Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Little Kate + a Little Julia = A Little Bit of Home

I have been a little homesick lately although I am not sure why since I have been busier than ever. I really noticed it last night as I listened to a reading by Kate Inglis from her new children’s novel The Dread Crew: Pirates of the Backwoods. Her first public reading was at Word on the Street which was held on the waterfront this year - only blocks from where I grew up. As she described the setting, it was as if she was catapulting me back to Halifax. If she can do this introducing her reading, I can’t wait to curl up and read the book!

Another thing I have been thinking about is a crepe torte with spinach and mushroom which I used to get at the Italian Market on Young Street. Isabelle’s school was having a quiche and pizza sale today and I thought it might be a good chance to try to make it. I found a similar recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, I made some slight changes, mainly in the construction – it was very rich but very good. When I make it next time the only changes I would make would be to add more spinach and mushroom. Making the torte was fairly time consuming but I have an electric crepe maker which made things much easier. To make the crepes, I followed the basic recipe which came with the maker.

Gâteau de Crêpes à la Florentine

About 24 crêpes 6½ inches in diameter

Sauce Mornay (béchamel with cheese), 3 cups

5 tbsp flour
4 tbsp butter
2¾ cups boiling milk
½ tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
Big pinch of nutmeg
¼ cup whipping cream (I didn’t add this, I didn’t think it was needed)
1 cup coarsely grated Swiss cheese

Cook the flour and butter slowly together in the saucepan for 2 minutes without coloring. Off heat, beat in the boiling milk and seasonings. Boil, stirring, for 1 minute.Reduce to the simmer and stir in the cream by tablespoons. Sauce should be thick enough to coat the spoon fairly heavily. Remove from heat and correct seasoning. Stir in all but two tablespoons of the cheese. Film top of sauce with milk to prevent a skin from forming.

Spinach filling

1 tbsp minced shallots or green onions (I used salted onion made by Paul and his mom and omitted the salt)
2 tbsp butter
1½ cups blanched chopped spinach (next time I would use more)
¼ tsp salt

Cook the shallots or onions in butter for a moment in an enameled saucepan. Add spinach and salt, and stir over moderately high heat for 2 to 3 minutes to evaporate moisture. Stir in ½ to 2/3 cup of the cheese sauce. Cover and simmer slowly for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Correct seasoning and set aside.

Cheese and mushroom filling

1 cup cottage cheese or 8 ounces cream cheese
Salt and pepper
1 egg
¼ lb. (1 cup) minced mushrooms (next time I would double or triple but I love mushrooms)
1 tbsp minced shallots or green onions (again I used salted onion)
1 tbsp butter
½ tbsp oil (I omitted the oil)
3 tbsp grated cheese
½ tbsp butter (I omitted the butter)

Mash the cheese in a mixing bowl with the seasonings. Beat in 1/3 to ½ cup of the cheese sauce, and the egg.

Sauté the mushrooms and shallots in butter and oil for 5 to 6 minutes in a skillet. Stir them into the cheese mixture, and correct seasoning.

Forming the mound
(This is where I deviated from Julia)

Julia says: Butter the baking dish, and center a crêpe in the bottom. Spread it with a layer of cheese and mushroom filling. Press a crêpe on top and spread it with a layer of spinach filling. Continue with alternating layers of crêpes and filling, ending with a crêpe. Pour the remaining cheese sauce over the top and sides of the mound. Sprinkle with the 3 tablespoons of cheese and dot with 3 or 4 pea-sized bits of butter. Set aside.

Cover the bottom of a lightly buttered spring-form pan with crepes (I used 3). Then, alternate layers of mushroom, spinach, cheese sauce and crepes until spinach and mushroom mixtures are finished and a little less than 1½ cups of cheese sauce remains. (For some layers I cut the crepes to fit.) Mine ended up looking more like a cake than a mound. Finish with a layer of crepes, top with remaining cheese sauce. Sprinkle with remaining Swiss cheese.

Baking
About 25 to 30 minutes before serving time, place in upper third of a preheated 350-degree oven to heat through thoroughly and brown the top lightly. Remove from spring-form pan. To serve, cut in pie-shaped wedges.

Baked Custard with a Canadian Twist

One of the things I have been enjoying about Isabelle’s new school is the good food. For Isabelle's class each day one family is in charge of bringing a snack for everyone. Just after school started we received our assignments for the first part of the year which for me included cereal and milk, yogurt, bread and jam and, today’s challenge, creme. My first task was to find out what was meant by creme – which includes baked custard, creme caramel, creme brulee etc. So off I went to our favorite cookbook, Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. I made a few changes to his recipe but I think it turned out pretty well.

