Apron Strings

A rainy day pitstop at Blumenstudio

Blumenstudio

It’s the first of April and I’ve signed up for a “30 days of biking” challenge for the month. And it snowed. Then it drizzled. It snizzled. Sigh. But, I convinced the boys to hustle together and set off for a trip to Hintonburg and then over to Westboro.. or West Wellington. Gosh, I can’t keep it straight where these neighbourhood lines are drawn. We noticed Blumenstudio as we cycled west and made a pact to stop in on our way back home.

Our two errands ended up being complete busts. But our stop for coffees completely redeemed our morning’s adventure.

Blumenstudio

We parked our bikes to the stop sign outside the shop and headed in.  Slightly damp from our ride in the snizzle, the airy and bright cafe immediately lifted our moods.

Blumenstudio cafe

I chose the John Wayne from the menu – a double shot of espresso, cream and a shot of vanilla.  Starbucks… oh Starbucks.. you will never compete with this drink.  Rich, potent and just sweet enough.  The perfect warm-your-toes drink for a drizzly day.

Blumenstudio

They had lots of milk alternatives in their “disco fridge” (the light was on the fritz), so Alden had a glass of rice milk in the most adorable glass ever.  With a straw.  Very important.   Provided without asking.   The Connect 4 on the table made for the perfect toddler distraction while we enjoyed our drinks and watched the traffic go by on Parkdale.

While we passed on the baked goods since we had Alden with us, I could see this being a really great “mom outing” on a quiet afternoon.

Need coffee?  Need flowers?  Say no more.

http://www.blumenstudio.ca/
465 Parkdale Avenue (Just south of Gladstone)

April 1, 2012   2 Comments

Our holiday in meals

Hello!  I’m back from a nice week-and-a-bit long holiday.  We stayed in Ottawa and spent our days cooking, sledding, snowball-throwing, skating and playing some serious amounts of lego and trains.  All three of us got to spend time doing some of our favourite things which felt like a real luxury.  I even had an afternoon out by myself for a bit of peace and quiet.  Lovely.

I did a lot of baking with Alden – we made cookies, cinnamon buns, biscotti, bread and apple crisp.  He’d be beyond upset if he missed out on some dough action.

He is a mini master in the kitchen.  He is always ready to help, whether it’s taste-testing the cookie dough or making sauces with his Dad.

Mini Apple Crisps

The individual servings of apple crisp in the mini Le Creuset dishes made this simple recipe seem pretty special.  I splurged before Christmas on the Scandinavian-esque tea towel.  A little touch of Nordic-chic for the table.

We made gingerbread men from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar.  (We also did a modified version of their white chocolate and cranberry biscotti, but with chocolate chips and figs.  It was a hit in our house.)  Seriously, I love this cookbook.

Biscotti breakfast

Christmas 2011

The biscotti made our “tea time” a real occasion. I bought the boys a set of Ferrari espresso cups to use for snack time.  (The Ferrari on the cups looks very similar to Francesco from the Cars movie, so I *knew* they would be a hit.)  Alden loves them and he has made it clear that  I am not allowed to use these cups – they are strictly for the boys.  (I picked them up at Preston Hardware if you’re interested in getting a set.  They also have cappuccino sized cups.)

Bloemenbike!

I treated myself to a new bike after Christmas and tarted it up with a big crocheted flower.  Hey, it’s my “social bike”.  While not food-related, I was pretty chuffed to have some new wheels.

Gravlax trout

The dish that I was looking forward to making most was a gravlax fish recipe.  It was a nice change from our usual fare of smoked salmon from the Whalesbone.  I picked up a couple of trout filets from Whalesbone and did a half recipe of this cure from Australian Gourmet Traveler.  It cured for 24 hours, but it could have done with less.  It ended up being a shade too salty and as you can see from the photo below, there were a few spots that were overdone and a bit chewy.

I could see this becoming a tradition.  The leftovers made for easy tapas-y lunches with bread and olives.  Or in the case below, caper berries!  They have all the flavour that you love about olives, but with no pit to remove.

