Monday, August 8, 2011

Fudge Popsicles

I'm a popsicle lover. I don't eat a lot of processed food, but I can buy a whole box of popsicles and sit and eat them one after another. When I think of all the sugar and guar gum and high fructose corn syrup, I get the shivers (its probably some sort of weird insulin reaction). So this summer I am determined to make my own "ice pops". I thought if I controlled the ingredients I might feel better about the whole thing.

I started with a difficult and pretty much fruitless search for Ice pop molds. I should have just ordered some from Golda's kitchen or amazon, but it didn't occur to me until after I bought the pop molds I bought, which are cute, but inadequate in a number of ways. The main problem with them is that they are "onesies" so you have to put them on a tray. The 8 molds comprise 24 pieces. I'd much rather have a single piece with 8 molds. So my plan is to order some more - because if the success of my first project is any indication, I'm going to need them!In any case, my first project was fudgicles.

**UPDATE** I guess this isn't an official update, since I haven't published it yet.... somehow this entry got lost in the depths of Blogsy. Anyway, I went on Amazon and bought these molds. They are vastly superior to the first set!

Often, processed food is "too good" - the flavors and textures have a strange intensity. But I'm going to go out on a limb here. Homemade fudgicles are really, really yummy. As in WAY better than the processed kind. Pat even thought they were terrific, and that's saying something, as he is definitely the "Mikey" of the family!

Fudge Popsicles

Makes 8 3-ounce pops or 10 2.5-ouncers

4 heaping tablespoons semisweet chocolate chips (never hurts to buy the good kind!)
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2.5 cups whole milk (or half and half, or coffee cream)
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
(if you like chocolate mint, add a teaspoon of mint extract, or a bit more to taste)

In a saucepan, Stir together chocolate, sugar, cornstarch, cocoa powder, milk and salt and raise heat to medium. Cook mixture, whisking, until the chocolate melts, then stirring frequently until it thickens, probably around 6-7 minutes. Remove from heat, add vanilla (mint, if using) and butter and stir them in.

Set aside to cool slightly then pour into popsicle molds. Freeze a couple hours.

To unmold, stand the frozen pops in a sink full of hot water for 20 seconds, then pull them out.

To store, cut parchment paper into 2.5x7 inch strips and fold lengthwise over the pops as they come out of the mold.

On my drawing-every-day project, Here is another picture, just a quick sketch: I bought some additional supplies, so I am looking forward to some better pictures.

Sunday, July 31, 2011


This morning, Jeff and I were eager to try out a new brunch place that opened up on the corner of Gerrard and Logan. You have to understand that this is a pretty down market corner... Simon's Wok - an excellent, but slightly divey vegan Chinese restaurant is there, along with a beer store and about 8 empty storefronts. I'm not really sure why its such an icky corner - its right on the edge of Riverdale, which is a perfectly yuppy neighborhood.
In any case, Hammersmith's occupies the space formally inhabited by a $4-dollar all-day breakfast place that hadn't been renovated, or indeed, repaired or even painted (or possibly cleaned) since about 1950. We were hopeful about two things: that there would be a respectable brunch spot within walking distance of our house, and that the addition of a nice business would "elevate" he neighborhood a little, perhaps encouraging other nice businesses to locate themselves here.
The new space is quite nice. It's very clean, white, with a tile counter, pine tables and a tiny open kitchen. It seems to seat about 20-24 people.
I understand from the Toronto Life article about them that they are known for their scones. One afternoon next week, I'll pop in and have scones and tea and try them out.
The food was at once pretty good (more about that below) and rather disappointing. The problem with it was that I had no particular interest in eating what I ended up eating. Jeff, too. It was Sunday breakfast/brunch. Jeff and I both would have been happy with either of the following menu items. In fact, we were counting on them.
  • 2 eggs any style, with choice of bacon, sausage or peameal, coffee, juice, toast and home fries.
  • Eggs benedict
I realize this is not at all imaginative of us. But the thing is, neither of these items was on the menu.
I consider this a problem and so did every other patron in the restaurant. As I looked around, and frankly, eavesdropped, I heard every single table ask for bacon and eggs. Every table, like us, was told that the kitchen was set up in such a way that they could only do what was on the menu. I get that for a new restaurant, it might be hard to offer stuff off the menu. What I don't get is why the menu doesn't reflect what people actually want to eat for breakfast on a weekend morning. Arugula salad with a cheese I've never heard of doesn't cut it. Their was a smoked salmon thing with pickled beets etc that looked pretty good, actually - but I don't want it for breakfast.
We ended up ordering one steak and eggs, and one bacon omelette.
The omelette came with a side salad of baby greens in a light vinaigrette and two tiny pieces of toast (cross section of a baguette). Jeff pronounced the omelette fine, but he thought it was very meager on the promised bacon, and too plain; that it needed something else in it to take it to a more appropriate "next level". How about onion or garlic? Tomato?
The steak and eggs was a little uneven, but I would say over all it was quite good. The steak was superb. About an inch thick, and juicy and tender. A real steak - not one of those chopped steak numbers you usually get with steak and eggs. The eggs themselves were sunny side up and I didn't have any options about how they were prepared. I would have asked for over easy because I don't like the raw egg slime on the yolks of sunny side up eggs. Also, like Jeff, I received only two meager slices of baguette which were woefully inadequate for mopping up my yolks.
Although the steak was very good, the best part was the fried tomatoes and home fries. The home fries have quite a lot of bacon in them - and it tasted like a hand-smoked bacon rather than schneiders. They were also incredibly greasy. When I was eating them, I was thinking "I shouldn't be eating all this grease". But I didn't stop, because it was really, really, yummy. There was also quite a lot of caramelized onion in the home fries, which I also really liked. Great home fries.
The service was quite good as well. I thought our breakfast took a little longer than it needed to, given when we ordered at one-minute after opening, there was no-one else in the place. On the other hand, the kitchen is open and I watched the cook make it - so it's not like he was sitting out back having a smoke. It may have seemed long because I was hungry. Also, I didn't like being told no Bacon and Eggs. Still the servers were polite and quick, and were on the spot with coffee refills even once the place filled up.
So overall, Hammersmith's seems like a pretty good restaurant. It definitely has potential as an attractant for other respectable businesses in the area. I don't think they've figured out the what they should be serving on their menu for breakfast, but hopefully as every diner asks for bacon and eggs, they'll make some adjustments.
For now, I think our next breakfast out will be a short drive to Sammy's, or down on Queen East.

