb. It is easy to make, stores well and is delicious on pasta, pizza, burgers, eggs, cheese boards and basically anything savory you can think of. I have made it dozens of times with basil from the market or the garden but you need a lot of it, and it can be pricey. Arugula is not pricey, has a wonderful peppery flavor and it can do exactly what basil pesto can do but with an extra summery kick. Tonight I am putting my arugula pesto on portobello mushroom burgers and it is going to be divine. Find recipe and photos below! Happy saving your greens everyone!

-m

Fresh Arugula Pesto!

You will need….

  • 2 packed cups of fresh arugula (it can be a little wilted, we don’t discriminate!)
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic (your call!)
  • Juice from 1/2 a lemon
  • Pinch of sea-salt
  • 1/4 cup of toasted pine nuts. I used 1/8 cup of pine nuts and 1/8 cup of toasted slivered almonds because that is what I had! Toast them at 350 for about 5 minutes on a baking sheet watching closely as to not over toast them. They should just get golden brown.
  • 1/2 cup of fresh Parmesan cheese (grated)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

This is the best part. Toss all of the above in your food processor or blender minus the oil and blend for less than a minute until it is finely chopped but not ground to a pulp. Turn the processor back on and slowly drizzle the olive oil in. Now scrape the sides and do a little taste test. Add more lemon, salt or garlic as needed! Blend once more for a short period of time and tahhh-dahhh you are done. It keeps for weeks in the fridge in an air tight container. The oil may rise to the top but that is OK! Just let the pesto warm up to room temp and give it a good stir before you use it!

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“Christmas: The only time of year you can sit in front of a dead tree and eat candy out of socks…”-Unknown

I am long overdue for a post, I have been a bad blogger and although I can provide you all with a tirade of excuses, let’s just chalk it up to life getting in the way….

Last week I had a very interesting conversation with a friend about holiday traditions. She had been listening to a radio program that was discussing how those traditions, no matter how small, are what shape the holiday season for so many people. When adults think back to their childhood Christmases it is very seldom that they can recall the gifts but they can quickly rhyme off the traditions their families held that make the festive season really come together for them. A comical discussion comparing our traditions quickly ensued (they were so different!) and it got me thinking about what makes the holiday come alive for me..

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In our household we always have had a slew of long standing traditions when it comes to the holiday season. Some are pretty universal, my mom made shortbread (find link to incredibly simple and well loved recipe here), we trimmed the tree, overindulged in holiday movies and we always attended Christmas Eve mass. Christmas morning was spent in our new pajamas (which my dad still gets us!), strategically passing gifts around while mom and dad drank dark coffee in long, slow gulps, trying very hard to wake up and be lively. Living away from family for the most part meant that Christmas morning was punctuated with dozens of phone calls, visits from neighbors/friends and sometimes our Christmas day even included packing up the car and making the 3 hour trip to Halifax to see the people at the other end of the telephone line. A few things have changed, mainly that my sister and I are now also enthusiastically pounding back coffee in our jammies and my career means that I spend every second Christmas with my chosen family as opposed to my biological one. I wouldn’t change a thing.

As for more unconventional or at least “less common” traditions, we have a few and they just so happen to be my favorite ones. Every Christmas Eve after mass we have always had fried ham sandwiches. Yes, they are exactly what they sound like; fried ham with some HP Sauce, served on soft white bread with a side of crisp pickles. It’s a weird one (I freely admit this) but we have just always done that (I think my mom may have grown up doing the same). You don’t have to take my word for it but very few things come even close to being that delicious and maybe it’s the tradition that makes it taste so incredible for something so simple.

One of my very favorite traditions growing up was that my mom and nanny always gave my sister and I Christmas ornaments. We were allowed to open these Christmas Eve (after the ham sandwiches, clearly) and hang them on the tree. We each had our own shoe box filled with these treasures and we were each responsible for hanging them every year. Over the years we have amassed quite a collection. When I bought my first house my mom gave me my shoe box of ornaments and now the best part of decorating for the holiday is enjoying my sentimental collection.

