Monday, 29 August 2016

Newly Discovered Caprese Salad

I grow tomatoes. I grow basil. My standard way to serve tomatoes at this time of year is to cut them in chunks, and make a vinegrette of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, crushed garlic, basil and oregano for them to bath in for a while.

I have been seeing these beautiful salads all over the internet lately (well, mostly Pinterest, really) called Caprese salads. This may be old news to you, (if so, ignore this next bit) but its new and exciting for me!!


The ingredients for this are: fresh tomatoes preferably not refridgerated, a soft ball of mozzarella cheese, extra virgin olive oil, fresh basil, and salt (I forgot to put the salt into the picture).
This is such a simple dish. Essentially, you slice the tomatoes and the mozzarella and over lap them a bit on the plate (I don't even know if it makes a difference to have the tomatoes on top of the mozzarella, or the mozzarella on top of the tomatoes). The pictures I have seen show whole, entire basil leaves scattered around on top, but I personally do not want to eat an entire leaf, so I cut them up a bit and sprinkled them around. I do not have a handy dandy olive oil drizzler, so I just slowly poured a fine stream of olive oil out of the bottle on top of everything, and then a dash of some salt on top. I just used regular salt, but a chunkier sea salt would probably be a bit more "chic".


Very simple. I kept this at room temperature and served it with some fish (husband had left over barbecued pork chop and chicken), sliced cucumbers, some corn cut off the cob, and little new potatoes. The flavours blended very nicely together. The mozzarella is so mild that it doesn't over power the tomato and basil. I would make this again (it's ridiculously easy) but not when tall skinny son is present for supper because he doesn't like tomatoes. (I think it is a crying shame that he doesn't know the joy of fresh picked late summer tomatoes).

What did you have for supper?

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Sunday...

Today consisted of taking my son to his part time job to start at 10:00. He was still sleepy on the way there, regardless of having had a shower and breakfast. Teenagers are on a different time zone. When I got home, I had another cup of coffee and enjoyed some blog time. I like to see how people started out and figure out how they attain a lot of readers. I went back in time to read early postings by Cro Magnon of Magnon's Meanderings. (Sorry, that's not a link, I'm being lazy). What an interesting life he has had!

Then husband said he needed to go to town (the one 45 minutes away, not the one 13 minutes away) to get something for the ongoing bathroom project, so I got myself presentable (because you never know who you might run into at Home Depot???) and off we went. While he spent time at Princess Auto (all hail...) I was in Winners. I tend to refer to Winners shopping experiences as either a good Winners day or a bad Winners day. A bad Winners day means there was literally NOTHING that I wanted to buy, or that fit me, or didn't make me look fat, or made me try to look 20 again... But today ladies and gentlemen was a good Winners day!!  (I guess you might compare it to T.J. Max in that is carries clothing and home décor at a discounted price and they get new shipments in all the time). It was the perfect combination of nobody with me at the store (i.e. husband or offspring), tons of time because husband was at Princess Auto (all hail), they must have just brought in a new shipment that had yet to become shop worn with foundation smears or lipstick stains, and I was in the "right frame of mind". For a woman, I am a very poor shopper. There are those who love the idea of shopping all day, the whole shop til you drop mentality. That is NOT me.

Anyway, as the planets were all lined up and lady luck was smiling down at me, I found many tops and some bottoms, did the whole yes, no, maybe groupings in the changeroom, and walked out of there a happy woman.

After that, and ironically as I was paying for my treasures, he was finished at Princess Auto (all hail) and came in to find me, husband suggested we get a bite to eat. That sounded like a grand idea but I didn't want to go to some fast food place. We ended up going to a little restaurant that we hadn't been to for such a long time called, The European Café (or was it the European Bakery?). They have the most wonderful sandwiches on homemade breads and desserts to die for. I chose a sandwich that came on sunflower rye bread and had the most delectable combination of melted white cheddar cheese, sunflowers, red onion, bacon, slightly broiled tomato, and alfalfa sprouts. The sandwich was grilled and served with a dill pickle. It was heavenly and no, I didn't even think about taking a picture. Husband had a lovely pastrami on rye, but I think he regretted not ordering what I had. I did give him a few bites of mine.

We got home and I went for a little walk about the yard. I was wanting to spot a praying mantis because it is the right time of year. My poor perennial beds are just sad, tired, and dried up. The flowers in the urns and window boxes of the shed are the only real shots of colour in the back yard because I kept them watered.


