For once we’ve started our canning and preserving at the right time when all the materials are easily available. Our first recipe, from the Bernardin Guide to Home Preserving, was raspberry red currant jam because of the large amount of raspberries in our garden (we had to buy the red currants).
First of all the raspberries were crushed and the currants were picked over and washed. We then cooked the currants in some water until softened. Here you can see the cooking currants next to the canning kettle to get a sense of size of the kettle:
More on the kettle in a moment.
The red currant pulp was then returned to the pan, along with the crushed raspberries and sugar. This mixture was then cooked until reduced to the right consistency. Now the jam was then ready for canning.
Once the jam was in the jars with the lids on, they had to be processed in the canning kettle. For those who don’t know, a canning kettle is essentially a large pot with a rack inside to keep the jars from touching the bottom. Here’s a picture of the jars in the kettle:
The rack also allows one to more easily remove the jars from the kettle, though we also just got a set of tongs which is specially designed to hold jars, a useful thing when canning.
When the jars are boiled, most of the air is forced out of the tops of the jars. When the jars cool after they are removed from the kettle, a vacuum seal is formed and the snap lids pop inwards. Here’s a picure of the finished jars:
This was a fairly simple recipe, just two types of berries and sugar, but it shows the canning process fairly clearly. We’re also doing some more complex recipes, which I’ll describe in turn.
This is a continuation of my account of our typically Toronto activities with my father-in-law, comprising Sunday’s activities. Read on if interested in such things…
It seems that we only manage to get out to Dim Sum when someone comes to visit, so we certainly weren’t going to pass up this opportunity. On Sunday, my wife and I went with my father-in-law to our favourite Dim Sum restaurant, the Kowloon, 5 Baldwin Street. This is the type of Dim Sum restaurants in which you order dishes from a card rather than picking them off a cart as they go by. The cart system is fun, but when you order you can be sure to get everything you want. After stuffing ourselves happily — I’m addicted to pork shumai — we wandered into Kensington Market.
During the summer is Pedestrian Sundays in Kensington Market, which means that the market is closed to cars. It’s quite nice to be able to wander about more easily. Also part of this programme are special themes; this particular Sunday was Kensington Cook Off, but since we were so stuffed from Dim Sum, we didn’t eat anything. Our main activity was to search for some light, cotton, long-sleeved shirts for my father-in-law in the many boutiques, and we found the perfect thing in one particular shop that specialises in Indian clothing. There were also a number of steet performers in the market, and we saw one quite amusing performer who escaped from a straightjacket and juggled a torch, a machete, and an axe while balancing on a a raised board. We also saw the Kensington Community Band, I think they called themselves, led by, I believe, Richard Underhill of the Shuffle Demons and consisting of people from the community of varying abilities and backgrounds:
They were quite fun to listen to. After wandering around a bit more and picking up some vegetables for that night’s dinner, we walked back home looking at the gardens and trees along the way.
That night we decided to have a barbeque. We marinated short ribs in dark soya sauce, chili garlic sauce, sherry, and ginger, and made up vegetable packets of various peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, mushrooms, and onion with wasabi lime mustard (and other flavourings) in aluminum foil packets to go on the grill. We had a lovely time eating outside in the backyard where we sat until it was quite dark sipping after dinner drinks by candle light. Here are some photos (click on the image to enlarge):
A lovely end to a lovely day! Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion of Ian’s visit to Toronto…
A new web ring as been added to the sidebar. Called “letter zed”, this ring is devoted to Canadian spellings. Here’s the official write-up:
Do you have a blog or journal and think it’s about time Canadian English made its presence known to Blogosphere? Then this is the ring for you — Join up and celebrate the True North take on the English language!
So if you’re interested in reading other blogs that hold Canadian spellings dear, have a look at some of the other sites on the ring. And welcome to those who’ve found this site through the ring. Matters of language come up from time to time here (though not so much during the quieter summer). Trolling through the archives, I’ve found two entries that specifically relate to Canadian spellings and dictionaries for your perusal:
As my wife already mentioned in her blog (along with some pictures), while my father-in-law was visiting here we did some typical Toronto activities, including a visit last Saturday to the Distillery Historic District on Mill Street. I thought I’d include a description of our activities here to give a sense of what Toronto has to offer. (Those not interested need not continue reading this lengthy entry.)
