Thanksgiving leftover herb scones

Thanksgiving this year has been kind of odd for us. It’s one of my favorite food holidays, but by the time actual Thanksgiving (read: American Thanksgiving) hit, I was feeling a little bit of Thanksgiving fatigue.

We’d celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving back in early October with our family up here in Ottawa (turkey: smoked), then Thanksgiving II in early November with our wonderful friends back in Maryland who, bless them, hadn’t given us too much pushback on celebrating TG2 before TGprime (turkeys: smoked and fried). So by the time actual Thanksgiving rolled around (turkey: cut into pieces and roasted, with herbs), it was my third time within two months making mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and green bean casserole, and the whole thing was starting to feel a bit routine, just another turkey dinner.

On the other hand, thanks to practice, I had it down to a pretty solid process at this point. (Imagine this said in the Canadian manner, with a long “o”: Proe-cess.) Thanksgiving staples are quite forgiving; I actually cooked most of the sides ahead of time and reheated on the day of, so we only needed to worry about the turkey and gravy. (And the sticky rice made in the instant pot, which turned out fantastically moist and flavorful in under an hour. Warning: instant pot raving to come in another post.)

With only a couple of dishes to worry about, it was a delightfully relaxed Thanksgiving Day. And then we had a wonderful dinner with family (again) and one of K’s coworkers, and we have been eating pie for dessert for a week straight now; I can’t complain.

But on to the meat (so to speak) of this post: if you bought herbs to flavor your bird, or your sides, it’s likely that your post-Thanksgiving fridge contains partly-used packets of herbs. These herbs are generally destined for sadness — it really is hard to use up a whole bunch of herbs at a go, since recipes generally call for only a couple of sprigs at a time — and I have been guiltily throwing away dry, wilted brown herbs for years. But this year I was determined to change that.

I decided to modify my favorite jalapeno-cheddar scone recipe for the purpose. It’s a straightforward recipe: cut off part of a stick of butter and saute minced jalapeno in it, then toss that with a bit of flour and a couple of handfuls of shredded cheese; whisk 2 cups flour and 1 tablespoon baking powder, then cut in the remainder of the butter, mix in eggs (2) and cream (1/2 cup), then mix in the buttery pepper and cheese. It’ll make a dough, which you press out, cut up, and bake. Brush with egg wash if you want a glossy top.

So I washed and cut up the herbs, which was a very fragrant experience. This was actually the most time-consuming part; there were a lot of tiny leaves on those spindly stems.

image: mincing herbs

Then I got out a stick of butter. (Actually I cut off a quarter of a block of butter. Butter up here is mainly sold in solid 1-lb blocks.) I cut off a smallish chunk of it and let that brown slightly in a saucepan on the stove, then dropped in a good amount of mixed chopped herbs so that they would cook slightly and infuse the butter. (Maybe a half cup of herbs? I didn’t measure. This is a very forgiving recipe.) The rest of the butter got diced up and cut into a bowl with flour and baking powder.

image: incorporating butter

Then the liquids (eggs and cream, except I was running short on cream and had to cut it with milk, I told you this recipe was forgiving) and herbs got mixed in. When the ingredients formed a relatively cohesive dough, I dumped it out onto a floured surface and patted it into a flattish mound, then cut it up into triangles. Classic scone shape, triangles.

image: assembling dough; cutting triangles

Bake in the oven at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes; they’ll puff and turn golden, and the cut edges will be beautifully craggy. The egg wash is optional; all it does is make the scone look shiny. My tasters don’t seem to notice a difference. The image below has egg wash on the left, no egg wash on the right.

image: baked scones cooling on a tray

These scones were actually lighter than ones I’ve made in the past, since I finally realized that I’ve been misreading the recipe. It calls for three eggs in the ingredient list so I’d been putting three eggs in the batter, without realizing that the third egg was actually supposed to be reserved for the egg wash. This time I used two eggs as per the instructions, but next time I think I’ll go back to three per batch; I liked the more solid scone that resulted. (Forgiving recipe! I can’t say that enough.)

