Here comes the sun…

We have definitely turned the corner from Winter and begun Spring in earnest. Oh, there’s still a pile of snow on the front lawn that’s now as high as my chest, but the days have been warm, the ground wet more than cold, and the air ripe with the promise of green growing things to come.

This morning, I woke early and made my way downstairs to make muffins, and this is the sight that greeted me out the patio door:

Sunshine

Clear blue skies and a gorgeous ball of light making everything bright. The kitchen and the attached eating area we call the sun room were filled with sunshine (the sun room is aptly named, after all) and my heart hummed with happiness while I made up the batter and popped trays of muffins into the oven.

muffins

Soon, the muffin jar was filled to overflowing and the house was filled with the most delicious aroma. It was so tempting, that smell. And that sunshine, too.

Who could resist all that goodness in one place? Not me!

breakfast muffins

A cup of tea, some organic cane sugar flavoured with little bits of lemon, and mini muffins in three varieties. It was a most delicious way to start the day.

 

Delicious autumn

There’s something about autumn that inspires a flurry of baking. Maybe it’s the fact that the apples are plentiful and need preserving. Or maybe it’s a prelude to the long hibernation of winter. Whatever the reason, there’s an absolute deliciousness to the season.

bananabread

This year marks the first year in several years’ tradition now that The Man We Call Dad did not take the kids apple picking. It didn’t bother me that they didn’t go — we’ve been busy with all sorts of other fun things, not the least of which has been long, lazy moments devouring chapter after chapter of Kevin Hearne’s Hounded together.

At least, it didn’t bother me until we went to my sister-in-law’s for Thanksgiving dinner and she happily showed off cupboards full of canning jars filled with apples in various forms, including an absolutely delicious apple pie filling.

Just that fast, I was bothered.

Really bothered.

In fact, I was positively nostalgic for the year The Man We Call Dad went just a little overboard on the apple picking and brought me home 80 pounds of apples.

So nostalgic that when we arrived at the grocery store to pick up a few essentials like milk and cheddar cheese, pita bread, and ice cream, I was pleased beyond measure to find the annual autumn bins of pumpkins and apples.

They’re huge, those bins. You could get lost in there if you aren’t careful. But they are filled with most fragrant, sweet, juicy MacIntosh apples you’ve ever seen.

Lots of them.

So we brought a few home and I immediately put them to good use:

rollingcrust

filledpies

pieintheoven

Isn’t autumn delicious?

Yummylicious

There are definite advantages to having a son who is fascinated by the Netflix show Chef’s Table. Here’s one of them:

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Pork chops in sour orange sauce with a side of sweet maple-glazed veggies paired with a salad fresh from our garden with balsamic vinegrette dressing, plated to look pretty, just like they do on the show.

He may have lots more to learn in the kitchen, but man oh man are my tastebuds loving this young man’s cooking!

New toys

When our kids were little, the family room was full of toys. Thomas train sets, Rescue Heroes, toy fire engines and dump trucks, teddies, and dollies, and so much more.

Despite being determined not to fill our house to the brim with toys, we had a lot of toys. And yet, whenever there was a holiday, or a birthday (or a rainy Tuesday in July, let’s be honest here), a new toy or two would make its way into our home, much to the kids’ delight. Mine too, truth be told, since nothing makes Mama happier than when the people she loves most in the world are happy.

Often times, the toys served a dual purpose. Board games that taught math skills and money handling. Playmobil that taught careers and adventure loving and opened the door for many a conversation on values, behaviours, and life in general. Musical instrucments for noisy play that set the foundation for the wonderful musicians they have become. Those wonderful science kits from the Young Scientists’ Club. And the LEGOs…Oh, how we love those!

Over the years, the toys changed. Some have stayed constant – the Playmobil sets, the science kits, and of course the LEGO blocks. Others were around for a very short time indeed — well loved at the time, but not for long, like Rescue Heroes, play kitchen, and Pokemon cards.

Lately, the nature of our toys has changed. Imaginative play is slowly being replaced by sports and books and video games. Craft kits have been replaced by drawing lessons thanks to Craftsy and YouTube. But most surprising of all has been the latest obsession: baking.

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know that I bake a lot. Cakes and cookies, squares and brownies…the kitchen is one of my favourite places to spend time.

As a result, I have quite a few toys in my kitchen, though there are a few still on my wishlist. Most recently though, we added three new toys to our stock of kitchen things: A meat slicer, a dehydrator…and this:

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We came across it at Canadian Tire and both kids instantly started chattering away in that very earnest and somewhat frantic and wildly pleading way they haven’t used since they were rather a lot younger. It was clear in an instant that this was to be one of those toys that would see a thousand hours of use in just a few short days, and then quite possibly, having been used to exhaustion, be then soundly ignored for weeks, and then months, and maybe even years.

