Summertime and the weather is…?

Holy smokes. It’s been well over a month since I last posted. Bad Sarah. Boo. Sorry. We got our deck put in late June and then I just got down to enjoying summer. We’ve been on the road virtually every weekend since mid-June!

I’m very excited that after a very long wait, our landscaping has finally started in earnest. Which means in about 10 days or so I should have a garden again. I cannot wait! I’m taking a little time off to celebrate and dig my hands into some dirt!

Deck

Deck (minus stairs, which are yet to come)

Deck

Solar powered deck dog.

Deck

Our gorgeous view out into the ravine.

Come August we have a much calmer travel schedule, so I hope to, gasp, have some weekends at home. Stay tuned for landscaping photos!

Taking shape

Our rough landscape plan: Front Yard

Our rough landscape plan: Front Yard

Guys! It’s happening!!

We finally got our permit for our deck and porch and holy crap they are under construction!!

In probably less than a week I will be able to sit out and enjoy a cold beer on my brand new deck! And by late July our entire outdoor space, front and back, should be hardscaped and ready for planting! Better late than never!

Our rough landscape plan: Back Yard

Our rough landscape plan: Back Yard

We agreed on a plan with our landscaper that is now being finalized; the above drawings are just rough plans and are not perfectly to scale by any means, but they are so exciting!

At first I really didn’t want any lawn, but then we would be adding too much patio stone in the back, and a huge, daunting amount of perennial garden to plant in the front yard. We decided to instead go with some lawn in the front and the back (sod is cheap and green, stone is not), and I can later add more beds in the front if so desired. The best part is my veggie beds will have good space up front and I will have some options for planting some permanent veggie crops like rhubarb, asparagus and strawberries in the back (crossing my fingers that the survive plundering from our resident groundhog). Stay tuned for updates!

Baby Boom

There’s been a veritable baby boom among our friends lately, so I’ve put together a couple quilts as gifts. I don’t feel these are my best work — I’m not totally thrilled with the colour and print choices, but I was trying to make due with the fabric I had on hand to try to work down my stash; I have a lot of fabric right now but not always the best combinations of colours or patterns, which means having to make some sacrifices. Much like my yarn stashing habit, I have tended to buy fabric randomly and without a plan, and this has lead to issues with figuring out how to use the stuff up. I’m slowing working on improving these purchasing habits!

Quilt for Adelaide

Quilt for Adelaide

 

These are also far from my best photography, being hastily captured prior to packing up before running off to a baby shower.

Quilt for baby Cohen-Wylie

Quilt for baby Cohen-Wylie

Quilt for baby Cohen-Wylie

 

I’ve got one more to pull together in the next month or so. I’m a bit more excited about the  fabrics I have handy for this next one, so we’ll see how it shapes up. I have to figure out a pattern choice for the quilt top. The chevron pattern of this latest one — the predominantly orange and green one — I worked out myself, but I don’t want to do it again right away. I need something different to keep it interesting.

Oriole Party and Cherries

Oriole party

Spring has sprung here on the ravine, and we have been doing what we can to enjoy it, despite the fact that we’re still waiting for the City to grant us our permit to build the deck. We’ve been caught up in the City’s extra sharp due diligence, ever since our neighbours down the street to game the City’s permitting process. So while the trees leaf out, the weather grows incrementally warmer, the racoon families grow and the deer secretly pass through in the shadows of the brush, we wait. My beautiful new patio doors still go to nowhere. Hopefully this will be remedied sooner than later.

Oriole party

For about four days earlier this month we enjoyed watching three pairs of orioles having a party in the cherry tree next door, frantically feeding on the blossoms. The tree has since completed it’s glorious blooming performance and is now busy growing tiny green baby cherries. I’d like to approach my neighbours about letting me pick some, but they have told me the cherries are not edible. I think this is potentially a cultural misunderstanding — they are Chinese, and I’m 90% certain the tree produces sour cherries, which makes them perfectly edible when cooked properly, but they may not realize it… so we shall see. The challenge is that the tree is fairly tall and picking will need to be done with a ladder, so permission would absolutely be needed — no covert fruit harvesting will be possible.

