Family Reunion

Most of the time I am proud to call myself a Canadian, but once in a while somethings comes along that makes me wonder, “What were we thinking?” The good folks over at Lay’s Canada dreamed up a contest called  “Lay’s Do us a Flavour.” People from all over the country sent in their ideas for new potato chip flavours.

Here are the four finalists:
Cowboy BBQ BeansButter ChickenMontreal Smoked MeatPEI Scalloped Potatoes
I had the chance to try these new flavours along with 9 other wild and wacky chip creations last weekend at our Family Reunion, in a blind chip and beer tasting. More about that event later!

I have written about previous reunion weekends here and here. This year our numbers were down. Only 34 were able to attend. Two of my cousins  had new babies (born one day apart!), so they were otherwise very busy and couldn’t make it. My aunt from Philly was also absent due to some health issues, so her kids stayed behind to be with her.

The reunion officially started on Thursday afternoon, but two sisters and their families showed up 24 hours early. One of them arrived with all the fixings for an amazing fish taco dinner, and the other one turned up with 2 dozen Nadege macarons, so we happily started our party early. Another sister and her family showed up Friday morning, 18 hours late. The last sister showed up with her family on Friday night, almost 30 hours late. (That’s 4 sisters if anyone is counting… yes I am blessed) My brother and my mom arrived Thursday afternoon, exactly on time! I guess at least one of us  was listening when mom taught us about party etiquette. All, whether early or late, were welcomed with a happy heart and open arms.

The first event of the weekend was a swim marathon on Friday morning. My baby sister, brother and I have been doing the swim for almost 10 years now. We swim from our dock to an island across the lake, a 1.6 kilometre odyssey. The man who owns the island is a heart surgeon so we know we will be taken good care of if something goes awry. This year we had the largest contingent yet, with 9 of us taking the plunge. We had 2 kayaks paddling along side to keep us company.

My cousin Brett took off at warp speed, dazzling us with his front crawl. We tried to tell him that the swim is meant to be a social time, not a race, but he was training for a triathlon, so he left us in his dust. The rest of us performed a passable head-up breaststroke at a leisurely pace.

That afternoon we all gathered at the dock for tube rides. “The Captain” (my husband) takes it as a personal challenge to tip the tube and dump all his brother-in-laws and nephews and nieces. cousinstubing 1man overboardtubing 3Many people think that it would be swell to have a doctor in the family. But those people would be wrong! What you really should be wishing for is a kindergarten teacher in your clan. My sister Bonnie teaches senior kindergarten. She was so clearly in her element this weekend, planning all the activities, corralling us into teams and keeping us on schedule.

Late afternoon we gathered on the lawn for a rousing game of “Donuts on a String.” It’s harder than it looks!donut contest 1donut contest 2Saturday morning we played “Amazing Race – Smiths Falls Edition.” We were divided into teams and went off on a car rally-treasure hunt to the charming town of Smiths Falls, Ontario.

Our first challenge was to visit The Smiths Falls Public Library and find a children’s book about goats, bunnies, cows or aliens! We were required to take a picture of at least 3 team members snuggled up together reading the book.  storytimeWe were challenged to stop by the supermarket and search for the most calorie dense food. One team felt confident with their choice of butter tarts, but my brother-in-law Brandon came up with a jar of goose fat. Goose fat trumps butter tarts!Susie Aaron Kailey with buttertartsNo visit to Smiths Falls would be complete without a visit to Canadian Tire. We were asked to  take a picture of the 7 things you would want to have on a desert island.

Obviously a boat would be good so you could get off the island!Nick with kayak Failing that, if you had to stay awhile, a portable toilet would come in handy.Jenna and Emily buy a toiletFor the final challenge of the day we were sent to McDonalds. With a budget of $10 we were able to purchase any items we wished and creatively combine them to craft a new menu item. Burger creationMy nephew Jacob was the judge and not surprisingly, he felt a little ill after sampling these imaginative concoctions.jacob judges 2Saturday afternoon was time for the chip and beer tasting, also organized by Bonnie. It was a blind tasting. The table was set with all the chips and beer, without packaging. We were each given our tasting sheet and had to complete the assignment!chips and beer 1chips and beerI teamed up with my sister Jody, who is blessed with super human taste receptors, and we got 9 of the 13 chip flavours correct. Let me just say that it is wrong to add simulated meat flavours in any form to potato chips. Some were quite vile. Everyone loved the “Balsamic Vinegar and Sweet Onion” chips. No one was surprised to learn they were made by Miss Vickie’s. She knows how to make good chips!