Hammersmith's on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

One Mania after another

I'm subject to what my sister Laura calls "manias". Although some may argue, I don't mean these kinds of manias:
1. Psychiatry A manifestation of bipolar disorder, characterized by profuse and rapidly changing ideas, exaggerated sexuality, gaiety, or irritability, and decreased sleep.
2. Violent abnormal behavior. See Synonyms at insanity.
It's this one, and it describes me perfectly:
1. An excessively intense enthusiasm, interest, or desire; a craze.
One interesting characteristic of these manias is that they come and go. What I call a "true" mania will last a year or more. And then it passes. Then I have another mania, or three, or five, and then the first mania returns. I have, in my life, had manias for my job, or for a person, for a TV show or a book. But my core manias have always been for making things.

I definitely move in and out of the cooking mania all the time. Except for thinking about hot weather recipes, I'm actually pretty much OUT of my cooking mania at the moment.

Quilt making manias are a problem because they typically don't last long enough to complete a whole quilt. My mom is convinced I never finish anything. What I actually do is simply put the quilt away until the mania returns.

For the last 9 months or so, I have been in the grip of an intense knitting mania. It started to fade about three weeks ago and is being replaced by a quilt making mania. Nevertheless, I forced myself to finish my latest project, and I finished it yesterday. Today, I plan to clean out my bag and pick up my harvest cathedral windows quilt. I'm also planning on working on a design for a new quilt (actually, I have two I'm thinking about). See how it goes?

But before I move on, I wanted to celebrate my knitting mania by sharing the fruits of my latest craze.

Here is an Aran shawl in a medium weight, inexpensive wool. I made this for myself. I find sweaters too hot, so a shawl works perfectly for me.

I found the cable work on this quite challenging because the celtic knot pattern has to be counted in every repetition.

Normally with cable work, you set the pattern in the first row, and just follow the knitting. This pattern was too big and complex to be able to do that. This took about 6 weeks. I started it right after Christmas and finished at the end of February.

Although I love knitting cables, I adore colour work. It's fortunate that Jeff adores sweaters in Fairisle and Norwegian pattern work - a partnership made in heaven - else I would knit sweaters that no-one would ever wear.

Here is a blue fair isle that I worked on during my Wednesday after school knitting club. This is from an Alice Starmore pattern and is a wool, alpaca and silk blend. I used hand-dyed yarns, which you can especially notice in the dark blue, to soften the design and give it some depth beyond the simple geometric.  The picture doesn't do the colours credit.

Here is some detail on the colour work. Although this pattern looks complex, it follows the fairisle rule that no row contains more than two colours. This sweater uses traditional fairisle construction: it was knitted in one piece. No sewing! This sweater knit up quite quickly.

Finally, here is a true Norwegian Ski Sweater. Every Olympics, the Dale of Norway wool company designs commemorative team sweaters for the Norwegian Olympic team (they also design sweaters for various international ski teams, including Canada). The sweaters are stunning, and use traditional Norwegian sweater construction.

I was on Ravelry one day and saw a picture of this sweater. Talk about a mania! It is the 1994 Dale Lillehammer Olympic sweater. Since 1994 is 16 years ago, it wasn't exactly easy to track down the pattern. But I persisted. The internet is a wonderful thing. It ends up that Dale will give you the pattern - but only as part of a kit made from their wool. After much searching, I found a vendor in California that would put the kit together for me and ship the whole deal to me here in Toronto. They are called Velona Needlecraft and their service was superb. I also talked to the guy at Romni Wool here in Toronto. I was able to fill him in on the whole process of how to get the Dale archival patterns and he promised that next time, he would get them for me. So even better.

Here are some details from the sweater. Each medallion is a figure from Norse mythology.

Odin is a principal member of the  Norse pantheon and is associated with war, battle, victory and death, but also wisdommagicpoetryprophecy, and the hunt. Odin has many sons, the most famous of whom is Thor.

 Freyja s a goddess associated with love, beauty, fertility, gold, seiðr, war, and death. Freyja is the owner of the necklace Brísingamen, rides a chariot driven by two cats, owns the boar Hildisvíni, possesses a cloak of falcon feathers.

 Huginn and MuninnIn Norse mythologyHuginn (from Old Norse "thought") and Muninn (Old Norse "memory"or "mind") are a pair of ravens that fly all over the world, and bring the god Odin information. 

I also love the neckband.

This is an extremely warm sweater - the kind you wear outside instead of a winter coat. I was thrilled to finish it last night. I made Jeff try it on, and given the temp was 26, he found it very hot, but liked it anyway.

And I'm completely over knitting for the present, although I do have a lingering desire to make gloves with beaded wrist bands, and to knit a lace wedding ring shawl. No doubt I'll come back to both these projects when quilt-making runs its course.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Cherry Tomato and Peach Salad

So continuing on my theme of things to eat when the temperatures are blazing...

My garden is happily producing mountains of cherry tomatoes. I had good success with them last year, so naturally, I planted even more this year. Yesterday at the farmer's market I was tempted by the first of the stone fruits - peaches and plums. Well, I was tempted by the plums, but Jeff said he likes peaches, so I bought both. I don't like peaches. Sort of. I have a psychological aversion to them... Long story, not so interesting. The upshot is that when I see them, I announce to everyone that I don't like peaches. I never select a peach deliberately. But if one finds it's way into my mouth, I find it delicious.

So then I was thinking about this tomato and peach salad I had out somewhere one time, and I decided to see what I could come up with.