Gravlax trout

I whipped together the cheese bread recipe from Artisan Breads Every Day.  We found it a little heavy on the onion, so I’ll tone that down next time or add some herbs to make it more savoury.  It went great with the fish.

Cheese and onion bread

We worked off some calories with a winter bike ride along Dow’s Lake. I’m not sure who loved being out and about more.
winter riding

On New Year’s Eve, we spent the afternoon outside sledding at a local hill.  The husband roasted a duck and fried up some potatoes in the duck fat.  If you haven’t made potatoes using duck fat, get on that in 2012.  (You can get it at any good butcher.  Or just roast a duck and collect the drippings.)

I helped by assembling our collection of relishes and chutneys for the big meal.  The boy konked out mid-meal at the table leaving the remainder of the evening free for sipping Prosecco and enjoying a cheese plate.  We even watched a movie!  The second one we’ve seen in one week!  (In case you’re wondering, they were: Bill Cunningham New York and Our Idiot Brother.  I’d easily recommend watching both.)  We also watched the Dr. Who Christmas special, but I fell asleep halfway through.  It was overly sentimental.  I was looking forward to something a little sillier and light.

Dog-themed Prosecco – you can’t go wrong with a dog on the label.  Trust in the wiener dog.

Finally, for our New Year’s Day lunch, I whipped up a pretty basic risotto with some mushrooms and bacon.  We cracked open the new bottle of truffle oil and drizzled it on the top of our dishes.  It took the risotto from being tasty to beyond terrific.  Even Alden wanted in on the truffle action.

In 2012, I expect we’ll keep cooking, keep baking and keep trying to avoid stepping on lego in the middle of the night.  Easier said than done.

 

January 1, 2012   2 Comments

Expanding the play kitchen

Play kitchen fixings

There’s a lot of activity shaking down in our neck of Ottawa these days and as much as I want to just focus on food writing and cooking, my inner community activist is being consumed by the completely foolish reconstruction plans of an arterial highway/main street not far from us.  Yes, highway and main street!  That’s Ottawa planning for you.

Sigh.

I’ve been putting together some items for Alden’s expanded “play kitchen 2011.”  Last year, the husband crafted a lovely tabletop cooktop for him out of spare Ikea shelves and now we’d like to build an oven and shelf unit for the cooktop to sit on.  My role was to find some new playfood to use.  As much as he’s loved all the crochet foods I made last year, I just didn’t have time to dedicate to crafting more food.  I relied on the internet and found some super cute Erzi and Haba playfood on the Baby Naturopathics website.

I really like the Haba felt noodles: fettucine, bow ties and ravioli.  They were sort of ridiculously priced for felt and my inner “crafty mom” is still feeling a bit guilty for not making my own.  If you are crafty, you could easily whip these up with some felt at home.  But alas, time was of the essence.

Some things, were just too amazing to resist.  The coffee beans in the little tin?  He is going to love putting those in the mini espresso maker for “coffee”.  The roast chicken with the removable legs?  I think he’s going to love roasting it up in his oven.

I looked at many play versions of coffee makers but they were so expensive!  The mini espresso maker is the perfect size and essential for the kid who likes playing with the “real” thing.

I also picked up some tea bags, sausages, fish filets, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and jam.

Goods for the play kitchen

The clincher?  The mini chef hat.  I found this one at J.D. Adams in the Glebe (but they also have them at the Glebe Emporium).

November 25, 2011   2 Comments

Pressed gourmet sandwich shop to open at 750 Gladstone Avenue, Ottawa

I won’t lie, it’s been kind of a dream of ours to have a great lunch, sweets and coffee shop near our home. Ok, the dream is mostly my husband’s since he works from home and there’s only so many biscotti or polish donuts a person can eat before getting a little bored.