Baked Custard

2 cups heavy cream, light cream or milk I used 1c skim milk and 1c half and half
½ tsp each cinnamon, ground and nutmeg, ground I substituted 1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs  
2 egg yolks  
½ cup sugar  
pinch salt  
    about 6 tsp maple syrup

1. Place milk/cream in a small saucepan with the vanilla and turn the heat to medium. Cook just until it begins to steam.

2. Use a whisk or electric mixer to beat the eggs and yolks with the salt and sugar until pale yellow and fairly thick.

3. Preheat the oven to 300 F and set a kettle of water to boil.

4. Add the cream gradually to the egg mixture, stirring constantly.

5. Put about 1 tsp maple syrup into each of six 4-6 oz custard cups.

6. Pour the custard mixture over the maple syrup.

7. Place the bowl or cups in a baking pan and pour hot water in, to within about 1 inch of the top of the bowl or cups. Bake until the mixture is not quite set – it should wobble just a little in the middle – about 30 minutes (mine took closer to 50 mins) Use your judgment; cream sets up faster than milk.

Monday, August 31, 2009

“I love spinach!”

How many five year olds do you know who think this? Some of you know how lucky we are with Isabelle and food. The only concern we have had since discovering she wasn’t crazy about pureed food is that perhaps she eats too much.

Tonight’s supper was to be steak, potato and a salad except that we didn’t have any lettuce, tomatoes, mushrooms, or cucumber only carrots, broccoli and spinach. Isabelle said that was fine and as fast as I could put spinach leaves on her plate she gobbled them up, she couldn’t even wait until I got the plate on the table.

So, here is my little Popeye. She got a camera for her birthday so she has had great fun playing with it! Thanks P & S!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Isabelle’s Songs

Here are videos of Isabelle’s French and English songs which were in her cahiers this week.

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Friday, August 28, 2009

Premiere Semaine de l’Ecole

Isabelle has just finished her first week at the Bilingual School. She seems to enjoy school, wanting to go everyday with not even a hint of hesitation.

She is in a class of eight – 2 girls and 6 boys. Having that many boys around will be a big change for Isabelle. From our public health group and her first babysitter to Apple Tree Landing and Montessori, girls have always far outnumbered the boys. On Tuesday, I took cupcakes in for her birthday and the teachers, very kindly, took a few pictures for me:P8250078 Last night, there was a school meeting, in French. I followed most of it and Paul was there so he got all of it. One of the things the parents do in the school is help with the library and read with the students in our native language so I have asked to do that.  The challenge will be next week when he is away and I have to go to another meeting with her teachers without him. Luckily, I have a good friend whose daughter is a year ahead of Isabelle who will be there.

Today, she brought home her new cahiers: a small one in French for comptines, chansons, poesies; a small one in English for songs and poems and a large cahier de classe, complete with work! Isabelle is very proud of her decoration of the covers of the smaller books. She sang the two songs to me today but Paul has our good camera so I couldn’t get a video of her singing them. Here are some pictures of  her work this week:

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A Funny Picture of the Playground
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Isabelle and Papa with a flower they saw but didn't pick because it was in the woods. (we talked a lot this summer about leaving flowers where they belong)
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This is a connect the dots exercise.
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Colour by numbers – Can you see the picture?
Also, see the assessment of her work on the right.
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A story they read this week.
 
Starting next week Isabelle will be going to the YMCA with the school for Phys Ed. The school does not have a uniform except for Phys Ed when she has to wear the school shirt. They were on sale today, so she was proudly sporting it this afternoon.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Birthday Party at The Glazing Pot

This is a big week for Isabelle. We had her birthday party yesterday, first day of school is today and her birthday is tomorrow, plus she has gymnastics tomorrow. If she doesn’t sleep well with all that going on, we are in big trouble!

After a lot of discussions, we finally settled on a location for a birthday party. On one of our rainy days in Wolfville, Hayley, Mona, Isabelle and I went to the Clayground in Wolfville. Since Isabelle really seemed to enjoy it and there is a similar place pretty close to our house we decided on a “Paint Your Own Pottery” party.

Isabelle had made the invitations with Tante Rhea so all Paul had to do was stick in the details, address the envelopes and put them in the mail. In an effort to keep things simple and healthy, we made veggie trays and fruit trays and, of course, a cake. The specifications for a cake were: chocolate and flowers.