But first, a note about the cheese. I used Pecorino Fresco - again! I love pecorino fresco and can't seem to stop eating it. It's a little like bufala mozzarella, but a little creamier and a little tangier, but it also has that "fresh cheese" taste. Anyway, some bufala mozzarella or even bocconcini would be terrific in this salad as well.


about 30 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1 or 2 peaches, peeled and sliced
half a sweet onion, sliced very thin
3-4ounces pecorino fresco (or bufula mozzarella or bocconcini), diced
15 basil leaves, chiffonade
1/3 cup good olive oil (or less)
a few sprinkles of good balsamic

combine the cherry tomatoes, peaches, onion and cheese in a medium bowl. add the oil and toss gently to coat. Add the basil chiffonade and either leave on top as a garnish, or combine with other ingredients.

This salad can sit in the fridge a few hours or overnight, and sitting seems to improve it's flavor. Just before serving, sprinkle to taste with balsamic vinegar.

I was just thinking that this salad would be terrific with mango in place of the peach. And I love mangos!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Heatwave Dining

So I have two cooking problems this week:

  1. I'm trying to lose a few pounds, so nothing with too many calories
  2. Its WAY too hot to cook!

My solution? A delicious, tasty, chilled soup. I was introduced to chilled soups by Marc, although he tended to prefer the fruit ones. I prefer the more savoury ones.

This soup is terrific. It tastes good, and even better, you don't have to turn on your stove. There's a little chopping, but there's a few shortcuts as well - namely, the use of Mott's Clamato as a soup base and the purchase of a bag of President's Choice cooked shrimp. About the Clamato - I discovered today it now comes in three flavours: Extra Spicy, All Dressed (or something), and Original. I think any of them would be good for this soup, but I chose Original because Ilike to deal with the spicing myself. For shrimp, I picked 16/21's. They are a nice robust size, so they are nice and shrimpy when you bite into them. And they were on sale for $6.49 a pound!

And tomatoes. I recommend Roma tomatoes for anything where you want to seed the tomatoes raw. For this soup you don't take the skins off. Just quarter them lengthwise and scoop out the seeds before chopping.


4 cups Motts's Clamato.
1 or 2 one-pound bags PC cooked shrimp; they don't have to be entirely thawed, but they shouldn't be frozen solid.
2 avocados, peeled and chopped. The avos shouldn't be too soft. You don't want them crunchy, but you want them to keep their shape after they are chopped.
1 cucumbers, seeds removed, cubed
3 roma tomatoes, diced
1/2 red onion, diced
1 bunch of basil, chopped
Up to 1/4 cup of lemon juice (to taste)
Several good shakes of salt (you need less than you might think - the Clamato is already pretty salty.)
A few twists of the pepper mill.
Tabasco to taste


In a large bowl, combine combine everything except the lemon juice and tobasco.
Taste it. Add lemon juice and tobasco until it tastes really, really yummy!
Chill thoroughly in the fridge. Tastes best if you leave it over night.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

30 Day Challenge

So I admit, I'm perhaps a little bored. Or, not really bored, exactly, I just haven't settled into anything now that I'm off work for the summer. Now that I've had a rest, I have TONS of energy.... so what to do with it?
I was browsing through some TED Talks this morning and came across this one:

The upshot is that one can introduce a project or a change in one's life by taking on a 30 Day Challenge.
This seemed like just the right project for me. What I was looking for was a way to apply some structure to a couple things that I wanted to do. So, I've decided on three (yes, THREE) challenges:
  • NO WHITE FOOD for 30 days (no sugar, flour, rice or potatoes)
  • DO A WORKOUT every day for 30 days. This workout can be a walk of at least 5 km, or a standard gym visit, or a fitness class.
  • CREATE A PIECE OF VISUAL ART every days for 30 days.
So the eating and working out I know I need to do anyway, so in a way, they are just necessary, rather than "personal growth" challenges. I'm much more excited about the art.

Towards the end of school, I was helping Audrey, the art teacher, make some signs for Commencement and other events. We were using pastels, and I really, really enjoyed decorating and coloring the signs. Since then, I've really had the bug to do some drawing. So much so that I went out and bought a set each of chalk and oil pastels and some paper. And they have been sitting on the floor in my office in a bag ever since. So I'm determined to use them every day for the next 30 days!

Here is my first creation:

I decided to start with something really simple - a sky. Well, maybe not so simple, but a focus on a single thing. Once I did the sky, I decided it was ok, but would benefit from some foliage, then some colour. This is not the most original composition, but I figure I'm only going to get better! This was my first time with pastels doing anything but colouring between the lines. I have a couple projects now. First, I have to figure out how to draw details! And I need to do some research about necessary tools and supplies I will also need. And I need some gloves.

Enough drawing. next stop: gym.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


So it's July and I haven't posted a single thing about my vegetable garden! How quickly one comes to take things for granted.

I've made some changes since last summer: I added six more containers and three more tomato plants in bags.It's been a bit more challenging this year, although things seem to be much more on track than they were in May. May was fraught with rain and squirrels! The squirrels dug up every vat, seeds stuck to them and were randomly transferred - I have lettuce growing in my corn containers and peppers in with the radishes. I decided to just be calm about it as long as things are growing - which they seem to be, although I planted a few unfamiliar plants and since they've been moved, I can't tell whether they are weeds or just the okra. I hate that.

I am also experimenting with different soils. Potting soil seems to work the best (so far), with plain old garden dirt a close second. Since I'm in containers, I worry about "using up" the soil, but adding compost seems to effect the drainage too much. At least, the vats with lots of added compost don't seem to be doing as well.

My latest garden mania is to install a drip irrigation system. I did some research this morning and it looks like I can buy what I need for about $100, which is much less than what I expected. Drip systems use a lot less water, and I can put it on a timer, so I don't have to worry about watering when I'm away on holidays. Patrick usually does the watering for me when jeff and I are away, but he costs $100 per trip!

Although we got a bit of a late start because of the rain and cool weather in May and June, we are starting to be able to eat out of the garden. We had plenty of peas (see my entry on pea toast), as well as tons of lettuce and some radishes. We also have had a few carrots and tomatoes, but I think they are a week or more from being really ready. The cucumbers, zucchini, squash, beans and peppers are all going crazy as well, but nothing ready for eating yet.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

What am I supposed to do with all these cherries?

