Tuesday 28 July 2015

Grilled Cows Cheese Sandwich with Mushrooms

We're heading to PEI next month, and today, I had a treat for lunch straight from the Island. A delicious grilled cheese sandwich made with Cow's cheese! It was so yummy.

Cow's cheese has a pretty high milk fat content, and can be a bit pricey, so I don't buy it often, but it's SOOOO good! Luckily, I don't have to be in PEI to get it, as Sobeys and Costco often carry it. Every so often, I pick up a chunk and use it in grilled cheeses (is cheeses a real word??), diced up in salads, grated on pasta, or just as a snack on its own.

A couple years ago, I had been at Sobeys and a booth was offering samples of grilled cheese with mushrooms. I had never added anything to my grilled cheese before, and realized that I had been missing out! Since then, I've made grilled cheese sandwiches with sautéed mushrooms and Cows cheese as a special lunch time treat.

Grilled Cows Cheese with Mushrooms Sandwich

2 slices of multigrain bread
Sliced cows cheese (enough to cover a piece of bread) - not too thick, it's rich
Mushrooms sliced thinly - probably about 2-3 mushrooms, any type
1t or so of butter or margarine

1. Preheat frying pan and sauté mushrooms until water is released. You don't want that moisture in your sandwich!
2. Build your sandwich - butter/margarine one side of each piece of bread, place enough sliced cheese to cover a non-buttered side of the bread, add saluted onions on top of cheese, topped with the second piece of bread (buttered side facing out, of course).
3. Carefully flop into a preheated frying pan, and watch carefully, making sure it doesn't burn,  flipping after the first side gets golden brown.
4. Slice in two and enjoy! Serve with some veggie sticks.

Monday 27 July 2015

Kitchen Adventures: Seafood Chowder

In my house, we love a good maritime treat.. Any seafood will do, but chowder is a favourite. It's so rich that we usually only make it once a year. Usually, it's at Christmas time, with leftover lobster from our Christmas Eve lobster. This year, my husband requested it for his birthday.

I like to share recipes, but often make things up as I go along. This is especially true with seafood chowder, and that's what makes it fun. This time, I thought I would write down what I do, so I can duplicate it or make more calculated improvements over time. 

I should warn you that this recipe is for a crowd. It would probably feed about 20. We needed to feed 10. Many had seconds, and we have lots of leftovers. I have issues with size control when cooking. If you are looking for a smaller recipe, scroll to the bottom of the recipe, as I've cut it in half, for a smaller crowd.  

Maritime Seafood Chowder

(Serves a crowd!)

1/2 C Butter
3-4 small-medium onions, diced
6 celery stalks, diced
3-4 carrots, diced
4 baking potatoes, diced
2 baking potatoes, grated
5 bay leaves
3t thyme
3t dill
1/2t cayenne pepper
1/2t paprika
2L (8C) Cream - I use coffee cream, which is 18%, but you could go as rich as you want.
2-3L (8-10C) Milk - whole
4 Cans of clams and juice
5-6 lbs of seafood the following (or any other mix of seafood)
-Scallops (if large, cut in half of thirds) 
-Shrimp (raw, peeled, and deveined )
-Lobster (cut into chunks)
-Salmon (chunked)
-Haddock (chunked)
Salt & Pepper, to taste

Salmon, Haddock, Lobster,
Scallops and Shrimp, waiting
to be added to the pot.

1.  In a stock pot, melt butter over medium-high heat, and add onions, celery, and carrots. Cook, until veggies are starting to cook. It will smell heavenly. 

2.  Add potatoes (diced and grated), spices (alter to suit your tastes), clams and juices, and 1L of cream and 1L of milk. Heat over medium until it starts to bubble a bit, but DON'T BOIL! There is dairy in that pot, and you don't want it to turn and curdle. 

3.  Turn down the heat and let it simmer for about 45 minutes, or until the grated potatoes have broken down and the diced potatoes are getting tender. Make sure you stir a lot. 

4.  Add the rest of the seafood, including any juice - especially the lobster juice! - and then enough cream and milk to ensure there is a good amount of broth. I added about 1.5L of milk and 1L of cream. 

5.  Turn up the heat a bit and let it warm through. Stir, stir, stir. That's key.  If you want a really rich treat, add some more butter, cubed, and start stirring. I don't think it's necessary, but I know people that swear by it! Once everything is in the pot and heated, it's time to taste and adjust. Taste the broth and adjust the spices. I added a little extra dill, some pepper and a little salt.  

I encourage you to make the recipe your own - try different spices, seafood, veggies, etc. Try a different ratio of cream to milk, or cut out the cream altogether, to save some calories and fat. Whatever you do, let me know! Then, I can try it for myself. Leave a comment, and share your chowder tips!