Pressed: Gourmet sandwich shop

Pressed gourmet sandwich shop is slated to open on November 21 at 750 Gladstone Avenue (corner Gladstone and Arthur) and will feature:

  • Fair trade coffee from Equator
  • Lots of in-house cooking (and smoking!) and many local ingredients
  • Vegan options
  • Large space for live music
  • Ample stroller parking
  • “Kid’s menu” with Mac n’ Cheese, grilled cheese and all-natural hot dogs
  • Lots of space to meet and gather
  • Wifi

When we met last night, they were still working on sourcing their sweets and bread.  So far, they know it won’t be Art-is-in since they felt their business was too similar to their City Centre concept.  (My 2 personal cents: I don’t go to Art-is-in at the City Centre because it’s just not convenient to walk there from West Centretown, we don’t have a car to drive there and I haven’t bothered to figure out how to get there on a bike.  And I love their bread.  Ok.. rant over.)

Update: They’ve decided to go with ACE bakery ciabatta – it provides the right texture for the paninis.

Pressed: Gourmet sandwich shop

Pressed: Gourmet sandwich shop

They are planning to open early around 7:30 to catch morning commuters.  And will hopefully soon have their liquor licence for those after-work commuters and evening concerts.

Jeff, the owner, gave me a tour of the space last night.  Of all the cool things they were planning, the piece of equipment that really got Jeff talking the most was the smoker. I am convinced that by opening day, this machine will have moved into a prime viewing (and smelling) location.
Pressed: Gourmet sandwich shop

He talked of brining and smoking pork belly, making brisket for chili and even smoking squash for vegetarian soups.  They’ll also be doing vegetable dishes like collard greens and braised red cabbage.  It’s great to see vegetables being featured.

They have done extensive renovations to turn the old fluorescent kebab shop into a cozy nook.  With the fluorescent lights gone, the walls and ceiling repainted and the addition of lovely wooden church pew seats from a local church, artwork, and ambient lighting – the space has really transformed into the kind of space to sit and relax.

Pressed: Gourmet sandwich shop

While they may have had reservations about joining the Twitter thing, I have no doubt that they will find it teaming with local foodies waiting to retweet daily specials.

Pressed: Gourmet sandwich shop

————
Update!  December 8, 2011

We’ve had several meals here now (with and without the small boy) – here are some of our favourites:

Latte
Sunday Centretown Scene

Panini with homemade pickled beans (totally delicious)
Sunday Centretown Scene

We eat a lot of meat at home, so it’s nice to have a break.  Their vegetarian chili is filling and perfect for winter.
Veg chili at Pressed

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Pressed on Urbanspoon

November 16, 2011   12 Comments

Goodbye garden 2011

End of the season

Over the weekend, we tidied up the last of the plants in the garden.  Out came the broccoli and the last row of carrots.  We’re now down to the last stalks of swiss chard, spinach and the hardy herbs.

Sunday afternoon was spent canning five pounds of tomatoes into tomato jam.   There’s probably less than three pounds of tomatoes left to ripen fully in the basement.  Who knows, I may get one more tomato sauce out of them.

It’s pretty amazing how many tomatoes grew in that one bed of tomato plants.  This year I planted a mix of Siberian and Tiny Tims.  The Siberians I would grow again, they ripened early, produced heavily, resisted blight and looked *just* like the packet picture.  They were a great tomato to grow and versatile in the kitchen: sliced in salads, roasted for tomato sauce, cooked into jam and dehydrated into “sundried” tomatoes.  They did it all.

The Tiny Tims were great in salads, but one or two plants is plenty.  I definitely didn’t need six.  Next year, I’m thinking of growing a couple funky heirloom varieties instead.

Afternoon pickings

The broccoli I grew was Green Magic and it’s another keeper for next year.  It was packed with flavour and made the garden look like it was straight out of a Beatrix Potter story.

My broccoli

The carrots were a success this year.  Thanks to the raised beds and fluffier soil conditions, the carrots grew deep and straight.  Last year they were knobby and crooked.  Now I’m growing Peter Rabbit quality carrots.

Baby carrots

Convince me that these are not the cutest carrots ever.  Eat your heart out Peter Rabbit.  Paws off these babies.

As for next year – I’m planning on more strawberries, a full bed of garlic and more hardy greens.  I’m a little worried already that my dream garden of 2012 is too grand for our little space.  And Alden, your little sandbox is awfully tempting to co-opt into a strawberry patch.