As for new traditions? Ornament exchanges with friends happen annually and donations are collected for local charities that help abused women and children. Food banks are visited and sweets are baked for coworkers who are busy taking care of other peoples loved ones. If I am lucky enough to make it home to the little island on boxing day, all of my lifelong friends (my other chosen family) convene at a house party and usually end up dancing the night away at The Old Dublin Pub. Last but not least, mulled apple cider is enjoyed with a healthy splash of spiced rum. It tastes and smells like Christmas, basically the holiday season served up hot in a comfortable mug (seriously, it beats the hell out of egg nog and rum!).

What are some of your traditions?

Need some last minute gifts? Be sure to check out Dots and Loops, a beautifully curated shop filled with handmade gifts and many local products. It is quirky, fun and I guarantee you will find something for even the most persnickety person on Santa’s list. For all you online shoppers, shipping is fast with a fantastic flat rate but if you prefer to shop in person, it is located seaside in picturesque Lunenburg (go for gifts stay for the view!). The customer service is incredible (seriously, I received a hand written note with my order!) and it feels great to support local business! Happy shopping!

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-m

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Man cannot live by bread alone; he must have peanut butter.”- James A Garfield

Peanut butter, I have never been one to swoon over the nutty spread. You will never catch me eating it out of the jar with a spoon, I have always preferred jam. I keep it on hand to make quick peanut sauces for stir-fry’s and I may go through one jar a year (I am sure many of you are gasping in shock and awe as Pb has a very big and very loyal following) . The only time I have truly loved peanut butter (besides as a child enjoying sand-dusted Pb and banana sandwiches at the beach) is at 2 am on the back-shift when paired with the squishy white bread often found in hospitals. At 2 am it is a savior, tasting better than anything you have ever tasted, helping you catch a second wind and make it through until the sun is up and your relief is waiting for report with coffee in hand.

This all changed last week when I decided to make a Halloween treat for my hard-working coworkers. I was stumbling through recipe books and web pages when I found Smitten Kitchen’s newest recipe for a simple peanut butter cookie. You know, one of the three or four ingredient varieties. Except these looked nothing like the ones I have made with the recipe off the back of the jar. These were tall, puffy mounds with a beautiful cracked crust on the top, these looked like the ultimate peanut butter cookie. The kind of peanut butter cookie that could possibly make a convert out of even the most persnickety of peanut butter eaters. Her ingredients were simple; eggs, peanut butter, sugar and vanilla. No different than the ones on the back of the jar, even with the same ratio! So what made hers so special? Well she switched traditional white sugar for brown sugar. She also added a touch of sea salt (which makes for an almost religious taste-bud experience, trust me). She also chilled the dough before scooping and then chilled again right on the sheet before baking. This helps prevent cookie spread and helps them keep their tall shape. In turn this also allows the outside to crisp up and the inside to remain soft and chewy. Win, win, win. These are some of the better cookies I have ever made. They took no time (with exception of chilling) and they were an absolute hit at work. Happy baking all, I may just have to buy myself  second jar of peanut butter.

-m

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Smitten Kitchen’s Peanut Butter Cookies (The salted kind….DELISH!)

You will need…

  • 1 and 3/4 cups of smooth peanut butter (Kraft or Skippy or something along those lines)
  • 1 and 3/4 cups of packed brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs (room temp)
  • 1/2 tsp of vanilla or almond extract ( I was out of vanilla and the almond was incredible)
  • Coarse sea salt for sprinkling

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl whisk eggs, vanilla and sugar together. Add peanut butter and mix well (I used my mixer and paddle blade). Place dough in freezer for 15 minutes, stirring half way through. When dough sufficiently chilled, use cookie scoop (#40) or drop from a teaspoon onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Sprinkle each cookie with sea salt and place the cookie sheet in the freezer for a further 15 minutes. Place in oven right from the freezer and bake for 14-15 minutes, until edges are brown. Cool on wire rack (if they are hard to lift let them sit for a couple of minutes on the pan) and allow to cool completely before enjoying with a large glass of milk or a hot cup of coffee. Nom, nom, nom.