The first try on the cake Paul wanted to make a piggy bank since that was what the girls would be painting at the party. Unfortunately, he couldn’t quite figure out the architecture of what he wanted without having to carve it out. Then we decided on a simple two layer round cake but the icing went all funny – it tasted fine, it just looked grainy. The next day, I borrowed a flower-shaped pan from a neighbour and made another cake. We decorated it using some hints from Tante Rhea – but next time we want to do a fancy cake we may have to import her! Good thing I started baking on Friday! Paul took some cake to work today but we still have a whole layer left, which is what wouldn’t fit in the borrowed cake pan. I love this chocolate cake recipe  - it is so easy and yummy – well, it is chocolate! I have tried the icing too but for a kid’s party it seemed like too much chocolate.
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The Glazing Pot was a great place to have the party. We paid a little extra to have them open on Sunday so we could have the place to ourselves and with all the parents and a few siblings in tow it was worth it! The girls painted their pigs for about an hour which left lots of time to eat, have cake, open presents and visit some more. The youngest guests were four and a few were already six, I don’t think it would be good for younger children but I could see older ones working on their project for much longer than these girls did. The staff was great – very helpful and accommodating  - they have definitely done this before which made things easier for us. I hope everyone had fun, Isabelle certainly did!
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Off to School

Today is Isabelle’s first day of school! Last night, Paul and I labeled her school supplies and Isabelle decided what she was going to wear for her first day. Paul had arranged to go to work late so he could come with us, so he woke her up this morning. She was a little groggy but got dressed and ate her cereal and strawberries pretty quickly. This meant we left a little earlier than I had planned. After exploring the neighbourhoods around her school, we arrived. The other children and parents were gathering behind the school, Isabelle and the other children played on the playground until the bell. P8243451The children were then called to their classrooms – higher grades first until all that were left were the Primary (Grande Section) and Grade 1 (Cours Préparatoire) classes. By my quick count, there are seven in Isabelle’s class – 5 boys and 2 girls – but the children from both classes were bunched together so I may be wrong. Then, they were off and the parents were invited to have coffee to meet some of the other parents. We didn’t stay for long since Paul had to get to work but I expect I will have another chance this afternoon when I pick her up.
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Now, what to do with the rest of my day??

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Where to start??

We had a great summer – lots of time in Nova Scotia visiting with friends and family – and even though the weather was pretty lousy it didn’t matter.

We started with a mad dash from Greenville to Connecticut. A 14 hour drive which Isabelle handled like a pro – we couldn’t have asked for an easier drive. The aim was to be able to spend some time with Rhea, Jon and cousin Sam and it was well worth it. Besides having a good visit, Tante Rhea and Isabelle made birthday invites and Isabelle entertained Sam.

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From CT, we drove to Portland, ME (with a quick side trip to see July 4th in Freeport) to catch the ferry to Yarmouth. This was our 4th trip on the Cat and I have to say it is great for us - a whole day of driving is cut off and Isabelle is entertained the whole way. I have heard lots of stories of people being seasick but we have never had a problem.

We had a couple of nights in Saulnierville complete with walks on the beach, a bonfire and steamed clams and some shopping at Frenchy’s. The tables at all the Frenchy’s were a little bare, I wonder if the sources are drying up because of the recession?

Then it was off to the Valley for a few nights with friends – thanks to Mona and Graham for having us and for letting us invite a few more friends for dinner! While Paul put in some time in Waterville, Isabelle, Maggie and I hung out, enjoyed the view of the valley and went to the library and playground just like the old days!
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After the Valley we went to Halifax to visit with Mum and Dad. Paul got in a paddling trip while I hit the farmers’ market (101 vendors, how about that Greenville??) and some of my favorite old haunts – JWD, Woozles, Bookmark (I had to save Schooner for another day) and, of course, Point Pleasant Park.

We put Paul on a plane back to SC and went to Cape Breton – see my previous blog entry.