Perhaps if I promise them some pie, or some jam, they can be convinced to entertain my proposal. This means I need to bring canning supplies back from storage at the farm, so I better get my ducks in order!

 

 

 

Bread porn is back!

Isn’t it ironic that when my paying day job becomes social media ALL DAY ALL NIGHT ALL THE TIME, my personal social media profile completely tanks? This is what happens when you’re the sole person responsible for breathing life into the social profile of a corporate brand. Sigh.

Sourdough

Sourdough is back baby!

Well despite this, I am starting to find my way back to the aspects of my old life that I loved and that made me feel whole: baking bread (or baking anything, really). It’s one of those nurturing acts of experimentation and creation that bring me back to myself and make me feel like I have an identity beyond the one I represent behind a computer screen at the office.

It’s hard to say exactly when my hiatus on sourdough started but it may have been as long ago as February 2013, if I go by my “bread porn” photos. My poor neglected sourdough starter was one of the last things left in our fridge before we moved into our temporary home with Dave and Linda in July, and then it sat at the back of a bar fridge for those 6+ months we spent there. Even after we moved into our new house, it was not exactly #1 on my priority list to get it going again. But I fed it a few times in February to bring it back to life, and in late March I made my first loaf in eons.

Sourdough

First loaf in eons

It was a thing of beauty, to be sure, but when I opened it up it had a giant hole in the middle; clearly I had not treated it appropriately in the bulk ferment, or when I prepared it for proofing overnight.

But last weekend’s attempt was absolutely gorgeous, inside and out (pictured at the top of this post). I was more brutal with turning it and giving it a good poking with my fingers during the bulk ferment, although ironically doing it a little less often because I was mostly outdoors enjoying the fabulously warm spring day. Who knew that a combination of neglect and aggression could result in such fantastic, perfectly crumbed bread?

But Chris’s complaint continues to be that it’s not sour enough. So I have decided to bring in the rye. Chris consulted the interwebs, and the interwebs says that rye is the key to the most sour of sours. But rye flour has less gluten, so I’m a little uncertain if I should go full rye or a 50/50 mixture of rye and wheat flour. I’ve started the experiment by turning some of my starter over to a 100% rye flour starter, so we’ll see how that goes first. After a few days it looks lively and bubbly, so that’s a good sign.

My hubby wants to taste his Oma’s bread again… so the new bread journey begins.

Remembering

Dad at Otter Creek, NY

Dad at Otter Creek, NY

A year ago, without warning, I lost my hero: my Dad. I wasn’t ready for him to go. It’s still hard to believe he’s gone.

Miss Vu & Grandpa

My niece and her grampa.

I have a gaping hole in my heart. I had so much more to ask him about, to share with him, to laugh together over.

First Dance

First Dance

Dad & Magoo

My nephew and his Grampa

Dad Diving

Scuba Diver

I miss late nights in the kitchen talking about the latest archeology story he read in National Geographic. I miss his quiet, always working, always tinkering presence around the farm. I miss trail rides where he always managed to squeeze in a nap on horseback. I miss hearing him practicing his banjo upstairs. I miss his scratchy moustache kisses and his big squeeze hugs. I miss being able to ask him to make something for my garden or the house.

That Smile

That Smile

Dad & Us

Dad, me and my brother

Dancing with Harvey

Always Dancing

I try to remember that he wouldn’t want me to dwell on loss, regrets, and what never will be. I try to remember and embody his endless curiosity, inventiveness and willingness to learn, his do-it-yourself attitude, and the boundless joy he found in life, his family and his friends.

Napping with Harley

Floor naps with the dog

Best Friends

Best Friends

Getting to know the locals

Always curious

Dad & Chiachi

Dad & Chiachi

Dad and I

Dad and I, at my brother’s wedding

I miss you Dad. So much.