The subject of fresh produce is inexhaustible! And regularly leads me into trouble... the giant crate of cherries was only $6 at the farmers market - so I now have two! Jeff never says anything when I bring home more produce than two people can reasonably expect to consume in a year, but he has this one particular expression that allows me to read his mind. He nods, he smiles, but I can hear his thoughts....oh my god what are we going to do with all these cherries is she crazy can we fit them in the fridge no! She's leaving them on the floor I'm going to be stepping over them all week I'm telling her mom!

I promise they will become cherry pie filling sometime this week...

Meanwhile, they call to me.

We don't have any bread in the house since Jeff ate it all yesterday (see Pea Toast). I was thinking I wanted a poached egg for breakfast. Poached eggs require bread, preferably a sweetish bread. Sweet took me back to the cherries, and I decided to see whether you can make scones with fresh cherries in them.

Scones? Why scones? Why not muffins like a sensible person? Well, I admit I did consider muffins, but I generally find them too sweet. I know, it sounds like a bit of a contradiction, since I was specific wanting something sweet to put my eggs on. But not too sweet. What can I say? Life is built on these subtle distinctions.

Anyway, it turns out that you can make scones with fresh cherries in them. Although I may have overdone the cherries. Not untypical of me. I mean, if two cherries will make something taste pretty good, fifty cherries will make it amazing, right? Fifty cherries will also make it fall apart a little more easily than one might like. Who cares?

Cherry scones

1-1/2 cups whole Ontario Sweet Cherries (I bet you could make this recipe with cherry pie filling rather than fresh cherries. I'll sort that out after I make the pie filling)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup cold butter (or frozen butter)
3/4 cup cream (table cream works well. Milk is ok if it's all you have, but cream is better for scones)
1 tsp Vanilla

If you don't have a cherry/olive pitter, buy one. This is one of those little devices that you go on for years claiming you don't need. Then someone sticks one in your Christmas stocking and within 15 minutes you find you can't live without it. Seriously.

Pit cherries and cut them in half. If they are a little sour, sprinkle a tablespoon or more sugar on them and let them sit. In large bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Grate the frozen butter into the flour mixture, and then rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips. Stir in the cherries. Make a well in centre of the flour mixture. Pour the cream and vanilla into the well and stir just until firm dough barely forms.

Turn out onto a floured surface. I used more flour here than I might normally for scones because the cherries were marvelously oozing juice all over the place. Knead three times. Divide in half; pat each half into 3/4-inch thick 6-inch (15 cm) circle. Cut each into 6 wedges.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place scones slightly apart on sheet. Bake on centre rack at 450°F (until golden, 10 to 12 minutes.

Serve with soft poached eggs, or just eat up with fresh butter and a dash of salt.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

And then, there is Pea Toast

Do you like peas? I don't, really. When I think of peas, I think of frozen green pellets that turn into brownish-green, grainy mush. Yuck.

But then there's pea season, which, sadly, is more or less over. We grew a decent number of peas in our garden, planted out of duty rather than love, because, of course, I didn't like peas.

Fresh peas out of the garden were a bit of an eyeopener, though. They aren't mushy, or grainy, or flavourless. They snap, they are sweet and tasty, they smell good, and they brighten up whatever you serve them with.

And you can use them to make pea toast, which is reason enough in itself.

So I've added peas to my list of beloved seasonal foods that are only worth eating for about two weeks per year - but well worth waiting for (along with strawberries, cherries, wild blueberries, sea asparagus, morels, garlic scapes, fiddleheads, soft shell crab, fruit cake).

But back to pea toast.

1 1/2 cups freshly shelled peas
1 scallion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon paprika
2 oz pecorino fresco (I used pecorino fresco because I happened to have it on hand - all summer I buy cheese at the farmers markets and one of the cheese sellers at the Wychwood Park market sells pecorino fresco, which I buy every week. But you could substitute any mild young cheese - make some ricotta, perhaps, or even a little cottage cheese might be good, maybe with some lemon peel and rosemary to lift it a bit, or you could use a couple spoonfuls of plain yogurt)
Generous shake of sea salt
Some kind of delicious flatbread (see below)

Cook the peas: before you start, get your ice bath ready. Blanch peas for about a minute in salty water, drain them, then immediately pop them into the ice water.

Make the dressing: whisk together everything except the peas. If it's too thick, add more olive oil. Taste it. Add salt, pepper, lemon or cinnamon as you see fit until it tastes really good.

Crush the peas a little: I used the back of a wooden spoon. Don't go crazy, just break most of them up a little - no mush!
Add about half the dressing and toss the peas to coat. Taste the thing, and add more dressing until you think you've optimized the experience. I added all the dressing except about a tablespoon full, which I then just ate with the aforementioned tablespoon, because it really was yummy. Put the bowl in the fridge while you decide what to do about the bread.
This is not pea toast in space! I have a black
 counter top. I love photographing food on
it because the food shows up on it. But it does
look a bit like a UFO.

You could eat this on pita wedges. In fact, it's exactly the sort of thing that people eat on pita wedges. But why? WHY? Pita wedges suck! Well, store bought ones do. If you are going to go with store-bought bread, I would suggest a ciabatta, or a lightly herbed bakery focaccia. But any bread with flavor and a gently chewy texture would do. Or you could make bread! Make a lightly herbed focaccia, some naan (easy and terrific - but go easy on the butter for this dish [like I ever went easy on the butter in anything]) or some Ciabatta (a bit harder, since ciabatta really prefers a mature sour dough starter).

Anyway, toast the bread lightly on one side, generously spoon on the pea mixture, and away you go!