After Cape Breton, we were back in Halifax and Chester. We had a beautiful day in Chester – thanks to L & G for letting us land on you, the BBQ was great! Also, thanks to S & J for taking Isabelle to her 2nd parade of the vacation. Also, by the time we got back from CB, Stephanie was home from England. Have I mentioned – Happiness is…Aunt Stephanie!
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Next was three nights at Milford House. Year 36 for me, year 8 for Maggie and year 5 for Isabelle. It was quieter than last year with just the three of us in ‘Little’ cabin but Taryn arrived for two nights which gave us a good chance to visit. The water was really high, every year I try to take a picture of the same rock and after several years of being mostly above water at the beginning of July, this year it was almost under water at the beginning of August.
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I think the best time to take pictures at Milford is early in the morning. On our last morning I got up early to sit on the dock with my camera and Maggie decided to join me. After a while, there was a flurry of activity around the point and out came six mergansers. With her poor hearing and sight, Maggie didn’t really pay much attention which was probably better for everyone!
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As always it was hard to leave Milford but I had to meet Paul’s parents in Joggin Bridge (near Digby) since Isabelle was going to stay with them for a week. I meandered back along the #1 stopping here and there before dropping Maggie off with Ella at Happy Valley Kennels. I have to say it again – Ella is wonderful, she is one of the main things we miss from home. Especially now with Maggie’s arthritis and separation anxiety, it is good to know that there is someone around day and night.

Leaving Maggie at Ella’s meant that when I picked Paul up the next morning we were on our own for the weekend. As you can read in his blog, it gave us the chance to tromp around Halifax and browse in stores rather than be rushed by Isabelle or knowing Maggie was in the car. We also got to fly kites at Citadel Hall…Stephanie bought one for Paul and we bought one for Dad the the third is an old one of Dad’s. Stephanie managed to catch all three in flight - the orange one is only about 3 inches tall! Paul had meetings in Waterville so I tagged along to pick up Maggie, visit friends, browse at The Odd Book, and generally try to relax before the big trip home. Taryn had us over for dinner which, as usual, was perfect.

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Wednesday morning we headed back to Saulnierville. Isabelle had spent the night with her cousins in Carlton so we didn’t rush along leaving us time to check out a few more Frenchy’s on the way. Dinner that night was at Chez Christophe – scallops and fish for me. I should be growing gills after all the seafood I ate in Nova Scotia! While she was in Saulnierville, it was the Festival de Clare so she got to see another parade (for those of you counting that was #3) as well go to the church picnic where, after getting a hole in one, she won her newest favorite companion – a stuffed dog. Looks like Peter may have a golfing partner!

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On Friday we spent some time in Carleton and then caught the ferry to Portland. For the first time in my experience, the ferry was packed, lots of kids and they ran out of of some food but we had brought our own picnic of maple smoked salmon, crackers and cheese.

The trip home wasn’t as easy as the trip up, We were all tired and there was a lot of traffic on the roads especially in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. We had a night in Portland, ME and another in Harrisburg, PA but I think next time we will try not to travel on a weekend. It was definitely good to get home on Sunday night.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Birthdays

As some of you know, Isabelle will be celebrating her 5th birthday at the end of August so Paul and I have been discussing what to do for her party. Let me begin by saying that birthday parties are on a whole different level in Greenville, the hot dogs and hamburgers with a few games in the backyard just doesn’t seem to be done here. Also, guidelines like inviting the kids whose parties Isabelle was invited to or only as many guests as she is old don’t seem to be the norm here either.

Since Isabelle’s birthday is in the summer, we have done different things – family at home for #1, family at Oaklawn Farm Zoo for #2, a kayak trip and camping with friends for #3, and last year Paul and I took her on an overnight trip to Columbia, SC to visit the Children’s Museum and Riverbanks Zoo. We also try et the three amigos whose birthdays are within 2 weeks together. In other words, we avoided the whole thing.

In the last year, Isabelle has been to several birthday parties at bouncy play places, horse riding parks, and a private kids party space complete with dress-up clothes, video games and ball room. Isabelle had so much fun at every party that each week she seems to want to do something different for her birthday.P4190023 P4180003 P5092290 P5302666When we started looking into the options, by the time we figured in the cost of the facility plus food, cake and loot bags we were looking at a significant investment. I read some comments on an internet forum about people spending the better part of $1000 on a first birthday party. Maybe I am too practical but the way I figure it in 18 years that $1000 could go a long way towards a year a college.

In the past, Isabelle has chosen veggies over cake, yes I have witnesses. So, one thing I did want to do was to bring/choose our own food/cake so that I could serve things Isabelle likes but most places either provide food, usually pizza, or restrict it to only dry things i.e. chips.

We finally decided on venue and guest list, Isabelle knows what they are doing but I don’t think it has sunk in entirely. Check back in a few weeks to see what we decided. Now, what will we put in the loot bags???