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Some Things I Inherited From My Father

As the years flash by since I lost both my parents, I remember all the things that they contributed to making me the person that I am. I hope that I’ve done them proud.

While my mom was the practical one, who made sure we had clean clothes, were warmly dressed and fed, and bills were paid on time, my father was the dreamer, the romantic, the poet in our household. Not that he didn’t work hard, both at his job as a house painter for a national company which no longer exists, but when he came home he would spend hours tending to his vegetable garden. He always dreamed of having his own farm with horses, pigs, chickens, fruits and vegetables to feed his family. And a vineyard. He wanted to make wine out of his own grapes. Although it was late in life, and on a small scale, he was finally able to have a hobby farm where he and my mom raised chickens and the fruits and vegetables.

And he made a start at the grapes. Unfortunately, by that point he no longer had the energy nor the money to spend on his dream. The vines are still there … The dream is just a bitter sweet memory.

Books

My mother never really saw the attraction of books. When I would close myself in my room reading, she’d try to shoo me outside to play, to walk around, to do SOMETHING. My dad would tell her, “leave the girl alone, books are important too.” I escaped into my books. Into the worlds between those colourful covers. Into the romances, mysteries, science fiction and fantasy stories.

Plants – Flowers and Vegetables

My dad’s favourite flowers were tulips. When we lived in the suburbs, he turned the back yard into a mini-Holland with raised beds of tulips (peonies also made an appearance in season).

Supported by huge rocks he brought into the yard, he covered them with self sowing sweet alyssum. Rhododendrons and azaleas with their showy colourful blooms also made an an appearance.

My own gardening efforts are restricted to herbs I can use in my cooking and grow in outdoor pots.

Music

Over the years, my dad was able to collect a handful of tapes of Romanian folk music that he’d listen to on the boom box I bought for him. But his favourite was opera, in particular performances by Luciano Pavarotti. I managed tor record all the specials Pavarotti appeared in on PBS, especially “The Three Tenors”, for my dad. Personally, I’m more fond of light opera in the style of Gilbert and Sullivan but I can enjoy classic opera as well.

Cultural Heritage

My dad was proud of his Romanian heritage, and though he didn’t belong to the local church and community center, where one would normally congregate with fellow Romanians, he wanted us to retain our language and be aware of its history. Regrettably, my brother and I embraced our new country wholeheartedly and all that remains are a few Romanian newspapers and this book kept for its illustrations. I just wish it actually contained the fairy tales it refers to.

Somehow I ended up with all 3 copies of the book. I’m sure one was supposed to be for my brother, one for me and the last for my parents, and eventually for any grandchildren.

Traditional Crafts – Embroidery and Weaving Patterns

Each country has its own costume, usually with a linen shirt or blouse which had been hand embroidered painstakingly and a woven skirt for the women and vests for the men. I’ve never had a loom but the patterns in this book would look wonderful.

Beef Duo – Curry and Individual Pot Pies

NOTE: I made the curry and the duck fat pastry as directed by the recipes in the links … ok, I used water instead of vodka in the pastry cause I didn’t want to waste the vodka. The filling for the pot pies started with the recipe on Allrecipes but I made some changes as briefly noted below.

I made the mistake of freezing an entire tray (2.6 lbs) of stewing beef when I brought it home so I wanted to get creative when I cooked it.

I recently saw an intriguing recipe for Punjabi Beef and Spinach curry which I wanted to make. It’s not a pretty dish when done, but the combination of herbs and spices sounded like they’d make a flavourful dish. I browned all the beef and set aside 1 pound for the second dish, a pot pie.

Beef pot pies are a great way of stretching your meat to serve more people and getting some veggies into your diet at the same time. I chose to do individual pies so I could freeze away the extras for future meals without worrying about the filling oozing out and making a mess or drying out.

Inside the pot pie … I think I need to make a bit more gravy but just adding some more broth which would make the gravy thinner should solve the issue.

I used a recipe I found on Allrecipes though I made some adjustments to the technique including making a roux based gravy, with the liquid used to simmer the beef (~1/2 cup), to which I added a rounded tablespoon of dried French onion soup mix and about a cup of chicken stock.

