Grilled Oysters and Salmon, Oh My! And Baby Birdies Make a Ruckus


I had an “Ah ha! Ho ho! Hee hee!” moment just last week as I cruised through the aisles of the local grocery, desperate for  a quick meal but not ready to totally compromise on quality.  Standing at the meat counter I was eyeing the salmon, debating between the chilean farmed fish for 8.99 per lb and the wild caught at 19.99 per lb. Reason won out and I decided on the affordable since fish is always a hit or miss with the hubby, and then what caught my eye was a nice pile of these suckers at 89 cents each. The guys at the counter are always awesome and ended up throwing in a few extra.

Back at the ranch I had my hubby start-up the grill whilst I prepped the salmon, skin on of course!

Salmon:

On tin foil drizzle liberal amount of extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt.

Lay salmon skin side down.

add salt and pepper on top (to taste)

add slices of lemon on top. Fold tin foil mostly closed.

Once the grill was ready, the salmon went on. Couldn’t tell you exactly how long since we usually determine its done-ness by poking at it. Roughly 10 minutes.

Then on went the oysters which required only a minute or so.

This folks was literally the fastest meal we’d every prepared. And all our weariness from the day was usurped by our excitement over  this special treat.

Once the oysters come off the grill, all you need are lime wedges and Tapatio sauce and you are good to go. Be sure, as you crack it open with a sturdy knife, to not spill the delicious juices – you’ll not only burn the crap out of your hands but you’ll also miss out on the added tastiness of the brine.

please try to ignore the purple on my thumb; as an art teacher to kids, I bring my work home with me on my clothes and hands!

Now, my hubby is not a fan of fishy stuff, but he loves this. Surprising indeed! And I have encountered all manner of gloppy, slimy, uncooked, fishy horrors during my stint in Korea, but this is nothing like that. It is pure yumminess all the way and you should try it!

Here’s how the salmon turned out:

And because the tin foil was not all the way closed, steam was allowed to escape and the skin was able to get crispy:

Laying the skin down on oil with salt is key to crispness!

And, because I don’t like to do without greens, here’s the simplest greens prep ever:

Steam a nice bunch of collards, turnip, spinach or mustard greens ( I cheat and buy a cleaned and cut bag with a mix of all of those greens at Trader Joe’s). If you use any of those greens it will take only 5 minutes since they cook up super fast. If you use Kale, expect about 20 minutes. Remember that it shrinks down like crazy, so don’t be afraid to steam what looks like a gargantuan amount.

Remove from water, drizzle a teaspoon of light soy sauce and a half teaspoon of sesame oil on top. Gently mix. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top:

Highly recommended: canned beer. It serves two purposes: 1. a yummy pairing with delicious oysters and 2. as a beer-can trap for awful slugs that keep eating our garden veggies.

Die slugs, die!

It really works! Cut the can in half, fill with about an inch of the beer you can’t finish or has gotten too warm to be refreshing anymore.

Okay, okay we’ve talked about slug death, now on to life! Baby bird life!

The joy of the grill is not just the food but the entertainment we get from the birds that visit our little yard. Right now we have a bunch of hungry blue bird babies and two very tired parents who are continually feeding them. It’s truly remarkable how non-stop it is. Approximately every minute one of the parents lands with some grub to put in their gaping mouths. The babies are making quite a racket with their chirping.

It’s a cut-throat brutal world for the birds. There’s always a threat that another bigger bird will come and drag the babies out for a wee snack. Mom and dad are very watchful and are always suspicious of us. We are always hyper aware of the chirping and when we don’t hear it we fear the worst. But so far, so good.

One wonders how the fattened up babies are going to squeeze out of that hole!

It’s nice to know everyone is well fed.

So try out the oyster thing, it will be well worth it and it’s about the easiest thing you could prepare for a meal.