Shiny new playground

My new kitchen

My new kitchen

It’s not lost on me for one second just how ridiculously lucky I am to have been able to, with my hubby, undertake this immense renovation project and be able to design something exactly the way we wanted it. I feel sort of self-conscious sometimes talking about what we’ve done here, knowing that others can only dream of being able to do something of this magnitude. But what can I say? I’m also very proud of it.

We didn’t use an interior designer, although we had a lot of help from the talented Ross Etherington (an OCAD University graduate!) of Etherington Designs in creating a vision for specific aspects of the renovation. He created 3D models of our Ikea kitchen, and designed and built our magnificent custom island. Our general contractor team of Argyris & Clinkard realized the project and continue to be here on a regular basis putting finishing touches on, and responding to small repairs or customizations. And as soon as winter releases its icy grip on us, they’ll be back here building us a new deck and coordinating our landscaping needs.

But back to the kitchen, which is almost entirely finished, except for the installation of Chris’s keg fridge into the island.

My new kitchen

Ceasarstone countertop in Vanilla Noir

We splurged a bit on a new Caesarstone colour way that came out this year, called Vanilla Noir. We had originally made a different selection but had not yet ordered it, and then I came across this in a magazine. We’re thrilled we opted to spend the few hundred dollars more to get the new colour way — it’s stunning, and looks a lot more like granite than other types of quartz countertops, without the headaches that come with granite (i.e. it’s non-porous, requires virtually no maintenance or sealing, and is more heat resistant).

My new kitchen

Shiny island

We opted to keep the nearly new 30″ stainless steel stove that came with the house to save money, but installed two stainless panels along the sides so that, if eventually I want to upgrade to a 36″ range, all we’ll need to do is trim the countertops. We chose an impressively quiet but powerful 36″ hood by Broan that sits under the cabinets and ventilates straight back, allowing full use of the kitchen cabinets above. Trust me — you do not need to spend the money on a Thermadore or Vent-A-Hood to get top notch performance. This thing is unbelievably quiet and incredibly powerful. I rarely need more than the lowest setting for regular cooking, but on occasion if I’ve burnt something (it happens) or I’m doing particularly steamy kitchen work such as canning, I can crank it up full blast.

Caesarstone Kitchen

Cabinets and countertop

While we frequently use a microwave, I didn’t want it to take up a dominate spot on the countertop. Because we have a window along the length, there actually isn’t a huge amount of space to rest appliances. But I also couldn’t justify spending $800 on a drawer-style microwave. I mean, seriously? $800?? When you can get a regular one for $100 or so, that just didn’t seem even remotely reasonable. So Ross helped us design a section of the cabinetry for the existing microwave that involved a couple custom cabinetry parts, and we had the electrician put an outlet in the back. This way the microwave sits under the counter but is completely accessible for use. There’s enough space on top of the appliance for the spatter guard to sit when we’re not using it, and plenty of room around the appliance for proper ventilation. I had to place a no-slip liner under the microwave so that when we open and close it, it stays put. Overall, this compromise is working marvellously well.

Speaking of the windows. The one along the countertop section wasn’t there before and was added to the structure of the house to maximize solar gain and to improve sight lines to the street. We also had to shorten the window on the front side of the house to accommodate the addition of a powder room to the main floor of the house. Both have lovely deep windowsills — perfect for a little indoor herb garden. The original kitchen had a wall of windows that faced the neighbour’s house, closer to the ravine side, closing in what was originally an old porch. That entire wall was bricked in and properly insulated, and allowed us to maximize that wall of the house for the cabinetry, stove and fridge.