Ironically, it was this exercise of repurposing leftovers that made Thanksgiving feel real to me again, and not like I was churning out some repetitive performance. Because figuring out inventive ways to repurpose leftovers has always been a quintessential part of the Thanksgiving experience.

As a bonus, since I had enough herbs to make four batches of scones, now the freezer is stocked with flash-frozen unbaked scones, just waiting to be baked up for breakfast on some cold winter morning. Scones are always best right out of the oven.

image: frozen scones, bagged

Life is good.

simple steamed fish

K cooks a perfect steamed fish. It’s a simple process: start by going to the fish counter at the nearest Asian grocery store. Pick a white fish, of a size that fits comfortably in your steamer. Make sure the eyes are clear. (Cloudy eyes = old fish.) Ask the guy behind the counter to clean it for you. Take it home, scrape off more scales if you need to, snip off the fins if they’re still there. (I love eating fin, but only when deep-fried.) Season lightly, inside and out, with soy sauce, sliced garlic, matchsticks of ginger, cut scallions. Place in steamer, cover, and steam until the flesh is flaky and opaque. Serve whole, in the middle of the table, where everyone can reach it.

chopped scallions, ginger, and garlic

K’s mother goes one step further by drizzling hot oil over the fish when it comes out of the steamer, crisping the skin. It’s delicious either way. Eat it over rice. The fish will come out swimming in a thin savory sauce, and you’ll want to drip that sauce over each bite of fish and rice. 

Our older kid loves fish. He’s gotten to be a pretty good eater; he will eat (or at least try) most foods, though he does complain when he sees a vegetable reappear that he hadn’t liked the first time around. The little one tends to flat-out refuse foods that she doesn’t want, but hopefully she’ll come around. Anyway, we must not have had whole fish in a while – maybe a couple of months, which is a long time for a three-year-old – because she was dramatically shocked to see us disassemble it, splaying it apart to reach the meat, pulling away the spine with the ribs attached, digging into the head for the tender cheek. We’ll have to have whole fish more often, I think; it’s good to be reminded of where meat comes from.

One of the things I love most about eating whole fish is that you get to enjoy all of your favorite bits in the same meal: the melt-in-your-mouth cheek, the fatty collar, the soft belly, the generous meaty flesh around the ribs. There are also the bits that are harder to eat, where the meat is interwoven with thin translucent bones that sneak into your mouth and poke your tongue and cheeks like tiny needles. You have to eat small, cautious bites, find the bones with your tongue, and spit them out. It’s a slow and messy process, not graceful at all, and utterly worth it.

Looking back, there must have been quite a lot of steamed fish in both of our childhoods, because whenever we eat it, we can hardly stop telling stories to one another. K remembers walking in on his grandmother blending white fish meat into rice, hiding it so that some of the more fish-averse kids wouldn’t know what they were eating. (We tried this technique on our daughter. It didn’t work; she complained that her rice tasted of fish and refused it. Oh well. At least her palate is good?) 

For me, whenever I pick the fish meat oh-so-carefully out of the smaller bones, I find myself thinking of my mother and grandmother. My mother loves cooking salmon heads, then picking out all the lovely meat from the tiny crevices. “Can you believe it,” she would say, “fish heads for such a low price! People just don’t know how good they are!” (Her salmon heads really are delicious; I’ll have to get the recipe.) And when we ate fish with my grandmother, she would remain at the table, still eating, long after everyone else was done. We kids would have drifted off, having eaten our fill of the easy meat, but my grandmother would sit patiently and delicately nibbling at the smallest bones, extracting and savoring every last morsel. I can see her clearly in my mind’s eye, alone at the table, chopsticks hovering by her mouth as she worked the fish through her teeth, straining meat from bone.