S

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Keep It Simple Genius: Pearl Barley, Quinoa and Veggie Salad


Folks, you know how I don’t like to spend loads of time doing domestic chores. Cooking falls somewhere in the middle. I groan about having to do it at times when I’m just off work and would rather be vegging or doing something creative. But as it turns out, cooking can also be an amazing creative outlet as well and I try to look at it that way. Recently (actually, in April) one of my fellow bloggers sent out a challenge to the blogosphere  to create something out of left-overs, the “Great Leftover Challenge”  at http://dannyskitchen.me/. Well, I didn’t answer the call but now I’ve come around so I’ll post this in honour of the competition I did not participate in. My absolute favourite thing to do in the kitchen is work with what I have left over in the fridge and try to come up with something that completely reinvents it. That to me is the most creative and seems to come to me rather more naturally than a brand new dish. Also, if I don’t have to nip off to the grocery store for any filler ingredients, I consider that the biggest success and triumph. Let me share with you my triumph:

This is what I had in the fridge: Pearl Barley from  the previous night’s BBQ, a half tomato and  1/3 of a box of quinoa.

So I rummaged through the fridge, mind working through possibilities, and this is what I dragged out:

I set the quinoa to cooking. I’ve seen it prepared other ways, but my way is to rinse the quinoa several times to make sure of no gritty chunks ( I lose some grains in the process since they are so dang tiny), then bring water to a boil and put the quinoa in. When it comes to a second boil, stir and then leave it on low until all the water has evaporated. Pretty much exactly as one would prepare rice (though I’ve seen other methods of rice making as well that go against all my asian roots and makes me cringe).

Then comes the chopping and the grating. I happened to have the veggies that I had, but that in no way should limit you. As long as you have crunchy veggies, this dish will be a success. I happen to like the texture of cucumber and cauliflower in salads and was lucky enough to have them in my fridge at the time.

So here’s the ingredients list, just keep in mind it is infinitely changeable:

pearl barley

quinoa

1/2 tomato

1/3 cauliflower

1/2 cucumber

2 celery sticks

2 carrots medium-sized

1 bell pepper

Sorry folks, I’m kind of a pinch of this and that cook. As you will see later, I’m not much for measuring and I rarely follow recipes. I’d say I had approximately a cup of barley and a cup of quinoa.

My personal preference is to grate the carrot into the salad. Easier to chew and it seems to absorb more of the yummy dressing in this state.

Oh yes! And a wee bit of red onion finely sliced or diced. I took a pic to illustrate how little I use. Too much and it overwhelms the salad and also makes for dragon breath that will haunt you for the rest of the night and maybe into the morning!

Don’t forget that this is a wonderful time to fill your compost. If you do not yet have a compost, get on it! It’s absolutely brilliant. It took me a while to convince my hubby that we needed one. He thought it would just attract wildlife i.e. rats and our yard was too small. But I worked on him and we ended up building a small one. He is now a convert. It makes fabulous soil for our little garden, and it feels lovely not tossing all this organic matter into the landfill.

*Side note, the best compost bucket in the world is not the ones they sell specifically for compost but this plastic OXO brand container. It is marketed as a container for pantry items like cereal, etc. because the lid has a top button that you depress and it seals the container. Well, it absolutely works as a compost bucket for exactly that reason: it seals. No smelly fumes emerging into the kitchen AND it’s easy to clean unlike traditional buckets that have all sorts of inconvenient grooves for stink to settle into.

Okay, back to the salad.

As I mentioned earlier I’m not a measurer and as a result I invariably realize mid-way that  I have  chosen a vessel too small for what I am creating. Since I am a salad monster, I should have known better and just gone for the largest bowl possible. But for me, starting smaller helps to reign me back a bit. It is always helpful to have a bowl that is slightly too large so that when you get to the dressing it part of the process, you can easily mix without all the ingredients falling out.

Bowl transfer

Last but not least, when all fresh veg are happily sitting in the bowl, toss the cooked quinoa and some raw sunflower seeds (optional) on top. The quinoa is still warm from cooking, but as it mixes in quickly gets cooled by the veg.

And now for the dressing. Remember, keep it simple my geniuses. If you have a favourite salad dressing in the fridge, good for you! Toss it in.

If you like making your own dressing, do so and toss it in.