Just as a side note, Jeff is always indulgent of my various cooking manias, as he appreciates benefiting from them. But despite his usual tolerance, I could tell he was unimpressed by the idea of "pea toast". In fact, I would say he was deeply skeptical! But now, having scarfed down half a loaf of focaccia, generously piled with pea topping, his only concern is that pea season is over, and he will have to wait until next year for his next fix of pea toast!  I'm with him. This exceeded expectations!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Update Part 1: School

I've had a hard time finding time to write. What can I say? I have a lot of sitting by the fireplace and relaxing with my beloved Jeffry to fit in. Now that summer vacation is arriving, though, I'll try to catch up.

In general I find it hard to write about school in a coherent way, because so much happens every day. But since I only have 4 days left this year, it seems as good a time as any to record some thoughts.

I was surplused (quite usual for first year teachers), so I’m very likely going to a different school next year. On one hand, I’m excited about doing something new, on the other hand, I’m thinking about how much I’m going to miss my kids. And I’m really, really going to miss them.

I’m a little concerned about missing them. Part of why I had a successful year is that I really like my students, and they are able to see it. Connection is such a huge part of this job. But how do you disconnect from them when they move on? Maybe as the students pile up over the years there is just less room for them in your heart? I face booked with a former teacher of my own who said that your first students stay with you in a way that the rest don’t. Maybe that will be the case.

I’m also quite overwhelmed by how much I’ve learned in my first year. Some things, like relationships, connection and classroom management, I was good at from my first day. These things are completely transferrable from my previous career. I also know my content really well. I was more challenged by the pedagogical stuff and feel like I’ve made a lot of progress in that area. Since I am in a special needs school, the lessons have to be HIGHLY differentiated, and I had some trouble with that at first. I also have big plans to be much more deliberate next year. I felt like I was winging it most of the time this year. But I learned how to use the Ontario Literacy Skills Diagnostic Kit this semester and it made a big difference in how I approached things. I now know how to break down the literacy skills and to teach them explicitly. Much better.

What are some key achievements? I taught a 14 year-old who came to school for the first time at age 11 to read, taking his reading level from grade 1 to grade 5 in one semester; I turned on a truly inert young man to computers and watched him burst into bloom; I convinced the kid who was the “most admired by his peers for causing trouble” in the school to get involved in the restorative justice and peer mediation program and he transformed before our eyes from a negative to a positive leader; I got a gang of the most reluctant readers and writers imaginable (grade 11 Essential) to not only write poems, but to perform them. In front of an audience, no less. And then ask for more! I received an amazing accolade from my generally quite behavioural students that I was the “only teacher that treated them with respect”, which is something I tried very hard to do, so I’m glad they noticed. All of my students, because of their disabilities, have faced failure after failure as they move through the education system. I tried to help them begin patterns of success and in so many cases, all it took was a taste and they started to believe in themselves.

Key failures? They were definitely students I didn’t connect with and wasn’t able to make a difference with. This is a failure I’m going to have to come to terms with, because there will always be students that I can’t personally do much with. I guess I just have to have faith in my colleagues – that there will be someone out there that will connect with that student. Then there are the lessons that totally flopped and the days where I lost my temper, or thoughtlessly said something insensitive.

I also discovered that being a teacher isn’t just about course content. So many of my students have no idea how to behave, how to express their anger appropriately, how to apologize, how to make amends, how to give a compliment, how to ask for what they need, how to be tactful, how to resolve interpersonal issues, how to end a relationship. Although I missed some teachable moments in these areas, I caught quite a few as well. And you have to be a role model. Not just a role model of how to be a middle class white woman, but a role model of how to do all those things above that they don’t know how to do. I think the most important one is how to be human and fallible, and how to be ok with it. They watch everything you do.

I had some fun with the co-curriculars as well. I was on the Safe and Caring School committee and headed up two initiatives: Peer Mediation, and Restorative Justice. I also ran the yearbook club, which was a big job, but we had a blast. And our yearbook is really interesting and very beautiful and really different. It sure doesn’t look very “collegiate”. I know it’s terrific because I walked in on a staff bitch session where they were complaining that it “made previous yearbooks look bad, and the people who volunteered to create them in the past shouldn’t have to have their efforts ‘demeaned’”. Demeaned! Like we did a great job specifically to make other years’ books look bad. What nonsense! And as if I’m going to try to do a less excellent job on anything because people feel threatened. (here is one of the images from our yearbook cover below)

The worst part of the job is other teachers telling me how awful it is. It seems like a number of my colleagues really hate their jobs. And it is certainly true that there are issues with the bureaucracy that are annoying. But I learned in one of my first jobs that people get the workplace they deserve – not in terms of money and career advancement opportunities, necessarily, but in terms of how they feel about work every day. Each person has a finite amount of energy. You can spend it on complaining and lamenting. When you do this, you create a negative space for yourself, and you live in that negative space all day every day. Then, of course you hate your job. Or, you can spend your energy thinking and acting on what you can do today to make things better for yourself and others. You can focus on having a good day. And voila – everyday you come to work and have a good day.

I’ve had so many good days this school year. I’ve enjoyed professional relationships with my colleagues that have been quite wonderful, and I’ve enjoyed my students so much. They have such open hearts and so much potential. I can see a lot of possibilities in this career as well. At a large board like TDSB, there are many different career paths available, and I don’t see myself in the classroom for the next 20 years.

And mostly, I feel like I’m doing meaningful work, that I’m contributing something important to my community and the society I live in.

One year down.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Fancy chocolate cake

I had fun with this fancy chocolate cake for my sister Lisa's birthday. The cake itself is a chocolate sheet cake, soaked with raspberry frangelico sauce, then rolled with milk chocolate ganache. The cake is then iced with dark chocolate-raspberry-hazelnut ganache and decorated with rasperries.

I love how rolling the sheet cake and standing the roll on end made the layers vertical!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Pane Carasau (Sardinian Flatbread)

One of the best things about living in Oakville was being able to walk to Boffo’s, where I could buy gorgeous handmade parchment breads in a variety of flavours – rosemary, thyme, parmesan, garlic, basil. These are gently salty, crisp and herby, and the mere idea of the hand labour that goes into mixing, rolling each bread paper thin and baking gave them a mystique that I couldn’t resist. I’ve wanted to learn to make them for years, but I was so sure they would be way too much work!
But they aren’t hard – they are in fact incredibly easy!