And, instead of a frozen pie crust, I made a flavourful pastry with some duck fat instead of using all butter.

Cold, Gray and Bored … Purple

We got over three inches of snow overnight and, although the sun didn’t make an appearance today, it was relatively mild. So, since I was home and didn’t want to wait (until after 4 or 5 pm) to have my snow shoveled, I went out there with my little shovel and did it myself. The snow was wet and heavy, but I got it done and it only took an hour. And, I saved money.

In the last 3 hours, all of the snow left on the sidewalk has melted, and is mostly draining away. And the car is clean and somewhat dry.

I’ve got food in the fridge and the freezer so other than reading fanfiction online, there’s not much else I’m motivated to do.

I got bored and looked at some of the pictures left on my hard drive where I ran across a folder of pictures I could barely remember taking. It was labelled Jewellry. I won’t bore you with them, especially as it’s a modest collection, mostly made up of rings my mom bought me when I was growing up and which I no longer wear. Old age results in joints swelling, most of the rings don’t fit and I don’t really have the money or the motivation to get them/any resized.

My favourite colour of the jewellry I bought for myself … purple.

I like amethysts. The bi-colour loose stone is called an ‘ametrine’. One day, I might even be able to afford to get it set in something. But, probably not.

Here’s something my mom bought me that still fits but I rarely wear.

What’s your favourite piece of jewellry or gemstone?

December 2016 Cooking Wrap-Up

Cooking wise, if not in other respects, 2016 has been a successful year.

I made a second sourdough starter with canned pineapple juice and whole wheat flour and then made some great breads with it. I thickened it up quite a bit compared to the one I made in 2105 and that may have accounted for some of the success. Experience helped as well, as I’m less hesitant about trying new sourdough recipes. I did revisit the old stand-by, regular yeast, and made a delicious honey challah just before Christmas. Definitely something I’ll be repeating next year.

Bacon, Cheddar Cheese and Cracked Black Pepper Sourdough loaf and round Honey Challah

Crumb of the challah

Cooking on an even stricter budget than ever before resulted in having to be creative with simple ingredients bought on sale, like chicken, pork and ground beef, or leftovers, and the results were mostly successful. You’ll have to scroll back through the posts to see them. I do miss fish, seafood and steak however. I’m also grocery shopping less often and there’s less wastage as I try to use up what’s most perishable first. I’m also going back to basics with the dishes I’ve been making such as cookies and fudge. I haven’t been buying as many jarred sauces as in the past, while using up the ones I already have in things like stir-fries.

The meat sauce I made recently with a simple spaghetti sauce base was delicious as well as economical.  One pound of ground beef was stretched to make eight cups of sauce.

I turned some leftover mashed sweet potato into muffins with raisins for added sweetness using a recipe found on Rachel Ray’s web site.

And because I missed seafood … I bought a package of mussels in garlic sauce on sale, and one of cooked shrimp, and made this pasta dish with the spaghetti sauce.

Some Things I Inherited From My Mother

NOTE: I hope to take pictures of some of my mom’s vast doily output and the crocheted tablecloth I made one of these days, after which I’ll post them.

My mom left any formal education behind early and spent much of her life working on the family farm in Yugoslavia near the Romanian border. Her family raised chickens and pigs and grew various vegetables and grapes. Besides working in the field alongside her parents, in the growing season, and helping out in the kitchen year round, she spent the winter months knitting and crocheting. There weren’t any pattern books to follow but samples were shared among the women she knew and copied.

Crocheting … I never really saw the attraction of most of the items my mom crocheted. One can only have so many doilies, regardless of the patterns. I DID like the afghans she made though. They were lovely and warm to wrap around oneself when the weather got nippy to keep you warm, while reading a good book. The rugs were pleasant to step on when you walked into the tiled bath room in your bare feet. Though she DID make slippers as well from odds end ends of yarn. They wore out quickly from the heavy use and I miss them.

Salmon Shawl

Afghan – You can just see one of the few doilies I still use under the lamp

I have no idea what this piece of crocheting was for. Maybe to be attached to something as a decorative finish.