I have one rose bush. It is some sort of Hansa rose and it does fairly well with total neglect. I saw that there are some brightly coloured rose hips on it. I have heard of people making jams or other things (tea?) with rose hips. They must have an awful lot of rose bushes to be able to gather enough to create something out of. I certainly don't have many.


I wandered over to my little vegetable garden to check for tomatoes. I could see a couple peeking through the leaves. I test them by giving a gentle tug. If  the fruit falls off into my hand, it is ready. If there is still some resistance, I leave it for another day or so. These weren't quite ready.


I did find one that was ready and left it on the back porch to take in later.


With the perennials that are still holding up in the dry heat we have had this summer, the colour scheme is yellow and purple. Of course, the Black Eyed Susan springs up throughout the yard. 


The delicate purple flowers behind it are Russian Sage. I really like how it combines with other more bold flowers.


There are also some phlox that have tolerated the heat. Generally, they aren't as happy this summer as they have been in the past. I'm not getting quite the show of colour that I normally would.


As I was sitting on the front porch, sending the pictures that I had taken with my phone to my computer, I heard a familiar humming sound. We get ruby throated hummingbirds (even when I forget to make more sugar water for their feeder!). I managed to capture this little guy on my phone. Can you spot him? (apologies to the neighbour for featuring his house on my blog)


It has been a beautiful Sunday afternoon, very "crickety" and warm. I hope you too had a nice end to your weekend.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

World's Best Fruit Fly Catcher

If you are anything like me, at this time of year you have a basket of peaches on your counter, some tomatoes from the garden, or a compost container filled with peelings and pits from all the wonderful fruits and vegetables currently available.

Last night it was just the two of us for supper. My husband has been working diligently on the upstairs bathroom project, doing floor tiling for the first time "like a boss" as they say. So I decided to treat us to a nice steak dinner with a Greek salad and corn on the cob.


Lovely steaks were on a bit of a sale at the grocery store. The corn and peppers for the salad came from a local Mennonite farm that sells a lot of fruits and vegetables on their property. The cucumbers and red onion in the salad were from my garden.


While the steaks were doing their thing, the pot of water was simmering, and the salad was tossed and waiting in the fridge, I poured myself a nice glass of red and caught up on some blogs. My glass of wine seems to be the perfect magnet for all things tiny and in flight. I've scooped them out with my finger countless times. I can't be the only one!


Tomatoes, cucumber and zucchini were picked fresh this morning. However, it doesn't take long for one little spot or bruise to begin attracting the fruit flies. Lord how I hate fruit flies. I do have a secret weapon, though!!


If you also would like to create this weapon of mass destruction, you will need four things: a jar, liquid dish soap, some kind of vinegar (choose one with colour, they seem to be a bit more "fermenty" e.g. red wine vinegar, cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar), plastic wrap, and an elastic band. 

Pour a little vinegar into the jar. You don't need very much, perhaps to the height of half of an inch. Then add one or two drops of liquid dish soap. This is used to break the surface tension of the vinegar. It is what makes the little buggers drown, vs. alighting on the vinegar and then flying off again. Put plastic wrap over the top of the jar and secure with an elastic band.


Take a sharp knife and make some slits in the plastic wrap. You can twist the knife slightly to open up the holes a little. Trust me, they don't need big holes to get in!


I park my fruit fly catcher close to my compost, but it could also go beside your fruit bowl, basket of peaches, line up of tomatoes on your window sill... You will be amazed and delighted (!) with how many you catch. You don't need to empty it every day. Even with dead comrades sunk to the bottom, more fruit flies will be lured to join them. World's Best Fruit Fly Catcher!

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Sleepy Cats and Cicadas

Many bloggers have commented on how it is starting to feel a bit "autumnal". Although I LOVE the hot weather and all that is summer, I must admit that it is that time of year. For me, late August means harvest. At the moment I have more cucumbers in the fridge than can possibly be consumed by one family. No, I am not going to make mustard pickles, or bread and butter pickles, or any other kind of pickle because I know they won't get eaten and it is too much work for jars that will just sit on a shelf in the basement. I've managed to give one cucumber away. I feel like I could be Oprah, saying, "You  get a cucumber, and you get a cucumber, and you get..." but I just haven't seen that many people recently.

As well, I've been stockpiling zucchini and last night I got around to getting out my handy dandy food processor and shredding a whole bunch, then bagging them in 2 cup amounts to be stored in the future for muffins and cakes.


I tried a new recipe for zucchini applesauce bread as well. I think I under-baked them. They are almost too moist (i.e. not quite fully baked in the middle), but still tasty with a cup of coffee. I will freeze one of the loaves for later.