But they were so excited at the possibility of owning such a thing, explaining how the band teacher for years has done something similar, and how awesome it is, and how they could do it all by themselves, and it would be AWESOME!!!!!!! (Though I’m not sure there are enough exclamation marks in the entire world to express exactly how awesome, so you’ll have to use your imagination.)

So we bought it. (It was on sale, after all.) And it was put to use almost immediately, much to their delight.

To my delight, too, since they are now of an age where they can be completely independent in the kitchen, trustworthy with sharp edges and hot surfaces, and confident that they can follow a recipe.

So what is our new toy? It’s a cake pop maker.

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They’ve already made at least two dozen cake pops, and they have plans for more, though we have run out of sticks. And sprinkles. (Oh, the horrors of not having enough sticks and sprinkles!)

The way I see it, though, is that a cakepop without a stick and covered with a little bit of sugar glaze or powdered icing sugar is rather remarkably similar to a Timbit, which opens up a whole new world of possibilities, as far as I’m concerned. Though I will have to figure out how they get the jam in the middle of the raspberry jam ones.

I think, when the kids have decided they’ve had enough of this particular kitchen toy, I just might have to play with it myself.

Strawberry season

It’s official: Our own little strawberry season has drawn to a close. The last of the berries have been picked and there are no more to be had.

strawberries

You wouldn’t think this would bother me much, given as how I don’t like un-jammed strawberries, but I am curiously sad.

The Man We Call Dad adores strawberries, as does our dear friend B (who knows exactly who he is, and reads this blog, and probably is wondering why I’m teasing him with pictures of strawberries he won’t get to eat, seeing as how he lives on the far west end of town and we live in the east).

We had a surprisingly quick strawberry season this year. Last year, the berries came a few at a time over several weeks, not enough at once to contemplate making jam.

This year, they came fast and furious, cupfuls at a time, and completely finished a mere week after they first started to blush. And once again, not enough to make jam.

But little by little, our strawberry patch grows. I have hopes that someday in the not so distant future, there will be enough strawberries for eating and jam making, and both The Man We Call Dad and I will be able to enjoy sweet berry treats from our very own backyard.

mango chutney

In the meantime, I have been blessed with an abundance of fruit in our weekly CSA box and with the help of a well-loved book on preserving, have done up some mango chutney, and now with a little canning done and a batch of chocolate chip cookies cooling on racks in preparation for an end of year party for the grade 8’s, all feels right in the world.

 

What’s cooling on my kitchen counter

toffeesquares

They’re called “toffee squares,” they smell like pure sugary caramel goodness, and they contain a full cup of butter.

The base layer is a mixture of butter, flour, and brown sugar. The middle is sweetened condensed milk, corn syrup, butter, and vanilla. And because that isn’t sweet enough, they’re then drizzled with semi-sweet chocolate.

I can’t wait to try them!

Base:
Cream together half a cup of brown sugar and half a cup of butter. Beat until fluffy. Gradually beat in 1-1/2 cups of flour. Press the mixture into a pan lined in parchment paper and bake at 325 degrees for 30 minutes until golden.

Filling:
Melt half a cup of butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Mix in one 300 mL can of sweetened condensed milk and 2 tablespoons of corn syrup. Stir constantly for 5 minutes or until bubbly. Remove from heat and add 1 teaspoon vanilla.

Assembly:
Pour filling over base and let cool completely. Drizzle melted semi-sweet chocolate on top.

A mouthful of cookies

This weekend was a cookie weekend.  The Man We Call Dad bought two whole bags of Oreo cookies. Two bags, not one. Two, because he knows from long experience that Oreos are a particular weakness of mine and I tend to eat them four at a time.  And because he knows the kids have learned from my fine example and see nothing wrong with devouring pairs of Oreos multiple times a day.

Usually, he buys a single bag and stashes it away in the pantry, trusting that when he comes back a few hours later, there will be cookies in there. A reasonable assumption, no?

And then he assumes, having had a single cookie, or maybe two, that when he puts the bag back in the pantry, there will be cookies in there tomorrow, too.

Which there totally would be, if the pantry had a lock on it.

Which it doesn’t.

And if I didn’t adore Oreos as much as I do.

And if I didn’t say “Sure, and get me some too!” every time a child said “May I please have an Oreo?”

But they do, and I do, and no, the pantry does not have a lock on it, and yet The Man We Call Dad still finds himself puzzled by the empty bag of Oreos on day two.

So this weekend, he bought not one but two bags of Oreos in the hopes of getting more than just a few for himself. To help with this plan, I baked a few cookies, too.  Two dozen chocolate chip, two dozen peanut butter (from the best recipe ever), and a dozen mint chocolate chip for good measure.

Yes, you read that right. We now have five dozen homemade cookies and 2 bags of Oreos in the house.

Or rather, on Sunday we did. But right at this moment… Well, there are rather fewer, shall we say, and let’s leave it at that.