Since you won't always have a crowd, here is an ingredients list for a half recipe. It's still heavy on the seafood.  You could easily cut this in half again. 

1/4 C Butter
2 small-medium onions, diced
3 celery stalks, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 baking potatoes, diced
1 baking potatoes, grated
3 bay leaves
1.5t thyme
1.5t dill
1/4t cayenne pepper
1/4t paprika
1L (4C) Cream - 35%, or a mix (1/2 L for step 2, and the rest for step 4)
1-2L (4-8C) Milk - whole (1/2 L for step 2, and the rest for step 4)
2 Cans of clams and juice
3 lbs of seafood like the following (or any other mix of seafood) 
- Scallops, Shrimp, Lobster, Salmon, Haddock
Salt & Pepper

Saturday 25 July 2015

Picnic at Wolastoq Park

Sometimes, you forget to appreciate all that your city has to offer. I find that when you live in a city, you hear all of the negativity - the complaints about the smell, the traffic, the closing stores, the pot holes, etc., etc., etc., When you hear that day after day, you forget to look at the great sights, sounds, smells, and experiences. Last week, there were a group of people traveling around New Brunswick, and blogging, Instagram-ing, and tweeting about their adventures, using the hashtag #LetsGoNB. It was great! I loved seeing my city and province through the eyes of someone who doesn't have to hear all the complaining. They loved it! It made me think about all the awesome parts of Saint John, and New Brunswick. I've lived in Saint John my entire life. Sure, it has it's negatives, but everywhere does. The important thing to remember is that it also has lots of positives. I'm going to make an effor to look for the good.

On Thursday, after spending the morning at the zoo, C and I decided to have a picnic for our supper. We packed some food up and headed to Wolastoq Park. 

I have to admit, despite driving past it almost daily, I haven't taken advantage of this park lately. I had forgotten about what a great spot it is. It's a small park in the middle of an area filled with industry - the Irving Pulp and Paper Mill and Moosehead Brewery are to the left of the park, and up until about a year ago, Simms brush factory was in the area too. A little nature in the middle of industry. 

The park's land has an interesting history.  From the early 1800s to the 1990s, the spot housed a psychiatric hospital. When it closed, J.D. Irving purchased the land and turned it into a park.  Once the building was torn down, they made it a green space, and overtime added more to the park - including a driveway, parking, picnic tables, benches, and the best part - wood carvings.

In case the dark clouds rolling in decided to attempt to spoil our picnic, we found a covered picnic table and sat down to eat, taking in the sights and sounds. I forgot how fun a picnic can be.  Food really tastes better outside.  It helped that we had a great view, overlooking the Reversing Falls and the lower West Side. C got a kick out of the seagull who was sitting guard, hoping that we would drop some food for him to enjoy after we left. (We may have left a few crumbs, but not much!)

When we were finished, we packed up our meal, then took a walk around the park. The middle section of the park is now a "who's who" of Saint John, including Samuel de Champlain, Charles Gorman, K.C. Irving, and Koluskap and Beaver. Each is accompanied by a plaque, explaining their connection and contribution to Saint John. I didn't know all of the names, but many of the people have buildings in the city named after them, so it was neat to get to read about why they were important. 
Koluskap & Beaver - Many, many years ago, they shaped the land into what it is today -
including the creation of the Reversing Falls and Partridge Island. 
K.C. Irving - if you look closely, you can see a tree sapling in his hand
Lots of spots for sitting, relaxing, and having some family (or alone) time
The nice part about rain? When you're lucky, you get to see rainbows!

Wolastoq is a great little park, with a great view. When I was on maternity leave, I used to go there a lot. I'd drive my husband to work, and my son would fall back asleep in the truck. Since a tired mommy never, never wakes a sleeping baby, I'd grab a coffee, park there, and do a little reading, while C snoozed in the back. It was a nice break. I don't know why I forgot about it! Well, not again. The next time I need a change of scenery, I'll pack up a lunch, and grab a picnic table or bench at Wolastoq Park.  Just another reason why Saint John is awesome!

Monday 20 July 2015

My 1st Chalk Paint Project

I'm finished!

Bekvam Cart Makeover!

About 3 years ago, I purchased a Bekvam cart (from Ikea) for my teeny tiny kitchen. It's been sitting in my kitchen, unfinished, but well used, ever since. I had big plans, but it never happened, because I hated the idea of having to sand, prime, paint, and finish. That changed when I learned about Annie Sloan Chalk Paint. No sanding, no priming, just painting.

It really is that easy. I started this project last weekend. Despite not spending a lot of time on it, a week later, it's done! It was pretty easy.