While at the Distillery District, we enjoyed some comestibles from the Brick Street Bakery, including my choice of a roast beef sandwich, my wife’s of a chicken and tarragon pie, and my father-in-law’s of a stout and steak pie:
Wonderfully fresh bread as the contented look on my face indicates.
Of course we visited the Mill St. Brewery:
If you ever have a chance, try their beers (unfortunately I don’t know how widely they are distributed). In particular, I like the Coffee Porter and the Tankhouse Ale.
We happened to have gone to the Distillery District during the Party Gras festival, part of the Beaches Jazz Festival, so we saw many great jazz bands including this fabulous trad jazz band, The Downtown Jazz Band:
The bass player had this neat electric bass on which he even played a bowed bass solo. Notice the tiny trumpet in this picture. We listened to a number of bands ranging from small ensembles to big bands. Another intriguing band we saw I can only describe as Jamaican funk jazz, and we sat for a while and sipped some beer while listening to Zydeco Storm. All in all, quite a good quantity and variety of music.
After a quick respite at home, we headed out to another typical Toronto destination, the Danforth, where we had dinner at our favourite Greek restaurant, Avli. After the fabulous dips with pita, as usual I had lamb chops, Aven had the rabbit pie, and Ian had the roast lamb special, and we enjoyed two different half bottles of retsina.
After dinner, we to see my friend David’s band (appropriately named The David Hein Band) perform at the Black Swan. Excellent as usual. Here are a couple of photos (1, 2). And that was just Saturday. Stay tuned for an account of Sunday’s exciting activities.
This posting is a follow-up to my previous summer cooking compendium. Again, I won’t include a full, blow-by blow account of the process, just a brief description and some pictures. Click on the extended entry to keep reading…
First of all, we made several more recipes from the 2004 Milk Calendar of the dairy farmers of Canada. There was the tangy chicken and vegetable stew:
This was a curry made with chicken thighs, onions, garlic, various spices (curry powder, salt, peper, cinnamon), lemon rind, lemon juice, flour (for thickening), milk, chicken stock, sweet potatoes, apples, and parsley.
We also made a red pepper and mushroom baked omelette, consisting of potato, eggs, milk, flour, tarragon, salt, pepper, mushrooms, red pepper, and Cheddar cheese. (Sorry, no picture.)
The most recent milk calendar recipe we did is called Fabulous Fillet of Salmon:
Fillets of salmon are placed in a baking dish and covered with asparagus and red peppers (as seen here). Then a mixture of flour, cream cheese, milk, lemon rind, dill, salt, and pepper is poured over the salmon and vegetables, and it is baked in the oven, and then served sprinkled with lemon juice. Unsurprisingly, Tigger showed some interest in this meal.
One other barbequed meal worth mentioning involved barbequed pork brined in a molasses brine. Among the accompanying side dishes was a fabulous potato salad, but what’s really worth mentioning here is the beautiful strawberry and rhubarb pies my wife made from the rhubarb from our garden (more soon on what else we’re doing with our home-grown rhubarb):
Another quiz, this one rather grimly about which medieval plague I have… Well, it’s all in good fun…
Congratulations! You have St. Anthony’s Fire! Today known Ergotism, this illness is caught through ingestion of a fungal infection of grain, usually rye. If you are not already, you soom are going to be suffering from dizziness, hallucinations, and a sensation of burning in the limbs, thus giving the disease its name. It could result in gangrene. The good news: there is a 60% chance you will survive it! The bad news? You will wish you had not. You will have lingering symptoms for the rest of your life, including mental impairment and being more susceptible to it in the future rather than having immunity. You probably live in a rural town undergoing a very wet winter to have caught this skin-reddening sickness.
Which Medieval Plague Do You Have?
brought to you by Quizilla
Last Thursday was our fourth wedding anniversary. Our wedding anniversaries usually revolve around food and culture. In the past we’ve often cooked fancy dinners and gone to museums. This year we decided to take it easy a bit.
We slept in and then went to brunch at By the Way Cafe, where we had eggs charlottine (poached eggs, smoked salmon, sautéed spinach, hollandaise) and mimosas (champagne and orange juice). It’s been a while since we’ve been there, so it was nice to go back again.