The cats are incredibly lazy. Scooter has been even more talkative and affectionate (on his terms) after having an upset tummy a couple of days ago and successfully purging himself of a giant hair ball. Life is tough when you are fluffy. When he's not talking, he's sleeping.


This time of year also means blooms of a different sort. It is yellow and mauve time in the gardens. Although I declared all out war on Rudbekia (Black eyed Susan) last year, I still have a lot of it in different spots around the property. I does look attractive right now when other things have faded and are looking positively mangey.


Late August also means tomatoes, sweet corn, and cicadas. I picked my first decently ripe tomato this morning with lots more green ones waiting to ripen up. I plan on buying some corn at a road side stand soon. And I can hear the cicadas now, through the open windows in the kitchen. I know summer is wrapping up, but we often have many more warm days in September. It is certainly not time to get the sweaters out. In fact, it is maybe my most favourite time of the year. What is yours?

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Leaving the Nest (Again)

Yesterday, we moved our daughter back to university. She is entering her third year of a four year programme. This year she is a Don at one of the residences. The Dons go back a couple of weeks early to do their training and be moved in ahead of the time when the other students return in September.

In her first year of university, we packed her up in the back of the Toyota Highlander and moved her into residence. She brought too much stuff, but live and learn.

In her second year of university, she lived in a house that she rented with three other girls. We rented a U-Haul trailer to move her there, and a U-Haul cube van to move her back home for the summer. This was a different situation because it involved furniture, kitchen items, a new desk...

In her third year of university (present day), we used the same trusty Toyota Highlander and even though she pared down her clothes, brought nothing "wintery" because she will be home before that, she still managed to cram stuff into every conceivable space.

Hey, how are you doing back there?


You all right, buddy?

I can't actually move my feet.

Thankfully it was only about an hour and three-quarters to get there. Upon arrival, we realized that work is still being finished in the residence. There were workmen, painters, people putting things into trucks, equipment still in hallways, furniture not yet moved where it should be. This is not a new residence, but maintenance is done over the summer months. For the rest of the students, they have about two weeks before they get to move in. For the Dons of each floor, they get to share their space with people finishing up various tasks. This residence is set up "apartment style" with four bedrooms, one kitchen, two bathrooms, and one small livingroom area for each section. Our daughter will be sharing one of these "quads" with three first year students, but she gets a separate office in which to conduct "Don business".

This is a standard bedroom with stuff jammed in. Note the gift of giant stash of toilet paper! You're never fully independent until you buy your own toilet paper.

This is the small livingroom area, complete with sixteen year old brother on his phone.

Here is the kitchen area. Don't know if one of the first years will contribute a microwave. There is NO dishwasher. Let's see if they all wash their own dishes. They will all have meal plans as well, so this kitchen will likely be for snacks (or beer if they were older than first year!)


It's always good to have a brother to help you move in.

We got a mother / daughter selfie before we said our goodbyes. (And yes, I see him in the background).

Family selfie.

We said our goodbyes. It gets easier with each passing year. I remember crying down the street as we pulled away in her first year. This year, she and her brother were riding down the hall on her office chair with wheels (remember, she has the whole floor to herself at the moment). We went to the mall to take care of some back to school clothing shopping for our son. Now that he has a part time job, some of the purchases came out of his account!! We got home later and I relaxed with a couple of episodes of Coronation Street which has been put on hold for the two weeks when the Olympics were on.

I think she's going to have a great year. If she can handle us, she'll be fine with her floor of first years.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Travel Advice for Canadians going to England

I am not a world traveler. I have gone to the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Mexico, some of the New England States, Prince Edward Island, and various places in my home province of Ontario. This was my first trip to the U.K.