Knitting … Sweaters and scarves were always useful. I remember making myself a pair of mittens. They were a bit misshapen, to be honest, but they fit and they were warm. Buying them as I have for the last 40yrs seems like cheating, somehow, but I’ve never had the urge to make myself another pair since. I found this gray sweater that my mom made for my dad, when I was clearing out their cottage, and brought it home. It fits so I wear it.

Macrame … When I was about 20, my mom got it into her head that she wanted to learn to macrame so I bought a bunch of pattern books. Since she didn’t really read English very well and translating the instructions was hard even for me, it took a while to translate the instructions into Romanian for my mom. Especially since I didn’t have the Romanian vocabulatry to really explain what to do. But we managed and she made some pretty impressive pieces. I use one of my mom’s smaller macrame projects every day. It’s an ugly looking brown toothpaste (I put my comb in the sleeve instead) and toothbrush caddy and still hangs on a hook next to my sink. I give it a quick hand wash every 5 yrs or so. The big plant holders she made were relegated to the attic, when we moved into our current home. There just wasn’t any place to hang them.

Looms and knitting needles – I can’t remember what was made on those looms. I think it was flowers on the round ones. I should really donate everything.

Along with these tangibles, I’ve inherited my frugal nature, my ability to be happy with what I have rather than what I DON’T have, my fondness for savoury rather than sweet, and my tendency to put on weight regardless of what I eat. Three out of four isn’t bad, right?

Christmas Sweets – Chocolate Chip Cookies and More Fudge

I don’t know many people who don’t like to munch on freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. I ran across some Christmas themed chocolate chips in my pantry last week so I made a small batch using a recipe that Dana Mears shared to FB.

If you don’t want to be tempted by having the cookies around, freeze balls of the cookie dough and bake off a half dozen or so when you get a craving for freshly baked cookies.

After a bit of a break, I only made two kinds of fudge for Christmas … chocolate-mint, decorated with crushed candy cane, and eggnog. I started with the basic vanilla fudge recipe and added in shaved dark chocolate and mint extract, or French brandy, shaved white chocolate and nutmeg, for the two kinds of fudge, respectively.

Christmas Duck Dinner (2016)

Christmas for one doesn’t have to be dull and boring. I always set the table for two. This year, I used my mom’s Christmas china … I bought it for her at Canadian Tire many, many years ago. The turkey platter (only $10) picked up at the same place is perfect for this year’s duck. I found the old linen tablecloth tucked away under a stack of ‘good’ dish towels in the bathroom closet.

Duck and orange is a classic pairing but, instead of an orange sauce, I added oranges to my kale salad and dressing. Or rather, Kraft did.

Drippings from roasting the duck made a tasty base for gravy.

Bread pudding made with leftover Nutella, chocolate and pecan babka, Bree Drummond’s easy caramel sauce and a scoop of French vanilla ice cream

I spent a bit over $13 CDN for the duck (2.3 kg) but there’s enough meat for at least 4-5 servings. And the carcass (not in the picture) will end up as stock.

Repeated … Asian Themed Dishes

I’ve been craving sushi again … and you know what THAT means.

I make a bunch of my favourite Chinese and Japanese dishes, take pictures of them and share them with you all.

Okonomiyaki (Japanese cabbage pancake) – I diced some fake crab legs (surimi) and added it to the pancake mixture. The cooked strips of bacon are added to the top of the pancake before it’s flipped over and the top is cooked. I’m wrapping the two I made and freezing them away for future meals.

Szechuan shrimp and broccoli over longevity lo mein noodles – 3/4 of a pound of white Pacific shrimp in a spicy sweet and sour type sauce. I bought a bundle of broccoli cheap (88 cents). It was most mostly stem and very little florette so I threw in all the florettes and froze some of the stem for vegetable stock.

Sticky Asian drumsticks

Sushi hand rolls (temaki sushi) – A shiso (perilla) leaf gives these hand rolls a great fresh flavour. And they’re so inexpensive. Cook up a cup of sushi rice and you have enough rice for 8-10 hand rolls.

All you need is a drizzle of soy sauce before devouring these beauties.