Then we decided to do some pleasant errands. First we bought a photo album with which to finally organise our honeymoon photos. Then we went to the LCBO at Summerhill to browse and shop. I bought a couple of bottles of single malt Scotch (a subject of another post) and my wife bought a bottle of Scottish gin. We also got some vodka and some wine from the Corbière region in southern France where we had our honeymoon. We then returned home for a brief rest before going out to dinner.
Since our anniversary was during the Summerlicious festival, in which participating Toronto restaurants offer prix fixé menus, we decided to go out to dinner at a nice French restaurant, Le Sélect Bistro (see the full menu here). I had the vichyssoise (a cold leek and potato creamed potage) to start and my wife had the pissaladière provençale (a traditional Provençale onion tart with a Goat cheese crumble). For the entrée, I had the lamb couscous with Merguez (grilled lamb chops on a bed of couscous with spicy Algerian Merguez sausage, and braised vegetables) and my wife had the free-range old fashioned duck confit with a cranberry relish, scalloped potatoes and French beans. Finally, for desert, I had the gateau chocolat with Grand Marnier sauce and my wife had the parfait praliné with almond brittle. The dinner was fantastic and we would certainly recommend the restaurant to anyone, particularly for its fantastic wine list.
After dinner we returned to our house to enjoy a glass of hydromel, which we had brought back from our honeymoon, and exchange our gifts. Traditionally, the fourth wedding anniversary is the fruit or flowers anniversary, and in more modern practice it is the appliances anniversary. We usually amuse ourselves by trying to work within these boundaries. Earlier in the day I, of course, bought my wife some flowers, but the fruit took a bit more creativity — I gave my wife some mango Body Shop products. The main part of the gift, the appliance, was a fancy slow cooker. My wife gave me a jar of blood orange jam (I love blood oranges), a jigsaw puzzle with a picture of flowers (I’ve become addicted to puzzling), and pasta extruder attachments for our Kitchenaid stand mixer. I’m really looking forward to extruding fresh pasta!
It was a lovely anniversary and very relaxing and enjoyable for us both. Now next year’s fifth anniversary is woodenware/silverware, so I’ll have to start thinking…
Last Wednesday, my wife and I went to the Sting concert at the Air Canada Centre (ACC). You can read my wife’s comments about the concert here. The concert was actually a double bill with Annie Lennox, who played an hour-long set before Sting’s hour-and-a-half set.
The opening act was a solo classical guitar performace by Sting’s guitarist Dominic Miller, which was quite good but somewhat lost in the large venue. Though I’m not particularly an Annie Lennox fan, her set was quite enjoyable, particularly the songs I knew and particularly her rockier numbers.
Sting’s portion of the evening very good and demonstrated what an excellent backing band he has — Jason Rebello is a phenominal pianist. Sting performed mainly his solo material, leaning particularly on his more recent albums. Perhaps unsurprisingly he played only three of his Police-era songs — with the large back catalogue he has, it’s hard to get all that much into an hour-and-a-half set. Annie Lennox sang a duet with Sting on his “We’ll Be Together”, which was quite good. Also worthy of mention was the extended jam on “Roxanne”. The sound engineering for the night was rather disappointing, however, as the vocals were rather muddy and overall the volume was too low. In the past I’ve found the sound at concerts at the ACC to be quite good, so I’m not sure why the quality was off this night. I’ve now seen Sting perform four times, and while this wasn’t his best concert in my experience, it was nevertheless quite enjoyable.
Inspired by this concert, I’ve decided that the next book from my bed-side pile will be Sting’s Broken Music, which was given to me by a very dear friend of mine who had gone to meet Sting and got the book signed earlier this year.
Recently I read The Unadulterated Cat, written by Terry Pratchett and illustrated by Gray Jolliffe. It’s an amusing look at what cats get up to, and it contains perhaps the most astute statement I’ve ever read about them:
What other animal gets fed, not because it’s useful, or guards the house, or sings, but because when it does get fed it looks pleased? And purrs. The purr is very important. It’s the purr that does it every time.
Definitely a book I would recommend to any cat owner.