I am a sour/vinegar fan and so I favour this totally made up recipe of mine, which I will now attempt to share but keep in mind the measurements are approximations. Keep the phrase “to taste” in mind and make adjustments accordingly. My salad was rather large so measurements are also large.

Asian dressing:

1 lemon or lime (I actually prefer lime but had none on hand and dang it I was not going to the store!)

3 tbsp virgin olive oil

1 dash kosher (or any) salt. Celtic sea salt would be awesome!

2 tbsp light soy sauce (all soy sauce is not created equal and come in many flavours. I recommend Pearl River Bridge Superior Light Soy Sauce)

Rice vinegar (to taste) approx 2 tbsp

1 tbsp fish sauce

1 tbsp  agave

1 tsp sesame oil

 It wouldn’t hurt to sprinkle liberally with sesame seeds as well. I know my Auntie R would approve.

Then mix this whole shebang together and…

voila!

A salad even my hubby can enjoy. For me, the essential ingredients are those that give it a variety of texture: the cauliflower, sunflower seeds and grain. I’ve never used pearl barley before, but it was very nice. In lieu of that, brown rice or spelt would do…any grain you enjoy.

So, I hope you give this a try. It’s super simple (any and all ingredients can be substituted with something similar) and pretty quick so long as you don’t mind a little chopping.

Cheers!

S

Update on Succulents and a Few Other Things


So last time I wrote about succulents I’d just been to the garden center and picked up a few new wonders of the succulent variety as well as a handful of loose succulent leaves. Well, I laid them out on a bed of perlite and left it outside under filtered light (my covered porch) and waited. It’s been what…two weeks now? Well, I am happy to report that they are now pushing out roots. Check them out!

 

I’m going to wait a bit longer until it starts to form a new plant, so I will get back to you on that. They still have a lot of  juice in them. No watering is required. You know it’s ready to put into the ground when the leaves are desiccated and a new mini plant is formed at the end where the roots are.

I also showed you how you can propagate by just cutting off succulent heads, scabbing them over and putting them directly in soil. Well, I cut too many heads and didn’t have enough planters, so some of the heads I left sitting on the perlite. Well, wouldn’t you know it, they also started to push out roots. These should be placed in soil pronto as the leaves are getting really thin, indicating that it’s using all it’s juice to make those roots and needs water soon.

 

So that’s the most recent skinny on succulents.

 

The end of April brought the first BBQ of the year for us. Very exciting. Nice to have the longer days and the warmer evenings.

For our inaugural BBQ we grilled burgers. Not to be forgotten, sweet red onions drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with kosher salt.

 

Look at its transition to absolute tastiness heaven:

 

Add to that my mother in-law’s home-made pizza…and we were so very good to go!

 

 

The accidental garden is doing well. Those petunias just keep on flowering!

 

And my hubby planted a lot of seeds that have been happily germinating on the window sills in our apartment. Look at this happy sprout greeting the vegetation outside our window:

 

Soon they’ll be ready for the outdoors.

Unfortunately pests have discovered my Bok Choi that was so happily flourishing in our planter boxes. I haven’t the heart to upload a photo. Have been experimenting with sprinkling cayenne pepper on and around them. So far no evidence that this has helped in any way. Does someone out there have advice for me? We think it might be earwigs getting to them. Booooo! Hisss!

 

That’s the latest. Will upload photos of recent artwork soon.

 

 

S

 

 

The Tank Be Empty


I’m in recovery mode. My weekend was so full of things to do I kind of lost it. As a result I was a mess on Monday, nearly got in a car accident (not my fault) leading to a broken carton of eggs in the back seat where all the groceries went flying. At home it continued with me having a case of the dropsies and breaking my most favorite glass bottle; smashed to bits on the concrete driveway as I unloaded the car. It was one of those days,  you know, those days when you keep doing something stupid and “aw sh*%#” keeps slipping from your lips. That kind of day.

So this morning I just slept. It was the best thing I could possibly do. Now, I don’t have much time before I head in to work, but it was worth it.

Hopefully I can face the rest of my day with grace and calm.