Yes, I’ve already started plotting out next year’s beds.  I’ve got a stack of quirky seed packages from Solana Seeds that I can’t wait to use next year.  Summer, I miss you already.

November 1, 2011   No Comments

Adventures in dining out with allergies: The Flatbread Pizza Company

Wood fired pizza

On Sunday, we were feeling adverturous.  Letting our cares flap in the breeze.  Booking the Vrtucar to go to the market AND pay for parking.  That’s the wild side for us.  Hey, it was cold.

Alden chose a purple cauliflower.  That’s the wild side for him.  Will he eat it?  Who knows.  He chose it very carefully.  Not the cauliflower in the front, but the second one in.  That’s the one.

Having driven to the market instead of biking, we were feeling particularly wimpy and prone to the cooler October temperatures.  Our usual stop for an apple cider wasn’t going to warm our quickly cooling toes.  Then I saw the Flatbread Pizza Company oven.  Without a lineup.

Let’s get a pizza!

I asked about the dough. There were no eggs or milk.  Can you leave the cheese off the top?  No problem.

Sold!  There we were – ordering our first pizza.

We went with the Italian sausage and onion pizza.  While the kid ended up just picking off the onions and meat to eat, we happily picked up the slack by devouring the crusts.

This was a solid win in the allergy-friendly dining out handbook.  Why didn’t we try this sooner?

The little dude still got his apple cider.

October 27, 2011   1 Comment

Tomato jam: a sweet way to keep the season going

Tomato jam!

I took the best parts from Marisa’s (Food in Jars) and Bon appétit’s recipes for tomato jam and made the most deeeeeeelicious spread imaginable. Thank you both for the recipes.

I had seen recipes for tomato jam before, but it wasn’t until we had tomato jam with our appetizers at DiVino the other week that I realized exactly what we were missing.  And with several pounds of garden tomatoes ripening in our basement, I suddenly knew just what to do with them.

Out came the canning supplies: mini jars, stock pot, funnel and tongs.  Ready to go.

The greatest thing about the Food in Jars method is that it’s SO easy.  All you have to do is chop the tomatoes and toss the ingredients in a pot to cook away.  No blanching the tomatoes or removing seeds, everything goes in the pot.

I served my jam with bread and goat’s cheese and I’m not sure there is any better possible pairing.

Tomato jam!

Aren’t these little 1/2 cup size jars cute?  And my favourite part of the process?  Making the stickers for the lids.

Tomato jam!

October 25, 2011   No Comments

Candy overload – Halloween thoughts from granola central

pumpkin pie

Making a pumpkin pie

The older Alden gets, the more I realize that we are solidly in the “Granola Parent” category. As Halloween draws closer, not only are we preoccupied finding allergy-safe candy for the BIG day, but all of the other “week of” activities that seem to go along with major holidays these days.

Take for example our daycare, they’ll be doing a “trick or treating” activity on Friday the 28th. (Presumably, some children don’t attend on Mondays so they don’t want them to be “left out.”)   Then there will be the real Halloween on the 31st.  AND to top off that candy train, I had a message that someone wants to bring in treats to Alden’s class the week of Halloween.

REALLY? Are our three year olds not getting enough candy after two trick or treating outings?

And this rant, this has nothing to do with food allergies.  This is about using basic common sense when teaching small children lessons about healthy eating habits.

And before anyone accuses me of being anti-sweets, I am not.  I just want to control when and how often sweets are consumed at this time.  Because right now, we are in the middle of a very anti-vegetable phase and  I can’t compete in a competition between carrots and candy.

There are enough birthday party celebrations held in-class without adding “just because” treats to that list.

And tonight, I’m treating the little guy to cupcakes.  Because he’s had a rough week at school and he’s been super keen to try new (healthy) foods.

October 21, 2011   2 Comments

A non-foodie note – downtown pedestrians open meeting with Diane Holmes

This email arrived in my inbox today (note point #2 – ahem, it seems my push button issues are pushing someone’s buttons).  If you like to walk downtown and do it safely, please consider attending.  (Don’t forget to do your homework first.  Although, I am sure we can all think of many many more examples!)