Although I’ve now read two Terry Pratchett books (the other being The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents), I’m not really a Pratchett fan (as my wife is) — his writing is very good and I thoroughly enjoyed the two I’ve read, but I still have no burning desire to read more. The main reason I’ve read the two I have is because they are about cats, and anyone who knows me can attest to how devoted a cat owner I am. The book I’m reading now is No One Noticed the Cat by Anne McCaffrey, another of my wife’s favourite authors. Again, I don’t imagine I’ll become an Anne McCaffrey fan; I’m just reading it for the cat.
I think my beloved cat Tigger would definitely qualify as a “real unadulterated cat” according to Pratchett’s definition. Sadly, however, after his vet visit on Monday we got the news that Tigger has been adulterated by FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus). Though this doesn’t mean he is in any immediate danger — at the moment he’s perfectly healthy — it does mean that he will have health problems in his future. I don’t think I can express here how distressed I am about this, but I’m sure you can all imagine. Anyway, here’s a picture of Tigger engaging in one of his favourite pursuits — sleeping in a bag:
There seems little point in trying to give a complete and detailed account of all the dinners we prepared over the last one month plus, but a short summary is called for. For the most part, we’ve been taking advantage of the nice weather by grilling most of our dinners. For the most part, these have been rather simple meals: grilled chicken pieces with some type of barbeque sauce, grilled sausage, grilled steaks, etc. But a few of our recent meals are worthy of special mention. I’ll put half of them in this entry and the rest in a second part in a few days.
We made up a batch of hamburger patties, which we froze for later convenience. The patties were made up of ground beef, lamb, and pork, with bread crumbs, egg, diced mushroom, garlic, onion, Worcester sauce, lovage, salt, and pepper. Here you can see the burgers grilling, with slices of provolone added (and buns toasting on the right), and the finished burgers:
The mushrooms were added on a brilliant tip from Mike, who produces some of the best burgers I have ever tasted, to add juiciness. Next batch I’ll add even more mushrooms.
We also made several iterations of grilled salmon on fresh baby greens with citrus vinaigrette (citrus olive oil, lemon juice, sometimes a splash of orange juice, garlic, salt, and pepper). On the left with atlantic salmon on a bed of mache, and on the right with pacific sockeye salmon on a bed of mache, frisée, and a radicchio-like lettuce (click on the image to enlarge):
This has become my new favourite way of serving grilled fish. We’ve also done this (though with a slightly different vinaigrette) with shrimp and scallops.
Fresh spring vegetables are apparently the traditional accompaniment to morels, as is cream sauce since morels are good at holding the sauce. The combination of asparagus and morels was ideal as far as I’m concerned.
Those are some of the more interesting meals we’ve prepared over the last little while. Stay tuned for part II of this entry, along with new and interesting meals. But as I said above, most of the grilling we do is quite simple. When you’ve got good, fresh ingredients, you don’t need to do much.
Last Friday I saw the new film King Arthur, in spite of the bad reviews it has been receiving. Indeed, two of the blogs I read already have comments on the movie up (here and here). Unlike some others, I thought that as a movie it wasn’t bad — maybe not great, but still not bad. My feeling is that someone who doesn’t know much about Arthurian stories might enjoy the movie. One can certainly find flaws with the script or the acting in certain places, but this is true with almost any movie. As mindless entertainment goes, it’s perfectly enjoyable.
It’s also rather pointless to really pick on the many historical inacuracies, as such things are inevitable with films set in the middle ages or ancient world. I certainly appreciate the attempt to include fairly obsure historical elements such as the Pelagian heresy and Bishop Germanus, though unfortunately these elements just don’t correlate chronologically. The movie, set in 452 AD, revolves around the withdrawal of the Roman legions from Britain, but in all probability there were no Roman troops in Britain after about 410 AD. Also, the Battle of Badon Hill is supposed to have been, I believe, much later in the 5th century, and Pelagius, whom Arthur is said to have known in the movie, died many years earlier. There is also a bit of a geographical problem. The “wall” — which I suppose is never actually referred to as “Hadrian’s Wall”, but that must be what it’s supposed to be — was in the north of Britain, and nowhere near Badon’s Hill. I could go on, but as I said, there’s not much point.