I understand this particular flatbread originates in Sardinia, and was eaten by shepherds. Not sure I care, really, as I am more concerned about whether such goodies are going to be eaten by me.

This recipe makes about 10 breads, 10-12 inches in diameter – if you roll them really, really thin. If you don’t have the patience to make them truly paper thin, make 8 breads instead.


1/2 cup semolina
1/2 cup all purpose unbleached flour
Chopped fresh rosemary (or thyme, basil, tarragon, parmesan, garlic etc)
3 oz hot water, from tap
a little pile of sea salt sea salt
olive oil

 Equipment: rolling pin, pizza stone, pastry brush, medium size mixing bowl

About the semolina, you can buy it in larger grocery stores – Loblaws usually has some. You can find it in the baking section, and it looks a lot like corn meal but not quite as coarse. You want Semolina, not semolina flour. Here’s the package:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place a pizza stone or bread stone, or ceramic tile on the bottom rack. I have a soapstone stone left over from when my countertops were installed. If you just don’t have a stone, nest 2-3 same size cookie sheets, turn them over and use that instead. The stone will need about 20 minutes to heat up sufficiently, so remember to turn the oven on before you start.

In a mixing bowl combine flour, semolina, and water. Stir with a spoon to combine into a rough dough, but do not knead. Let the dough rest for a few minutes, then cut into into 10 (or 8) equal sized wedges. Cover the wedges with a damp towel.

Sprinkle a little semolina and flour on your rolling surface. Flatten one of the wedges into a circles and roll it out as thin as you can. Paper thin is the goal! Keep the surface and rolling pin generously coated in flour and move the bread around so it doesn’t stick to the counter top. An ideal flatbread would have a 10-12 inch diameter.

When the bread is about 5 inches across, add a generous amount of sea salt and your herb (or parmesan). You’ll have to decide how salty and how herby you want the final breads to be, but don’t be shy with the flavourings.
Before you bake your first bread, turn down your oven to about 400.

Place the bread directly on the hot stone. If it wrinkles or folds, just straighten it. The dough is very easy to work with.

Bake for 2-3 minutes then flip over with tongs and bake for another 1-2 minutes. The breads should be a nice pale gold, and the colour does not need to be even.

Remove the flatbread, and place on cooling rack to cool (or, just eat it up to make sure you flavourings are adjusted correctly. I’ll bet you money you’ll increase both the herb and the salt on the second try).

Once you have your seasoning sorted, you can roll and prepare another flatbread in the time it takes to bake one. Once you get into a groove, you’ll be able to make about 20 breads in a hour.
These breads are terrific alone, or with dip. I really like white bean dip, squash dip, or hummous, but baba ganoush, bruschetta, or just about anything else is great. Or eat them plain, because they really are delicious, with a pleasantly wheaty flavour


Friday, March 18, 2011

St. Patrick's Day, Ma, Marc, Getting off my Butt

I can't believe it's Friday of march break already! It went by too fast.

I have a couple of things on my mind today.

St. Patrick's Day

First, yesterday was St. Patrick's Day. Normally on St. Patrick's Day, I think of my grandmother (Ma), who used to call SPD "my day". Her maiden name was Hennessey and she was of Irish extraction. I go the impression that SPD reminded her of her father, as she would often mention him in the same context.

I found myself thinking of Marc Rigby, as well. St. Patrick's Day was his favourite holiday after Christmas. He would take the day off work, along with anybody else he could convince and find an Irish Pub with good music and show up for opening. We went to Slainte in Hamilton many times. He would drink copious amounts of Guiness and sing his brains out. Typically we would stay until the bar closed - I would be the DD. The next morning, Marc would go to work as normal. I never saw him acknowledge a hangover.

The loss of a friend you don't see too often is hard to get one's head around. It doesn't affect my everyday life in the sense that he seems "missing" because he wasn't part of my daily life any more. But he comes to mind often. I'll be thinking about a menu for a dinner and need a specific recipe. I'll think to myself "I'll just email Marc, he has it" or "what was the name of that restaurant in Rome? Marc will know." And then it will hit me like cold water that he's gone.

When my grandparents died, I learned that "time DOES NOT, in fact, heal all wounds". Certainly the loss doesn't hurt any less. It seems to me that it just hurts less often. But on the occasions when the grief and loss surge, it hurts just as much.

One of my March Madness activities was to go to the doctor and get my yearly physical. I really like my new doctor. She actually talks to you like you are an intelligent human being and spends more than two minutes. I'm in overall excellent health except for one concern, which is that my blood pressure is a little high. We talked about it at length and decided that we might move on drugs eventually, but that for now, I was going to focus on diet and exercise.

Does it sound weird to say that I'm glad this little kick in the ass happened? I've been sitting on my butt since school started in September. My eating is excellent except for my after school snack. I'm ravinous when I get home and will eat anything and too much of it! So my eating strategy will be to have a protein smoothy when I get home, and to decrease the carbs in dinner slightly. That should make a significant difference, because otherwise, all I eat is lots of veg, a little low GI fruit and moderate amounts of protein.

It's exercise where I really need to make some changes. In other words, I have to do some! I decided to do a month of reconditioning - walking for two weeks, then walking and short weight workout for the next two weeks. After that I'll do a six month program - I have the precision nutrition exercise program for seven months, so I'll use that. I really like weight lifting, and will simply have to fit it in!

That's all for now.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Round up!


I’ve been thinking about my garden. I know! There is still snow on the ground, but lots of my vegetable seeds say to plant them inside 8 weeks before last frost. I think that’s now-ish.

We had such success last year that we are slightly expanding our operations. I am planning to add 6 vats for a total of 21, as well as increasing my upside-down-tomato quota.

I acquired seeds this weekend, and have added a couple new types of peppers and tomatos, as well as okra and runner beans. We decided not to go with kohlrabi and cauliflower this year, as the cauliflower didn’t do well, and I don’t really like kohlrabi after all.