Flight Advice: The flight is about eight hours long (from where we live in Ontario to Gatwick Airport in England).  We booked using Expedia and flew with Air Transat. We did not travel first class because we can't afford it! Bring head phones / ear buds. There was a little screen (tv monitor?) on the back of everyone's seat with options to watch movies, tv shows, listen to music, play games, etc. This was a godsend because otherwise you will go squirrely. Our flight was an overnight flight. I did not sleep a wink. You should bring a light weight blanket that squishes up small so you can cram it into your very large purse (which doesn't count as a carry on!). The only way you get a blankie on the plane is to buy one! I would also recommend that you test drive your travel pillow (those u-shaped pillows that go around your neck) because the one I brought was far too densely stuffed and was actually quite uncomfortable. Take along chewable Gravol in your purse. If you are anything like me, you may find napping difficult, or you may feel queasy during turbulence or with the taxiing that comes with landing. I find that chewing one or two Gravol, it really helps with that motion sickness feeling and maybe, just maybe, I might nap (well, you might nap, I am a pathetic napper). If you sit in the middle seat, you will be cramped. You'd better be close friends with someone on either side of you because you will want an arm rest (or two) at some point in the flight so that you don't feel like a praying mantis. If you bring a book to read on the flight, make sure you don't buy the paperback version of the hardcover that you have already signed out of the library and read several months earlier. (I have a Patricia Cornwell's Depraved Heart sitting in my house that I'll be giving away to someone). (Duh)

Luggage Advice: For one week, you can easily exist with one carry-on piece of luggage per person and one extra piece of checked luggage. Nobody measured our carry-on to make sure it complied with some sort of size standard. Our carry-ons were, however, weighed to make sure they didn't exceed a weight limit (unfortunately, I have no idea what that limit is, but apparently we were fine). I don't bother to lock my carry-on. I'm the only person who is touching it and if you need to get into your carry-on for something quickly, you don't want to have to dig around in your already jam-packed purse (with useless paperback, earbuds, Gravol, important papers...) looking for the impossibly tiny key for your luggage lock. Remember to put your 100 mL or less liquids, including makeup, shampoo, moisturizer, etc. in a Medium size freezer ziplock bag in your carry-on. If you have larger sized items, just put those in your checked luggage, but be sure to keep them in zip lock bags in case they leak. When I bring jewelry, I keep it in little black pouches I received with some Home Shopping Network Joan Rivers items I bought years ago. They pull closed tightly and they are completely black, nobody can see through them which may deter someone from wanting to steal things. Of course, I would never bring my most expensive items anyway, unless they always stay on my body (e.g. rings). Our luggage is NOT fancy, it is soft-sided, vs. the hard shell kind of luggage. I would not bother to purchase expensive luggage because it really does get thrown around and beat up. As well, you might want very plain coloured luggage, but so does everyone else and when you are waiting for your piece of checked luggage to come around the merry-go-round of every piece of luggage that was riding in the belly of the plane, you will perhaps be thankful that your brightly coloured luggage stands out, ready for you to grab it and go. Our checked bag is red, and there are many red bags, so I have made sure to tie a bright orange ribbon to each one of our bags, easily spotted, as well as a Canadian flag that attaches to the zipper pull. (Even with those identifying features, I still coach my husband as he stands by the luggage carousel, ready to grab any and all red bags as they come around). I have seen pieces of luggage on which people have stuck large pieces of brightly coloured duct tape. If that works for you, great. I prefer the ribbon method.

Rental Car / Airport Advice: When my husband booked our flight through Expedia, he also arranged for a rental car. It cost approximately $600 for the week. The car was provided by Enterprise at Gatwick airport. The rental man tried to get us to rent a more expensive car which would be a little bigger, but had a GPS system. We did not wish to spend more money and believe it or not, we do not use GPS here at home. I'm 50. I use a map. (I'm a dinosaur). Here is what was good about that decision: a bigger car would have been a nightmare on those tiny, narrow Costwolds roads. Here is what was not good about that decision: we did get a big turned around on a couple of occasions and ended up having to use my cell phone to find where we wanted to go, so maybe GPS would have been handy. The little car that we rented was a Vauxhall Corsa. It was great for what we needed. A handy dandy feature that I would recommend when manoeuvring around hedges, stone walls, impossible tiny parking spots, and other quaint English encumbrances, was sensors which beeped and provided a lit up diagram on the dashboard to let you know how close you were getting to denting the car or ripping a mirror off (which would result in extra costs with the rental company!). We chose to fly into Gatwick because we had heard that London driving was very difficult (and after talking to the locals, even they don't drive in London!). Gatwick is south of London and we didn't have to drive into London at all to get where we wanted to go. We did however, discover that the "ring road" (M25) is insanely slow, but I've already mentioned that, so it's best to avoid it if possible. English rental cars, of course, have the steering wheel on the right hand side of the car (as you are sitting in it). This is pretty cool, but truly, we kept going to the wrong side of the car to get in. As well, my husband kept reaching to the wrong side to get his seat belt or put the car in gear. He purposely chose an automatic because he was pretty sure he could drive on the "wrong" side of the road, but didn't want to add shifting a manual transmission with his other hand to the confusion. A rental car was the best decision we made because we would have been extremely limited in where we could go if we just relied on walking, or public transport. During those first several hours of being a passenger, I was pretty tense and kept gently reminding my husband to stay a bit more in his lane (I felt like we were always too far to the left), but his skill grew considerably within just the first couple of days. The funny part was when we were back in Toronto and dropped off by the shuttle van where we had parked our vehicle, my husband had to concentrate to drive on the "correct" side of the road again!