However, I think there is a more fundamental problem with this movie. The filmmakers have tried to have their proverbial cake and eat it too. As is made clear in the opening voice-over monologue — and the opening words of the voice-over monologue “Historians agree…” should trigger anyone’s warning bells — the point of this movie is to reveal the “true” story behind the legend (or words to that effect) — not necessarily a bad notion. It was an opportunity to make a film about the very interesting 5th century Britain. However, if one is to make a film about a supposed historical King Arthur, one must leave out all the later elements of the story, which clearly have nothing to do with any original story, such as Lancelot, who comes from the French tradition. The two are not compatible. It might have been a more successful movie if the filmmakers had chosen one of the medieval versions of the story and simply followed that. It wouldn’t have been historically contextualized, but it wouldn’t need to be. I also found it odd that they took the great medieval romance and converted it into what is essentially epic (though I guess it goes along with the historical contextualization angle). This movie was basically a good idea, but a misguided effort.
All in all, I don’t think King Arthur was as successful as Troy, which I quite enjoyed (see my previous comments about Troy), but if — as Troy supposedly has done for classics — King Arthur generates more interest in medieval literature, then that can’t help but be a good thing. It will be interesting to see how many students I have next year who have seen King Arthur; at least I know what misconceptions to be prepared for.
Check out the Old English word of the week at the Dictionary of Old English website. (A cookie for anyone who can correctly identify the quotation in the graphic above.)
Although I’ve been rather busy over the last month or so, I have still been managing to find the time for pleasure reading. The last book I wrote about, Invisible Forms, is making the rounds of a number of my friends, so perhaps I’ll hold off on writing more about it until they’ve read it.
Recently I read (or rather re-read) Myths of the Norsemen by Roger Lancelyn Green, a book my sister gave me years ago. I was in the mood for Norse mythology, but I also wanted something fairly lightweight, so I pulled this one off my shelf instead of going to the original texts. As Green states in his introduction, “This book is an attempt to present the surviving myths of the Norsemen as a single narrative.” Thus Green draws on the various mythological poems and sagas, often following them word for word, and combines them into one continuous narrative. It’s a good way to get a general sense of the Norse myths, and I would certainly recommend the book for anyone who was looking for just that. Of course there is nothing that can replace the original texts (either in Old Icelandic or in translation), but this is a much easier read. It’s quite a moving, fun, and interesting set of stories, but I’ll not say too much about particular details in case anyone is convinced to read Green’s book (it’s only about 200 pages after all).
People generally know quite a bit about Greco-Roman mythology; it’s very often portrayed in popular forms of entertainment, and it’s a popular course in university (and more often than not, it seems, is taught by my wife). However, few seem to know much about Norse mythology (and no, the Thor comic books don’t count). How many Norse gods can you, dear reader, name?1 I’d love to teach the subject one day, and I think it’s time someone made one of these big-budget films with these stories. Of course it would probably be botched in such an endeavour, but the classicists have put up with that for years, so I’m sure we medievalists can too.
1 Post your answers as a comment and win a cookie!
Well, what better way is there to rejoin the land of the blogging than another one of these quizzes? I know they’re kind of silly, but they do amuse me. And who doesn’t enjoy a good bit of palaeography?
Well, after a break of more than a month, I’m finally getting around to making another go at this. I found the first half of this summer even more busy than I thought I would.
The source of this busy-ness was the summer course I was teaching, a section of the Effective Writing course that I taught in the last term as well (more on this later). It was the amount of marking that really made it so time-consuming. Although one would think that since I had already taught the course it would be a relatively easy matter to teach it again, the class prep isn’t the time consuming thing about this class — it’s all the marking. Because of the compressed summer schedule, there was an assignment due almost every class, so since I had about 30 students (instead of the much more manageable 20 I had in the last section I taught) I had about 60 essays to read every week. And strangely, I find it much more time-consuming to grade these Effecting Writing essays than literary essays because of the focus on every little technical detail; the comments and feedback on all the small points is rather tedious. As important as this course is, I somewhat relieved that it looks like I won’t be teaching it again next year.
In any case, for now I have some time off, since I’m not teaching for the rest of the summer. I’ll be spending my time catching up on various things I’ve let slide, including my own research — I intend to work on a number of articles for publication in the remainder of the summer — as well as my blogging, and preparing for next year. Soon to follow are blog entries about my teaching, researching, reading, and cooking. And if nothing else, I should at least have a greater variety of things to write about now. My apologies to anyone who has lost interest in the meantime.