After all those chips we needed a good cocktail to cleanse our palates.cocktail timeWith 14 grandchildren, my mom (Mop Mop is what the kids call her) is a pretty lucky lady! We gathered them all up for a photo.mop mop and her 14 grandchildrenFor our final evening program, my sister Jody organized a family reunion version of “Heads Up.”giving cluelaughing at heads up 2We succeeded in making more treasured memories for everyone and tired a few family members out in the process!



Buzzing About Cold Brewed Coffee

liquid velvet
I arrived at the coffee party a little late in life. I didn’t start drinking it until I was in my late 30’s.   Now I start each day with an extra-hot skim milk latte (made in my beloved Nespresso machine, and no, they’re not paying me to say that!) Up until a few weeks ago I would have told you that I really didn’t like iced coffee at all. It always tasted too bitter to me. But then my daughter was visiting for the weekend and made a pitcher of “Cold Brew” coffee. One sip and I was hooked. So smooth, like drinking liquid velvet. No bitterness at all. In fact it tasted slightly sweet, even though I hadn’t added any sugar.

There’s been quite a bit of buzz going on about “Cold Brew” coffee. It’s not the same thing as iced coffee. We’re talking about a whole different kettle of fish here. Iced coffee is prepared by brewing strong coffee, chilling it and then pouring it over ice. Cold brew is prepared by saturating coarsely ground beans with cold water and then letting it sit at room temperature for 12-24 hours. Then it is strained and served over ice.

In the first instance, heat is doing the work of extracting the flavour from the coffee. In the second instance, time is doing all the work. When time replaces heat, the resulting coffee is much lower in acid and has a natural sweetness and smooth finish. Why does this happen?

If you slip on your lab coat for a minute and join me for a science lesson, I’ll explain.  Coffee is comprised of many chemical compounds. One group of these compounds is known as chlorogenic acids, a key contributor to coffee’s characteristic bitter taste. Chlorogenic acids do not dissolve as well in cold water as they do in hot water, which means that cold brew coffee tastes less acidic. There’s a bit more chemistry involved, but that’s the gist of it.

Feel free to add a bit of milk or cream for a luxurious treat. If you like it sweeter, add a bit of simple syrup, as plain sugar will not dissolve very well in a cold liquid. Simple syrup is basically equal parts of water and white sugar, boiled until the sugar dissolves and then chilled. I always have a jar of it in my fridge. It keeps forever, and you just never know when your sister will stop by with all the fixings for fish tacos and your brother-in-law, an amateur mixologist, will want to whip up a batch of margaritas to drink with the tacos.Cold Brew coffee 2There are several pricey contraptions available on the market for making cold brew coffee, but really, all you need is a large pitcher or mason jar, coffee beans and a grinder (or coarsely ground coffee) and a strainer lined with cheesecloth or a coffee filter. ready to brewGrind the beans coarsely. Finely ground beans lead to a cloudy brew. The ground beans should look like this:coarse grindPlace the beans in a large container and cover with cold water. I like a ratio of 1 1/2 cups of ground coffee: 8 cups cold water. I used a fancy glass pitcher because I knew you were watching.adding cold waterStir the grounds, cover the jar with some plastic wrap and leave it on the counter for 12-24 hours. Strain through cheesecloth or a coffee filter and store, covered, in the fridge. It will keep for up to 2 weeks.

Click here to print recipe for Cold Brew Coffee.

Feel free to add milk, cream or even blend it with vanilla ice cream for an amazing coffee milkshake. adding milk 625 sq

Peach Berry Crisp and the difference between sons and daughters

crisp for 1 625 sqWith summer fruit this perfect, it’s best to not mess with it too much. Keep it simple. I love summerThis has been my go-to crisp topping since scrunchies and shoulder pads were all the rage. I love it on apples in the fall, pears and cranberries in the winter and strawberry and rhubarb in the spring. I always have a bag of the topping stashed in the freezer for a quick dessert.  crisp toppingtopping in food processor 1topping in food processor 2To thicken the juices in the crisp I like to use Minit Tapioca. Depending on the sweetness of the fruit I add between 2-4 tablespoons of sugar. adding minit tapiocacovering with toppingI have made this crisp topping so many times I could practically prepare it in my sleep. But still, you need to pay attention. Here is my cautionary tale of what can happen when you go on auto-pilot in the kitchen.