Caesarstone Kitchen

View towards the street

I have an extraordinary amount of storage space, especially given that Ikea’s kitchen cabinetry is so well designed, and includes so many options for shelving, pull out baskets and drawers. I’ve got a wicked spice drawer (finally!) and a top notch pantry. The island also features some cabinetry in front of the seating. We’ve even managed to keep the garbage and recycling out of sight and in cabinets, so that we don’t have to clutter up floorspace with bins. I had to invest in a nice wood step stool (Bekväm by Ikea in dark brown) so that I can reach some of those awesome cabinets. I’m not really that short but we hung the cabinets 19″ above the counters so that we could accommodate under cabinet lighting, valances and our rather tall coffee maker. Chris wasn’t so keen at first on having this stool kicking around, but I keep it in front of one of the back windows where the cat can enjoy it, and it can serve as an impromptu chair when needed.

We’re still working on finishing touches around the built in cabinets around the fireplace, so when I can finally photograph them in their full glory I will share that here. In the meantime, I’ve got some cooking to do!

The best chicken soup EVER.

OMG. A food post? Yup. Finally. I’ve had some time to settle into my awesome new kitchen and then, well, then I got sick. I’ve contracted a scratchy sore throat that’s quite probably evolving its way into being a full blown nasty sinus cold.

So as I sit here taking it easy, letting my body do what it needs to do, I got hungry. And I wanted chicken soup.

My usual chicken soup consists of veggies, including a can of diced tomatoes, some chicken breast and some thin, well-seasoned broth. But this time I felt like giving my soup a bit of a kick in the butt.

This soup riffs off a chicken fricassée recipe that I have fallen completely in love with. As far as your basic chicken soup typically goes, it only requires a few extra steps and uses things most of us have in the larder, and the pay off is astounding. You could omit the parsnips if you wanted although I think it adds interest and complexity, as well as a hint of sweetness. One of the key ingredients you don’t want to skip out on however, is tarragon.

Tarragon is a bit of a mysterious herb to me. I’ve tried growing it a few times with little success, and I’ve always found it to have a surprisingly powerful flavour that I didn’t quite know what to do with. It has a pinch of anise flavour in there that can be challenging to pair. Of course it’s pretty standard in French cuisine. But I’ve recently discovered for myself the “when” for making tarragon shine — with creaminess. I had it served to me added to hollandaise sauce, offering a vibrant kick of flavour to brighten up Eggs Benedict. And it’s an essential finishing ingredient in a fricassée. I’ve cooked with it fresh or dried, and as with virtually all herbs, fresh is best, but if dried is all you have handy, it’ll do the trick.

I hope you’ll love this soup as much as I do.

Creamy Chicken Soup

Creamy Chicken Soup

Recipe: Creamy Chicken Soup

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 to 6 chicken pieces, bone in and skin on
  • salt and pepper to season chicken
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2-3 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 large carrots, diced
  • 1 large parsnip or 2 small, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/4 sherry
  • 2 stalks of fresh thyme (or 1/2 tsp dried)
  • a few fresh sage leaves (or 1/2 tsp dried)
  • 1 small stock of fresh rosemary (or 1/2 tsp dried)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/4 cup cream (whipping or half & half if you prefer)
  • 1 tbsp fresh chopped tarragon (or 1 tsp dried)
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice

Instructions

  1. In a large (6 quart) Dutch oven or soup pot, heat butter and oil over medium-high heat.
  2. Generously season chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Brown chicken, beginning skin side down, until golden, about 2-3 minutes per side. Remove from pot and set aside. If cooking 6 chicken pieces, do in two batches (do not crowd the pot). If you have a lot of fat accumulated in the pot, drain some off but leave about 2 tbsp behind.
  3. Lower heat slightly and add onion, celery, carrot and parsnip to the pot and sauté until softened, about 7 minutes. Add crushed garlic, and then flour. Cook mixture for about 2-3 minutes until vegetables are fully coated and flour absorbs the liquids from the pot.
  4. Add stock, water and sherry, stirring to combine. Increase heat to medium-high and bring mixture to a boil. As the soup begins to come together it will thicken slightly.
  5. Add thyme, sage, rosemary and bay leaves. Return chicken pieces to the pot. Lower heat to a gentle simmer, cooking for about an hour.
  6. Remove cooked chicken from the soup and place on a plate to cool until you can separate the meat from the bones, about 5-10 minutes. If you wish, remove the skin as well. As the chicken is cooling, add the cream, tarragon and lemon juice to the soup and stir to combine. Once cool enough to handle, tear or cut the chicken into bite size pieces, then return to the pot before serving.