I don't know if any of these tips will help anyone, or if you can relate to these. Chime in with your travel tips, too!

Friday, 19 August 2016

More from our Trip to the Cotswolds

I am so glad that we decided to take this trip. I am not easily parted from my money and it was difficult to make this decision as we are also sending our daughter off to her third year in university, will be insuring three vehicles instead of two, went away in March as well, and have all sorts of other reasons to save our money. I am now very happy that I thought, if not now, then when?

We spent the whole week in the same area known as the Cotswolds where "charming" never gets old. Old is also a relative term. Here in Ontario, we live in an "old" home, built before 1900, we aren't even totally sure when. This past week, we went into places that were hundreds of years old. For example, this was carved above the door to Manor Farm Bed and Breakfast, where we stayed for one night.


That certainly wasn't the oldest place we went into this week, but it does make our century home seem positively recent.

Here is what I can take away from this trip:
-English people are absolutely skilled and fearless when it comes to driving.
-You are never out of place if you dress up for an occasion.
-I am likely going to drink more tea for the next while.
-The beauty of the Cotswolds almost brought me to tears at times, and never failed to be anything less than enchanting.
-The M25 highway should be avoided at all costs.
-I need to walk more. The English walk. A lot. I think it is because there are no places for people to park, get out and buy something, get back in the car and drive to the next place, park again, get out and get what you need, repeat. Parking, at least in the area we were in, was tiny to nonexistent. I do not know how they do it.
-There was a lot of England that I did not see because I couldn't see past the hedgerows.
-Being "wealthy" is also a relative term. My husband was in awe of the amount of expensive cars he saw throughout our trip. And then we saw Blenheim Palace.
-Dead badgers there, are like dead raccoons here. Road kill is different in England.
-The public washrooms were the most clean and lovely of any other place I've been.
-I take the amount of space that I am used to for granted. Historically, as well as in present day, the English have very little space for homes, roads, parking, living, breathing...
-Place names in England often consist of two or three words. (e.g. Bourton on the Water, Chipping Campden)
-A pint of beer is bigger than a bottle that you would get here.
-I will definitely return to the U.K.

Here are some highlights of the trip:


Castle Combe is one of the little villages that almost made me cry with joy.




A typical cream tea is the perfect thing to have to tide you over between a full English breakfast and a later supper.


Gates, walls, and doors add the charm and essence to so many places.




Store front signage is fabulous, and would be completely out of place here, but seems perfectly normal there.


To recreate the look, you need an ancient climbing rose around your doorway. What blew my mind was the absolutely tiny, miniscule space from which these roses grew. Even their plants have to adapt to small spaces. Look at that picture above! How does that rose survive??? And they all do!!

Except at Blenheim Palace, where plants are provided with a little extra space in which to grow.

When we entered this pub, called The Fleece (there are quite a few pubs called The Fleece), we were in for a real treat. It is OLD (even by English standards) and wonderful. The food was excellent, the beer was cold, the conversations with other guests was memorable.
 

 
We were sitting in the room with a collection of pewter plates. I am enjoying a pint of beer. The couple behind us was lovely. Across from me was an enormous fire place area with huge timbers forming the mantle, as well as holding up the ceiling. The fireplace was so large, there were little wooden seats built into the two ends, and even a tiny window was located at one end.
 
 
The countryside is beautiful, even if you have to climb a tower to see it. The smaller roads are almost always lined with hedges. Sometimes the hedges are so high on either side, that they curve over head and form a canopy around you. It is magical and those places where we drove down into shady, secretive places made me think that fairies and gnomes really might exist. Unfortunately, I didn't take any pictures of the hedgerows as we were always driving along these roads and were unable to pull over because there is literally NO space at the sides of the roads. Every once in a while there is a little space created so that you can meet other traffic and not take each others' side view mirrors off. As I said, the people that live there should be highly respected in terms of their ability to judge distance while driving.
 
I will leave you with an idyllic moment: photogenic geese, right out of a Beatrix Potter story, as we had to slow down to let ducks cross, and then were able to stop and photograph this little group who posed for us.