So I got some little miniature greenhouses and plan to plant my seeds this weekend for those things that should be planted in advance.

I’m really looking forward to seeing what happens in our flower garden this year as well. We planted almost 400 bulbs in the fall – tulips, hyacinth, crocus, daffies, poppies, and lilies, as well as more peonies, hosta and astilbe. So every day I go outside and look to see if any of the crocus have come up. I guess it’s a bit early, but I live in hope.


I’m still enjoying being a teacher. Things are pretty busy, but I find if I stay focused I only rarely have to bring any work home. One thing I like about my school is that it is so small that I don’t have to wait my turn to participate in things. For example, this year I am leading the yearbook club. In most schools, there would be someone there who has been in charge of yearbook for the last 9 years, and no-one else would get a turn until that person retired in 2025.

I’ve also taken a leadership in a role on: we are doing a number of initiatives that will (if all goes as planned) lead to fewer suspensions and less violence and bullying in the school. I have two programs that we are currently training teachers on; we are piloting this spring and doing a full on roll out in the fall. The initiatives are Restorative Practices and Student Mediation. I have been using Restorative Practices in my classroom since semester change and in two of my classes it is working brilliantly. Less so in the third class – or it may just be it is taking the kids longer to come around. Even in the third class, the relationships aer slowly forming.

Speaking of my classes, semester turn around is a HUGE trauma. I know it is hard for the students, but I didn’t expect it to be so hard for me. Who knew it would be so hard to get used to a new group of kids? I feel like I was starting to make some genuine headway with the kids I had, and boom, I have new ones to break in!

March Break

People have this idea that teachers have lots of “holidays” but allow me to put it all in perspective. While I do get lots of time off, I don’t get paid for it.


My plan is to have a lunch here and there with a few friends, perhaps a date with my beloved husband if he can swing a day off, and plenty of sleeping late and sitting around doing as little as possible.


The only thing I’ve cooked lately that is interesting is Sardinian Flatbread, which turned out brilliantly. I’ll do another post on it – with a picture.

That’s all I really have time for now. I have a Community Council meeting in a few minutes.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Yorkshire Pudding

My good friend Adena posted a picture of my Yorkshire Pudding recently in her amazing blog she said I need a goal, along with threats if I didn't post more often, so I thought I would post my recipe.

Candace's Yorkshire Pudding

To make one tray of Yorkshire puddings. To double, double all ingredients including milk, then add another generous blurp of milk.

1 cup flour
1 cup eggs (about 4 large eggs)
1 cup whole milk
dash of salt

Put the ingredients in a large measuring cup and whisk until smooth.

Leave on the counter and do something else for at least half a hour.

When ready to cook;
Turn on oven as hot as possible. I set mine on the convection setting at 500 degrees F.

While the oven is heating up, add a half teaspoon of duck or goose fat to each cup in your pudding tray. What!? you don't have a dedicated Yorkshire pudding pan!? Are you crazy? Buy one here: Golda's Kitchen.

What else!? You don't have a supply of duck or goose fat to hand? sigh. Whenever you cook duck or goose, cut off the excess fat and skin and throw them in a freezer bag. When you have some time (maybe the same day you are making stock with the duck and goose bones you saved), thaw the fat and skin, cut it into strips,  put it in a wok or saucepan and cook it on medium until the fat is completely rendered out. The skin will be crisp and golden and is now referred to as "cracklings". Scoop the cracklings out with a slotted spoon, salt them and let drain on some paper towel. Eat the cracklings. The fat and salt may stop your heart, but I promise you'll die of pleasure.  Put the rendered fat in a tupper and store in the fridge forever. Duck/goose fat can be heated to unbelievably high temperatures without smoking, so it's perfect for Yorkshires. It makes the most amazing fluffy-on-the-inside-crispy-on-the-outside roasted potatoes. I also use it to make Duck Confit once a year - a highlight of my culinary calendar. I'll write about that on another day!

Back to the Yorkshires: Put the pudding tray in the hot oven and let it and the fat heat up for about ten minutes. It needs to be smoking hot (but not so smoking it sets off the fire alarm!)

Just before the trays are ready, give the Yorkshire batter another good whisk.

Open the oven door and pull out the shelf with the tray on it. Quickly pour the batter into each cup, filling each about half way. Don't be alarmed if it sizzles and spurts. As soon as you are done your pour, push the shelf back in and close the oven. The whole pouring process should take less than 15 seconds so the oven doesn't cool down too much.

Turn on the oven light so you can watch and fret about whether your puddings are rising properly. Don't open the oven door to check on them.

After 5 minutes, turn down the oven to 425.

They take about 20 minutes.

The perfect Yorkshire pudding has a nice high rise, a golden brown colour, a crisp outer shell, a large hollow for sauce in the center and about a tablespoon of soft eggy custard at the bottom or along one of the sides.


Travels with Marc

There is more than one kind of journey. There's the literal kind, where you get a on a plane or a train, or in a car, and you actually go somewhere. There's also the metaphorical kind, where you share a long experience of life with someone and where you also end up somewhere other than where you started, but you get there by living, rather than by driving.

I had forgotten about how much I cherish these metaphorical journeys - how much I love and appreciate the people I make them with. They didn't do anything to make me forget about how much they mattered. We all just get caught up in the journey itself - life - and the next thing you know, a year has gone by and then boom! Something happens to remind you.

A couple weeks ago, a good friend of mine died of cancer. His name was Marc Rigby. I'd known him for more than 15 years, and at times it is so hard for me to comprehend that he is really gone. He was a truly good friend and I will miss him for all of my days.

I last saw him during the Christmas holidays. We were to meet for lunch, but for the second time his chemo treatment ran over and I ended up just keeping him company at Mt. Sinai in the out-patient chemo room. I was shocked when I saw him. His face had taken on that skeletal quality that I have associated with someone who will be dead soon for as long as I can remember. Yet it never occurred to to me that Marc would actually die. Marc wasn't a dier. It would be bad for a while, then he would get better. He always got better. But this time he didn't.