I only ran into one problem. Since the cart had been used over the past three years, without any finish on it, there were a couple of stains that had sunk into the wood, on the top. When I put the first coat of paint on the top, I could see a stain showing through. At the class I attended last weekend, the instructor (and "stockist") explained that sometimes a coat of shellac is necessary to block stains or smells. I picked up a small container of it at Kent, added coat to the top, and I was good to go. Stains blocked.

3 coats of paint & 2 coats of wax
Top: Annie Sloan Cream
Bottom: Annie Sloan Aubusson Blue

I think it turned out great. I didn't do any distressing, because I wanted to test out the paint as is. It covers great, and the colour is gorgeous.

Next up, my Forhoja cart from Ikea! I think I'm going to try some light distressing on that cart. After some practice, I'm going to refinish my kitchen cabinets. (Eeeek!)

Kitchen Adventures: Clam Chowder

What do you do on a Sunday night when you really want some clam chowder? Be happy that Sobeys is now open 24/7 and that you have a good stash of cookbooks to search for the perfect quick recipe!

I love Chef Michael Smith's cookbooks! The recipes are fantastic, and always teach me a little something about food, flavours and freestyle cooking. He always gives suggestions for altering recipes and ways to change it up the next time you try it. I always love making changes to recipes, and a little guidance is always welcome. 

Yesterday was a rainy, miserable day, so a little bowl of maritime comfort was just what we needed. I have my own recipe for seafood chowder, but it takes too much time and money, so I thought clam chowder would be yummy. Chowder isn't as difficult as it seems - a good balance of veggies (potatoes, carrots, celery, onion), seafood, cream, and spices (thyme, salt, pepper, cayenne, dill are my favourites.) 

I found the perfect quick recipe, "Maritime Clam Chowder," in Chef Smith's "The Best of Chef at Home." I'm not going to share the recipe (I'm not into stealing other people's work), but I promise to share my recipe next week.  The problem is that I've never really written it down. I'm making my chowder this weekend for a birthday, so I'll make sure I actually write down what I do.

Here are the two new things I learned from making this recipe:

Grated Potato:  This recipe includes grated potato. It's brilliant! You grate the potato and simmer it with the cream and milk, until it breaks down. It helps to thicken the broth without having to add a thickener, like flour, which I don't like.

Bacon: Everything is better with bacon, right? Apparently it's true! I had tried adding bacon before, but didn't crisp it up enough. It ended up just being a bunch of chewy bacon in my chowder. Gross. Chef Smith gives the tip of adding a splash of water when cooking the bacon, so it browns (and crisps) evenly.

In the end, it was a yummy Sunday treat! (With leftovers for Monday.) 

Saturday 18 July 2015

Random Thought: Simple Fun

You know what's great about kids? They find the fun wherever they go. I could make elaborate plans to take C someplace I know he would love, but really, a trip to the playground or fresh paper on his eisel and a new box of crayons would provide just as much entertainment. Not everything has to be a big adventure, because he finds the adventure in the everyday.

Just another example of something adults can learn from kids.

It doesn't have to be complicated or expensive;
you just have to find the fun in everything you do.

Monday 13 July 2015

Crafty Adventures: Chalk Paint 101

On Saturday, I attended an Annie Sloan Chalk Paint workshop, at Suite Serendipity (in Saint John, NB), and I'm so glad that I did. I always see people refinishing furniture, and think it's a great way to affordably add new furniture to your home. I do not like the idea of having to sand, sand, sand before starting, and I've never had very good luck with painting. I always recoat too soon or paint on a humid day, so it always ends up sticky. And did I mention that I hate sanding. Ugh. When I first read about Annie Sloan paint, I liked the idea that you don't have to do any major sanding or stripping, that it dried quickly, and that there were no harsh fumes. (With a little boy in the house, that's really important.) I also like the folksy-rustic-shabby chic look, so I figured Chalk Paint was the thing for me.

I'm not going to get into a how-two, because there are so many of those out there, and if you're really interested, I suggest that you look for a workshop to learn from an expert, not a newbie.

In the workshop, we learned about the paint and got to use it to try out different techniques and colours:

The four basic finishes, clockwise, starting with the green:
Smooth Finish, Two Colour Wash, Two-Coloured Distressed, & Rustic Finish

Without getting into the technical details, here are a few things I learned:

1)  Chalk Paint is called Chalk Paint not because it's chalkboard paint; it's due to its matte, chalky  finish. I'm sure you could write on it with chalk, but that's not the best part. "Chalk Paint" is the trademarked name specifically for Annie Sloan paint.  All other "chalk paints" are imposters!

2)  Annie Sloan is a real person! Apparently, in the DIY up-cycle world, she's a total rock star. I'm not judging though, because I'm sure that after I watch some of her online videos, I'll feel the same.

3)  Chalk paint can be used on pretty much anything - wood, metal, plastic, glass - even upholstery.