Preparation time: 30 minute(s)
Cooking time: 1 hour(s) 15 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 6-8

Note: I did try freezing this soup, with mixed results. The texture changed a little as the broth separated somewhat, but it still tastes great.

Under the sea

Visiting the Aquarium

Jellies

Time for a little tropical colour.

We had a lovely visit with my brother and his family this past weekend. It was our first time having house guests here at the new place and the first time they got to see our new house.

Visiting the Aquarium

Staring contest

While it was not a PA day for our local school board, it was a PA day for all the GTA school boards. Which meant the brand new aquarium was rammed with screaming children and frantic parents. But it was still loads of fun.

Visiting the Aquarium

Slithery

I always feel a bit torn about zoos or other attractions that feature animals as I often feel the exhibits are much too small and that the animals don’t get adequate stimulation. But then again, these places give us the opportunity to appreciate the beauty and diversity of our Earth’s creatures and to learn about how they are at risk and what we can do to protect them.

I didn’t really get the sense that the Ripley’s people have much of a conservation mandate, and that’s too bad. There wasn’t a lot of educational activity going on, but then again, it would have been hard to absorb given the hoards of people and the noise of the raucous kids.

Visiting the Aquarium

Children tank

Regardless, the kids really enjoyed it and we all had a super fun day.

Settling into 2014

Ice Storm

Ice storm bokeh

Well hello 2014. I’ve been a bit tardy on the blog lately as we had one hell of a December. We got moved in, although later than we’d hoped. We had been in for precisely one week when the ice storm hit and cut off our power for three and a half days.

This was an interesting test for the new house. One of our big goals in our renovations was to insulate the house and make it more efficient. And because we’re still struggling to get the heating system balanced, we’ve got thermometers on all floors to monitor. We were very pleased to see the temperature on the main floor stay around 15ºC for the first two days (upstairs, the floor we did not fully insulate, was significantly colder). We kept ourselves warm with lots of hot chocolate and tea since we could cook with our gas stove, also using it to heat up water for bucket baths (Chris still had to work during this stretch, of course).

By Day Three the outside temperature was starting to dive, and inside on the main floor dropped to about 12ºC, so we decided to seriously investigate trying out our gas fireplace. This led to discovering that our battery backed up electric ignition was, well, not backed up. No battery housing to be found. After some phone calls with our contractor and the fireplace installation people Chris managed to MacGyver the ignition using the battery housing from one of our LED camping lanterns. I’m so lucky to live with such a smartypants!

And then all of a sudden we had power again, about an hour before we needed to head out for the Christmas cross-country extravaganza, on Christmas Eve.

It was a difficult holiday for me this year, without my Dad, or my Grama. New Year’s was also a time of reflection on the-year-that-was-2013. It was a year of great loss, huge changes, upheaval and challenge, but also filled with plenty of great love. I find it hard to articulate my feelings about everything that’s happened — because there has been so much. I’m feeling rather “soft” lately (a wonderful word used by Chris’s Uncle Val that seemed to me like the exact right description). Perhaps because life had just so many moving parts since we left our old house, I feel like perhaps I put up some protective barriers. Like maybe I compartmentalized my grieving for a while, as we lived with others and I didn’t feel like I had the necessary privacy, just so that I could keep it together while we worked through the roller coaster that is a renovation project such as this one.

We’re still dealing with the reno roller coaster, and I’m often very frustrated with the seeming snail’s pace at which the final touches (and therefore my ability to unpack and organize my space) seem to be moving. But we’re in our own home. Our animals are all here with us now, and we’re working away at finding our work-life routine again, learning new transit routes to the office, figuring out how long it takes to get from here to there, and so on. I’m grateful. And hopeful. And trying to be patient.

2014, please be gentle with me.