A few years ago I made the crisp with fall apples and served it after dinner. My children dug in immediately. My daughter took one bite and said, “This is disgusting!!” I looked over at my oldest son. He was diligently shoveling in the apple crisp, but not at his usual alarming speed. With his mouth full he said, in a kind voice, “Well mom, it’s ok, but it’s not as good as usual.” I reached for his spoon and took a bite for myself. I almost choked. My daughter was right, it was horrible. I had been rushing around the kitchen that afternoon, trying to do too many things at once and I guess I wasn’t paying attention. I had mistakenly mixed the apples with salt instead of sugar. And therein lies the difference between sons and daughters. You can always count on your daughter to be brutally honest with you, while your son will soften the truth to protect your feelings!waiting for it to coolWarm from the oven or room temperature, this crisp is a wonderful way to pay homage to summer fruit. share with friends

Click here to print recipe for Peach Berry Crisp.

share with friends 3

Summer Farro Risotto with Corn

single bowl with fork and napkin 625 sqThis is pure summer in a bowl. More accurately, it’s a love letter to corn. If all you’re looking for is a little fling with some boiled corn, slathered with butter and a dash of coarse salt, then this is not the dish for you. This is for someone who is in it for the long haul, willing to make a true commitment to corn.three bowlsEssentially this is a corn risotto, made with farro instead of rice. The simmering liquid is a corn puree which adds the sweetest pure corn flavour imaginable. For crunch, corn kernels, red onion and bell peppers are briefly cooked and then added. The ripest local tomatoes are added for a fresh hit of acidity and verdant basil adds a welcome fragrant note. Some grated parmesan adds richness and salt.

As with any long term relationship, there is some work involved here, and it will get a little bit messy. No getting around it. Chop, dice, sauté, puree, and stir. It’s worth the effort, I promise. ready to cookStart with some of the freshest corn you can find. Cut it off the cob and sauté with some olive oil and finely diced onion.sauteeing cornAdd vegetable stock to the cooked corn and onion and let it simmer until very soft. Then the whole lot gets blended and strained for a velvety corn puree. adding veg stockstraining corn pureeOnce the farro is simmered in vegetable stock and drained, it’s time to roll. And yes, you will need to dirty two more pans. I warned you, corn love is messy.farratto mise en placeTime to introduce the intense corn puree to the farro. Let it all simmer away until hot and creamy.adding corn puree to farro

oval platter 1

Click here to print recipe for Farro Risotto with Corn.

single bowl



Raspberry Coconut Cornmeal Shortcake

put on the lid 2It’s tough to improve on a classic strawberry shortcake when done well. Crafted from skilled hands, shortcake biscuits are perfectly light and tender, thanks to buttermilk and baking powder, while rich and flaky at the same time, owing to lots of butter.

But when messing with the classics involves the addition of coconut, I sit up and pay attention. I first heard about coconut shortcake from Chef Vivian Howard, on her PBS series, “A Chef’s Life.” She baked the shortcake in small cast iron pans and flavoured the whipped cream with basil, to pair with strawberries. I tried this variation a few weeks ago, at the height of strawberry season, but they disappeared before I could take a picture. Some of my guests loved the basil, others felt like they were eating pesto flavoured whipped cream.

Since we are thick in the middle of raspberry season, I decided to make them again. The coconut in this shortcake comes from 4 sources! Coconut milk, cream of coconut (the stuff they use in making pina coladas), large flakes of coconut and coconut extract. Coconut haters need not read any further. ready to bakeI decided to bake them in my mini Bundt pans because tiny treats are adorable. pouring batterWe let our guests assemble their own. Just slice the cakes and set out a big bowl of berries and some whipped cream.assembly FOpen facedOr with a lid.put on the lid 625 sqA dusting of icing sugar is always a good idea.let it snow 1let it snow 2These shortcakes are much denser than the traditional, but I loved that about them. Sturdy and bursting with coconut and cornmeal, they are perfect for soaking up all the berry juices and cream.

Click here to print recipe for Raspberry Coconut Cornbread Shortcake.