4)   People who sell chalk paint are called "stockists." To earn the fun title, they are hand-picked to be trained as stockists. I love that Annie Sloan products are only sold in independent stores, so it's a great support for small, local businesses.  The training they receive makes them a perfect go-to resource to help with trouble shooting, or to learn how to use the paint. I think most offer workshops. I'll be watching for more workshops in the future.

5)  ASCP (Annie Sloan Chalk Paint) can give you a finish that is as rustic/shabby as you want. I worried that everything would turn out looking "dirty." I'm all for a rustic look, but I don't like my furniture to look TOO shabby.  There are four basic finishes - some are distressed, while others aren't. You can create that darker vintage "dirty" look with dark wax, but you don't have to use dark wax, and if you do, you don't have to use  a lot of it.  Overall, Annie Sloan products are pretty versatile.

I'm now working on my first project:

I've had this cart from Ikea in my kitchen for about 3 years, and I never did anything with it. Because it's unfinished, it has some staining on the top, from spills. I'm not sure how it will turn out, but I'm excited to get started!

If you want more information on Chalk Paint, I suggest checking out: https://www.facebook.com/suiteserendipity or http://suiteserendipity.com/ . Of course, as with all things in life, Pinterest is a great place to look, too! I've started pinning already!

Tuesday 7 July 2015

My Scattered Life

It's been a while. For the past 10 months, I'd say that there has probably been too much "Scatterbrain" and not enough "Adventure." I kept wanting to write, but then I'd realize I have to put in a couple more hours of work, or the dishes (or laundry) would call my name, or sleep just wins over. Usually it was sleep. I really love sleep. Really, at the end of the day, with the return to work, my spare time was pretty limited. Playing with my son, or spending time with my husband came first. As it should!

Anyway, there was a little adventure. C's first birthday was exciting. It was also his first real Halloween. Last year, we had only been home from the hospital for about 48 hours.  We didn't even have time to carve a pumpkin! This year, there was a costume and trick-or-treating.  Then there was Christmas, followed by the winter that wouldn't end. Seriously. It sucked. Bad. Ugh, I get the no-sunshine-blues just thinking about it.  (Think happy thoughts, it's sunny today!)

Here are three highlights of my scatterbrained life over the past 10 months: 

1)  A 1st Birthday:  My last post was about the big party or little party dilemma. I DID have a party for my son's first birthday party. It was pretty relaxed, but fun. A little play-date with a yummy cake. Of course, then I decided we needed some decorations. I mean, really, what 1st birthday part doesn't have decorations. Before I knew it, we had a theme - construction - cute decorations ordered on line, tool belt treat bags, and construction hats. Despite going more overboard that I thought I would, it was still pretty relaxed, and Little C had a great day.

2)  Return to Work: I made it through my first school year as a teacher and mum. It was okay, but I still don't know if I've got the whole work-life balance figured out. Maybe I never will. It's really hard. I know, people said it would be, but I had no idea. Fellow parents, I salute you. Single mums and dads, I bow at your feet. Seriously, HOW do you do it? I feel like I'm always just trying to get through. We leave the house at 7:15am and get home around 5:30pm. Then it's supper, dishes, play, bath, usually some laundry, getting everything together for the next day, a little more work, and then about 3 seconds of relaxation before going to bed and doing it all over again. Housework is fit in wherever possible, and don't even get me started on meal planning and going for groceries. What's the secret?

3)  Sleep!: It took 19 months, but we finally figured out the whole sleep thing with Little C. This was life-changing. I should explain that for the first 3 months of his life, he wouldn't let us put him in a crib, playpen or anything at night. It was all sleep on the couch or chair holding this little bundle of joy. Eventually, we were able to move him to a playpen, then, in time, a crib, but getting him to go to sleep was torture. Seriously. I'm sure the books would give us different advice, but we just waited until he was ready. We weren't going to let him be miserable just so we could follow a routine. If he wasn't tired, we wouldn't try to put him to sleep. At some point this spring, we was finally ready though. So, we brushed off the old bedtime routine that had been tried many times before, and started putting him to bed at 8pm, after a bath, 3 books, a nightlight, window blinds open, and a playlist of soft music playing in the background. It worked! He goes to bed at 8pm every night and sleeps until about 7am. I feel like I'm living the dream.

I started this blog to help me get used to writing again, a skill that is important to my profession. I was off for over a year on maternity leave, and I found that I had a really hard time getting back some of the critical skills for my job - especially getting my thoughts out.  I enjoyed it, but it's not always easy to find the time. I found returning to work really difficult and with some other personal family stuff going on, this wasn't a priority. I probably won't post regularly, but I am going to try to share some adventures with my son and family.

Blueberry Pie and A Beautiful Drive!

Yesterday, I went for a drive all by myself. I feel like this shouldn't be news, but usually I have C in tow, and although he makes road...