I can’t say it often enough – I HATE SUMMER. I would honestly rather deal with 3 feet of snow and bitter wind chill than the heat and humidity we’ve gone through in the past few months. I’ve got my days arranged for the minimum amount of outside time absolutely necessary. Some days I only go outside to walk the dogs and then we don’t even go around the block, it’s so hot. I grew up in Nova Scotia where it was seldom humid and where, when the temperature hit 25C, we’d head for the beach and the frigid chill of the ocean. My body just never acclimatized to living in pea soup.
The only good thing that comes from an Ontario summer is the food. And it’s truly the only thing that keeps me from fleeing to Halifax for July and August. Because if I left, I would miss out on Ontario corn, melons, tomatoes and peaches. (Not blueberries, though… Nova Scotian blueberries far exceed those we get in Ontario.)
Peaches in particular are a point of contention. A couple of years ago, Ontario’s last canning facility shut down. Canned fruit in the supermarkets is 100% guarantee to be from away – usually from places like China or South Africa. Many Ontario farmers who grew peaches and pears in particular razed their orchards because without the cannery, there was no one in Ontario to buy their fruit in quantity.
I’ve never been a huge fan of strawberry jam. Mostly because I’ve always found it too sweet. But this year I thought I’d make some anyway, maybe using a recipe that wasn’t quite as sweet as normal.
Because jam-making can be scary, what with all of that getting a proper seal and ensuring the jam sets, I was at first inclined to a freezer jam. Now, any jam can be stored in the freezer, and if the jars don’t get a good seal, cooked or not, the freezer is the best place to store them. But all of the recipes I came across for freezer jam reminded me of why I never cared much for strawberry jam in the first place. With a 2 to 1 ratio of sugar to fruit, my teeth hurt just reading the recipe. Switching to a search for cooked jam recipes, that same high sugar ratio popped up, but many of the recipes were based on an opposite ratio; 2 to 1, fruit to sugar. That’s more like it. Except some of them called for added pectin while others called for none at all. This jam thing would be a lot less intimidating and confusing if all you people who post recipes on the Internet would form some consensus.
Ever since I attended the All About Almonds event back in November, I’ve found myself addicted to the things. That’s partly because they sent us home with pounds of almonds in various forms, and I’ve been eating them for months, but one item in the swag bag – a package of cinnamon-sugared almonds – intrigued me enough that I’ve been making my own for a while now, working with various ratios and spices to get the perfect addictive product.
There are many different processes for candying nuts. Some recipes called for whipped egg white (which create almost a meringue coating), others instruct cooks to remove the nuts from the boiling sugar and water solution with a slotted spoon and roll in spices and more sugar before toasting, while others still require letting the sugar brown and caramelize. Every method creates a different type of candy coating and once you get spices in there, the options are even more vast.
This final one might just be the keeper, though, as the flavours really seemed to work nicely and the coating has a good texture.
We love these as a snack to replace regular candy or cookies, and almonds are so healthy that we can almost feel virtuous about eating them, even with a tiny bit of sugar and butter in the recipe.
One of the really fabulous things about summer is that it keeps me out of the supermarket. Buying all my fruit and veg, cheese, eggs, honey and the small amount of meat we cook at home from local farmers is time not spent trolling the aisles being tempted by junk food. In the winter though, when most of the markets close, my weekly excursion to the local grocery store is fraught with peril. I do my best to stick to the perimeter, although needing flour or dried beans or toilet paper always calls for a trip down the aisles, but sometimes those supermarket folks get sneaky and move the processed food over by the real stuff.
Which is how Greg and I happened upon a giant display of boxes of Kraft Dream Whip. We approached the row of boxes with caution. Arranged behind a selection of wizened, tired-looking California strawberries, we understood that it was meant to be an impulse purchase – the temptation of berries and cream (an allusion to, if not an actual taste of, summer) in the midst of a barren winter’s deep freeze.
Greg tentatively plucked at a box, flipping it over to read the instructions. “How do you make real whipped cream?” he asked.
“You uh.. whip some cream. With a bit of sugar and maybe some vanilla.”
“Huh. To make this stuff you need to add milk and vanilla,” he replied.
“Then what’s the point? Why not just buy cream if you have to buy milk anyway?”
Greg read over the ingredients. “Mmmm… hydrogenated vegetable oil,” he said. “This is full of trans fat.”
He put the box back and we wandered through the store, griping about the crap that people will eat to save a few bucks. But if you’ve got to add milk and vanilla anyway, it can’t be that much of a savings over buying cream, so what is the allure of foods like Dream Whip? You still have to whip the stuff – it’s not a time saver in any way. It’s not a convenience food that can be made just by adding water. So what makes it so popular?
A few years back, food bloggers went all wacky for homemade microwave potato chips. I remember making the things, and while they were good, they were a bit of a pain in the butt. Basically you sliced a potato, sprayed the slices with non-stick spray and laid them out on a plate and microwaved them for 5 minutes. Problem was – some microwaves are more powerful than others, and if you had a not especially powerful one, it often took 7 or 8 minutes to get the chips crisp. Given that you could only do one plateful at a time, it could take half an hour or more to make a small bowl of chips.
I always knew you could do something similar in the oven, and figured that it would probably take about the same amount of time. So over the past few days, I’ve been experimenting. It’s crazy cold outside, and my body wants comfort food and that generally means chips – or French fries. But it’s still January and I’ve been mostly good about keeping to the resolutions, so I wanted to avoid the greasy salty bagged potato chips from the variety store. These have a bit of oil, just to keep them from sticking, but I’d still count them as being healthy – leave the skins on and they even have fibre.
And – they’re really good. Not nearly as greasy as fried ones, but still crisp and satisfying. And way cheaper than a bag of crappy junk food chips.
My next project is to play with some other root vegetables; sweet potato chips, beet chips, parsnip chips… definitely cheaper than those bags of root chips from the health food store. And probably better.