At the funeral, I was in a weird shocked place. I couldn't recall any good stories or special memories about Marc.I would listen to others talk about him and think to myself "Right! I was there for that!" but I, who had spent so much time with him, couldn't come up with anything.

But the paralysis is fading from my brain and I find myself thinking about him often. So I thought I would write down those memories and share them over the next couple months. In no particular order.

Here is a picture of Marc in Paris, which I'm not writing about in this installment. But Marc liked elephants and I like this picture, so here it is.

I think the sheer funnest trip Marc and I ever went on together was to Nashville. This trip was a freebee for us, as he had won it by entering a contest. Marc had a thing about contests and entered a whole slew of them every week. He won Raclette grills and shampoo baskets, dinners out, movies, and two trips. Nashville was one.

The Nashville trip was four days. We stayed at the Gaylord Opryland hotel, which even for us jaded travelers was truly a sight to see in itself. We spent half a day just exploring the hotel! Our main purpose was to attend a Patsy Cline tribute at the Grand Ole Opry, which we enjoyed hugely. During the days we did the usual tourist stuff including spending literally four hours in the Dolly Parton display at the Country Music Museum. Marc LOVED Dolly Parton! His wacky side adored her schtick – the big blond wigs, the crazy froofroo dresses and the over the top make up. His love-of-music side totally respected her talent. He made me listen to dozens of songs before we could move on to Conway Twitty and eventually Elvis. We went to Studio B and saw the cupboard that Elvis punched through and sat on the red stool where Elvis, Patsy Cline and other great artists perched to make their famous recordings.

But Marc's absolute favourite thing about Nashville was barhopping on Broadway. This was the Marc Rigby “perfect storm” of enjoyment. Plentiful and really inexpensive but decent beer, outstanding live music, people dressed up in strange outfits (in this case, like cowboys), dancing and people to talk to.

Marc was a little shy about new people when he was sober, but he relaxed with every beer and eventually got positively friendly. He decided we were going to be British Anthropologists, observing and interacting with the natives. He does a passable British accent, certainly good enough to get by the native "Nashvillains". I look more Scots than British, so I adopted a broad Glaswegian brogue and entered into the spirit!  Before the evening was over we’d listened to amazing country bands about 6 different bars, drunk about 15 beers (Marc drank 10, me 4 or 5). I was ready to fall down; Marc didn’t even show that he had been drinking), spent about $30 in total on food and drink, and collected enough information about the habits and rituals of the Nashvillains to write a PhD thesis.

Another trip we went on due to a contest win was Japan. We flew into Tokyo, then moved on to Kyoto and then Hiroshima. In Tokyo, Marc had a chance to really and truly show off one of his huge talents. The streets in Tokyo are generally not named. Instead, each block has a name. As well, the buildings are numbered around the block, not in lowest to highest order, but in the order the various buildings were constructed.  On top of it, most of the buildings were labeled in Japanese characters. I don’t have a very good sense of direction at the best of times, but Tokyo was impossible for me. From the moment I woke up until we returned to the hotel room at night, I had absolutely no idea where I was. Marc, on the other hand, had a brilliant sense of direction. We would take some crazy route through the subway system – maybe six different trains – and emerge in a completely new place. He would take a quick look around and lead us directly to wherever we were going. His sense of direction was like a comic book  “superpower.”

His superpower didn’t help us in Hiroshima at the Peace Gardens, although I think he did have a lifelong fantasy fulfilled there. We were in Japan in the tourist off-season and the Peace Museum and Garden was mostly filled with Japanese school children. There was a group of, I’d say seven year-olds, who were there with their teacher doing a project on International Communications.  A group of five of them approached us. They were dressed in their school uniforms and looked very cute and solemn. “We are Japanese School Children,” they chanted in unison. “We are studying In-ter-nation-al Comm-un-i-ca-tions.  May we ask you some questions?”

They then went on, still chanting in unison, to ask us where we were from, why we were visiting Japan, about our families and so on. Then they gave us some bookmarks which they had made in their class as a small thank you gift.

It didn’t take long for us to realize that aside from a Norwegian guy on the other side of the garden, we were the only foreigners in the Peace Garden. More and more children started crowding around us. After about 45 minutes of the same chanting and questions and bookmarks, we tried to leave, but they were desperate to finish their projects. We tried walking away, then running. It was like that scene in the Beatles movie when the fans are chasing the Beatles down the street. I have rarely seen Marc looking more sheerly gleeful than he did running down the roads of Hiroshima being chased by a mob of screaming fans. I think he always thought he deserved a mob of screaming fans, and since he finally had one, he was going to enjoy every minute of it!

Actually, being mobbed by school children was a bit of a theme of our travels, since it also happened in Morocco. In one case, a school across the street  from where we were eating some oranges let out for lunch and the kids were fascinated by my red hair. We ending up being rescued from a storm of young women and girls by the police! I think Marc was a bit jealous that he wasn't the centre of attention on that occasion, and since he always liked to be the centre of attention, he had to do something to make up for it. He decided his goal would be to blend in with the “natives”. He stopped shaving to enhance what he called his “swarthy attractions,” spoke only in French, and bought a fez, which he insisted on wearing everywhere. I didn’t think it was a flattering look on him, but he got a kick out of pretending to be an eccentric Moroccan. He also got a kick out of attempting to betroth my sister to an admittedly very handsome oriental carpet merchant, but alas, it didn't work out.

Like most tourists in Morocco, were  also inundated with requests to buy things. Still on the theme of being mobbed by children, we were approached wherever we went by dozens of children at a time trying to sell little animals made from folded up palm leaves. Marc decided to give the kids a hard time and made a bunch of “origami moose”. I put both “origami” and “moose” in quotation marks because…. Well, let’s just say that while Marc may have been capable of constructing a bacon hat, he wasn’t generally what anyone would call “artistic”. His “origami moose” looked more like a crumpled up candy wrapper than any form of either origami or wildlife. He got a huge kick out of offering these sorry excuses for art to the kids in exchange for their leaf animals. He would laugh himself silly at the looks of confusion and consternation that would come over their faces.

More to come over the next weeks....