Want to see photos from the weekend, the relaxing part of it? We went on an impromptu camping trip, just my hubby and I, to Boggs where he’s mountain bike racing next weekend. It was mostly relaxing, except for the part where when we got to the campsite the radiator fluid in the truck was boiling. We weren’t sure if we’d make it out the next morning, but we made the best of it.

We kept it simple – lot’s of food to get us through the night and morning! There’s something about camping trips that makes one fear starvation in the wild, and thus drives you to stock up on all manner of indulgences.

As you’re looking at the photos take note of the ones where we’re cooking. My husband made a cook stove from two beer cans. It uses denatured alcohol and works like a dream. The most lightweight camp stove ever. I’m not the only creative person around here!

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PS. We made it home without destroying the radiator. All’s well.

 

 

For the Love of Rocks!


I love rocks. Always have. I come from a family of rock lovers. One of my most fond memories is rock picking somewhere in New Brunswick with my sister, mom and dad. I believe there were even signs at this one particular beach that said “no rock picking”. Somehow that seemed wrong. It’s not like we were going to take  the whole beach full of rocks (though often times it feels like we’ve made a valiant attempt). As nervous as we were about breaking a law, we still couldn’t help ourselves, our jacket pockets were bulging. Pulling out of the parking lot, the car riding quite low to the ground, we felt like we’d done something illicit.

But a beach with such signage is rare, thank the gods. Rock picking is one of those free joys, it fills hours and hours, absorbs the mind and appeals to the aesthetic senses. Only you the rock picker know exactly what you are looking for, what the criteria for the perfect rock might be. Often it is dictated by the location, the type of rocks that have formed there. Some beaches are good for the round, smooth rock, others for the colours and textures. Some beaches have beach glass, or worn bricks. I love it all. My husband doesn’t get it. He has conceded to sit beside me for a little while, looking at rocks, but I far outlast him in terms of rock picking stamina. He also, strangely, does not feel compelled to take them home. He’s never said it but rather suggested through body language that he thinks I’m a bit touched-in- the-head, so to speak, when it comes to rocks.

Believe me, I felt vindicated when my family came to visit me for our wedding on the coast. This was the scene:

 

I know I am not alone!! When I’m with my clan, we know the business of rocks. I swear we stayed on our bellies for at least 2 hours straight if not more and had to tear ourselves away from that beach to go and “be social” and try not to be “antisocial rock picking maniacs”.

Luckily I have a decent camera, so now, instead of taking the entire beach home, I take pictures of ones that don’t quite make the cut but are still beautiful. The best ones come home with me.

And what do I do with those rocks, pray tell? They make beautiful arrangements in bowls, or around succulents. They have also managed to become the subject of paintings. There is an energy about rocks. I feel calm when I am looking at them and holding them in my hands. So, I decided to try to convey the feeling I get from rocks in a painted format:

This is the first painting of rocks I’ve done, and it was immensely satisfying.

Recently I got my hands on a piece of scrap bamboo board from my father-in-law’s wood shop. Here are the beginnings of my next rock painting:

What do you think? Loopy rock lover or a kindred spirit?

S

Never Go Near A Garden Center a.k.a. Human Magnet


I did it folks, I was led into temptation. I knew well in advance, as my legs took on a life of their own and carried me towards the alluring gates, that I should not enter the garden of Eden, because I would partake of the fruit. For a few moments I put on a convincing act of  ‘just looking’.

These were my finds:

Graptoveria Amethorum

Bear’s Paws

I couldn’t resist. They were $1.98 at Home Depot. I could say that it was out of the goodness of my heart – because though they look great on their abundant flats of succulents, they are not in the proper soil. Large stores like HD are all about the easy and express, so they just put these little guys in potting soil which is not prime for a succulent.

These two succulents are the juicy type, so they will not survive frost ( I learned that with last seasons juicy succulents, may they rest in peace. Juicy= high water content=freezes like water in an ice cube tray). These are definitely indoor guys.