Message is as follows:

 

Dear fellow pedestrians,

The City of Ottawa spends tens of millions of dollars a year on road building, but very little on dedicated pedestrian-specific projects. As announced earlier, I am hosting a meeting on pedestrian safety that will bring together pedestrian advocates, community representatives and residents who want to improve our city’s walking environment.

Diane Holmes’ “SIDEWALK SUMMIT”

Tuesday, November 8, 2011, 7-9 pm

Ottawa City Hall, Colonel By Room (second floor near Lisgar St. entrance)

110 Laurier Avenue West

 

At the meeting we will discuss the disconnect between what is promised in official planning documents (such as the Ottawa Pedestrian Plan) and what is spent in City budgets. We will also break out into groups to share our experiences and concerns about walking in Ottawa, to develop a priority list of pedestrian problems that need to be solved, and plan ways to make that happen.

As you walk around town between now and November 8th, consider the following topics and if possible please bring a list of 5 examples in each category.

  1. General problems that apply city-wide (e.g. not enough money spent on building, or maintaining pedestrian linkages and routes)
  2. Location-specific chronic problems in any part of the city (e.g. the light at the end of my street takes a long time to change after I press the crosswalk button)
  3. Degradations—where conditions have recently gotten worse (e.g. new vehicular-priority advance turn signals, barricades to convenient street crossings, or the pathway gate at Preston and Albert that was recently locked)

 

Please pass along this invitation to anyone you think would be interested in improving conditions for pedestrians.

Sincerely,

Diane Holmes
Councillor, Somerset Ward
(613) 580-2484

Diane.Holmes@ottawa.ca
www.dianeholmes.ca

October 18, 2011   No Comments

Red and green and good all over – stuffed swiss chard rolls!

Swiss chard rolls

The greens in my garden had grown to Popeye-esque proportions and it was time to use them up.  So, on Saturday afternoon, I pulled up beets and hacked off the leaves to make beet green chips.  So easy.  So kid friendly.

Then on Sunday, it was showtime for the swiss chard.  Now, the little guy loves stuffed grape leaves from Raw Sugar, so I gambled that stuffed swiss chard would also be familiar enough to casually slide onto the dinner table without an upturned nose or a scowl.

Picking swiss chard

And it almost worked.   Once he realized that they contained meat – MEAT! – he warmed up to the idea.  Although, I say that in the most lukewarm of ways.

Stuffed swiss chard rolls

Look at those little bundles... so cute.

Now, the rolls weren’t overly tedious to put together, but it’s a dish that’s best saved for the weekend when you have a bit of extra time.

Handy tip #1:  You’ll want to find some nice large swiss chard leaves with as few holes as possible.  Luckily, it’s the perfect time of year for finding swiss chard in the market if you’re not growing them yourself.

Handy tip #2: Don’t pick swiss chard wearing pajama pants on a Sunday morning when you live next to a church.  The raised eyebrows from passers-by had me believing that God frowns upon flannel snowflake prints.  Oh well.  Such is the life of the urban gardener.

(For the fashion record: I was wearing a normal fall raincoat over the jammies.  Nonetheless, the addition of slippers to the snowflake ensemble was likely the downfall.)

I followed this recipe for Bulghur and Beef-stuffed swiss chard from the Washington Post almost to a tee.  I made a slight modification to the herbs – tossing in extra parsley, oregano and lemon balm that I had gathered in my PJ outing.

As we tucked into our dinner, it struck me that without any thought or planning, most of our dinner was home/locally grown.

Home: chard, tomatoes, onions, herbs, homemade chicken stock
Ottawa: ground beef (Bearbrook Farm)
Canada: bulgur
Unknown: rice

We’ve come a long way from just being very mindful about shopping for local ingredients and reading the labels.  Now it’s part of how we cook.  Having a garden has trained us into the “use it or lose it” mentality.  If you have a CSA box, you’ll know the feeling.  If there’s anything that irks me more, it’s letting good food go to waste.  I believe some people refer to that as being Scottish.  Stereotypes aside, I don’t like wasting food.

And these swiss chard rolls?  They will be gobbled up before you know it.  No waste.

October 17, 2011   2 Comments