As exciting as these acquisitions were, the most exciting were the freebies:

 I did not unscrupulously take them off a plant, I happened to find them at the bottom of the flat between the potted plants where they had naturally fallen on their own. This is a fantastic development as I now have the subjects for my experiments with this method of propagation:

1. Take leaves from succulent and lay them on a bed of perlite or gritty soil

2. Leave in area of filtered light indoors or out. Do not water

3.Wait for new growth to form at base along with tiny roots

4.Place in gritty soil and water lightly

Now I’m at step 3: the waiting. I will let you know how things develop.

In the meantime, here are a few shots of me transplanting my lovely succulents to a good-sized pot full of 1:1:1  potting soil/ Perlite / Gritty soil ( lava rock is apparently best but hard to find. Sand is too fine)

You must not be afraid to manhandle the succulent to open up the root ball – often they’ve been confined to a pot for too long and they are quite dense. Remember you are showing them tough love and they will appreciate it in the end.

Lightly spritz them with water and place in the sun.

Cheers!

S

the Skinny on Succulents


I’m not an authority figure on this, so let me just get that out of the way.

If you read my previous blog about gardening, you’d know that I struggle with certain flora and fauna, often send them to plant heaven and on occasion succeed in sustaining life.

Succulents are by far the most forgiving and thus my best friends in the plant department.

About a year ago I was fortunate to be able to attend a free seminar on propagating succulents. Since then it’s been a grand experiment with varying success, but I’d love to share what I do know. When you are successful with propagation, it is the most satisfying thing in the world.

Alright, say you have just purchased a beautiful succulent in a pot, it’s geometrically perfect, fits the vessel just right, requires little attention. 6 months later, you’ve got this on your hands:

Congratulations, your succulents have outgrown their pot. Now what.

When succulents are under stress (too much sun, too much cold, not enough water, too little space) they start turning lovely colors, so you might like to enjoy it in this state for a while. But there will come a time when it starts to look mangy and you take pity. You’re going to have to do something with that puppy. It is helpful if you have a plethora of small pots – trust me, pretty soon you can open your own succulent nursery.

At all times, remind yourself that succulents can take a lot. Don’t be too gentle, you’re going to need to do some tugging and cutting and really get your fingers around each head.

Find some of the babies that the plant is putting out:

Pull out and up from the rest of the plant

With clean, sterilized sheers, cut the stem, don’t be queasy it’s actually really neat once you realize how much they can take. You can also do this to the larger heads, but will need to scab them over (more on that later).

Trim really close to the bud, peel away any dead leaves.

Then simply push the stem in to gritty soil (needs to have good drainage). Over the course of a week or so, the succulent will push out new roots and grip the soil on its own. It does not need a lot of water. In fact, for the first little while, to spur on the root development, hold back on any water. When you do water, use a spray bottle and gently mist them, they don’t need much!

If you are cutting the head of a larger succulent like that of my Hens and Chicks, do not immediately place in soil. Instead, leave it out to scab over (approximately a week) then place in soil. Plants, like all living things, are susceptible to bacteria. By allowing the stem to scab over the succulent is protected from whatever organisms it might encounter in the soil.

You know it’s scabbed over because it’s not wet and juicy looking but dry and shriveled at the stem. Then you can press it into soil. Hens and Chicks are very forgiving and can thrive in regular soil or gritty soil.

Another neato way to propagate some types of succulents is to take just a few of their leaves (pull from the plant rather than cutting as the DNA required for its propagation is in the thin membrane where the leaf separates from the stem – or so I’ve been told!), place them on gritty soil or perlite and leave them (no water!) until they push out roots. They use the moisture up in their own leaf, shriveling as the roots take all the life force. Once roots are visible, push into gritty soil and watch to see how it roots in a few days and starts growing a full plant. I haven’t been as successful with this method. All succulents have their propagation season, some like cool weather, others warmer. When I’m better at this I’ll let you know.

The artistry comes in how you arrange your succulents. At the moment, I’m focused on learning how to propagate and keep plants happy. Eventually the artistry will sneak in.

Hope you give succulents a try, I think you’ll really enjoy them.

S