During dinner, I felt a bone scrape briefly as it slid down my throat and I was suddenly reminded of being a little kid in a restaurant, a thin fish bone lodged in my airway, gulping water to wash it the rest of the way down. My grandfather had been very patient and encouraging, soothing me and talking me through my panic, until at last I was able to breathe and swallow comfortably – at which point I went back to eating, albeit more carefully. I related this story to K, laughing: “If you go through something like that as a kid and you still go back to eating fish, there’s no hope for you.”

I love to cook and eat a whole lot of different things (oh so many different things!), but for me, simple steamed fish and white rice is the dish that tastes like home.

steamed whole fish, ready to eat

(As a bonus, it’s below freezing outside, so hopefully the raccoons won’t smell the leftover fish bones in our compost bin.)

Hello Kitty birthday

So this is how I know I’m never going to make it as a food blogger: I totally forgot to take a picture of the finished cake that I made for the the little one’s third birthday.

Circumstances meant that the cake actually turned out quite nice – she was sick on the day that we’d scheduled her party, so the cakes, baked but not yet decorated, went into the freezer until the following weekend. That’s how I learned that it’s much easier to frost a frozen cake than a fresh one. The cake is sturdier and crumbles less, so the surface for the fondant layer turned out much smoother than it had been for my previous efforts. I made a chocolate cake with strawberry frosting, with a Hello Kitty on it, because that was what the little one requested.

Well, to be honest, that’s not quite how it went. I was going to make her a Hello Kitty cake anyway, because she’s really into Hello Kitty right now, and plus I already had Hello Kitty cookie cutters that I’d bought for her birthday last year, so I figured I’d get as many uses out of them as I could. She was happy with Hello Kitty, she specified the flavors, and that was that. But then, a week prior, we were going past the cake display at Costco and she pointed at one and said, “I want that cake for my birthday!”

I may not have entirely disguised my dismay. “But I was going to make you a cake with Hello Kitty on it.”

“I want that one!” Determined pointing. Kids have no respect for your desires. This is something you learn very quickly as a parent.

Then I wised up and said, “You know, last year you wanted a Hello Kitty cake and I was worried that you would be upset when I cut into it. So I asked you if you would be okay if we cut it and you said, ‘I want to poke her in the face with a fork!’ Wasn’t that silly?”

She took the bait. “Yeah! That was silly! I want to poke her in the face again!”

“So you want me to make Hello Kitty cake again?”


Oh, two years going on three, so malleable. At five years old, the older kid is already wise to these tricks and requires more straightforward negotiation.

Anyway, my objective restored, I made marshmallow fondant (I use this recipe, recommended to me by a friend whose intensity re: baking is at levels I can only admire), kneaded up some of it with a drop or two of red dye (if you want an arm workout, may I recommend kneading fondant?) to make pink, and executed Hello Kitty cake toppers and chocolate cake. (Three batches of smitten kitchen’s “I want chocolate” cake, for two layers of 9″ round and one dozen cupcakes.) Also strawberry cream cheese frosting, because the kid wanted strawberries, and I like cream cheese.

The little one helped with the cake toppers. I used the cookie cutter twice – once for the head on the white fondant, and once for the bow with the pink fondant. (Now it’s a multitasker! j/k) Then I picked out the features with a bit of melted chocolate on the end of a toothpick. I even let her decorate a couple of the faces. Because (and I do have to keep reminding myself of this) this is for her, not for me.

in-progress Hello Kitty cupcake toppers

For the big cake, I drew Hello Kitty on the top with melted chocolate and a coffee stirrer. Pretty proud of executing a 3D ribbon with the pink fondant. And the kid was happy with it, which was, honestly, the whole point.

Then I didn’t take any pictures. Oops! Fortunately K took pictures during the actual event, so I was able to crop this one out.

sideways view of cake and cupcakes

I did finally remember to take a picture, while we were cleaning up after the party.

partly eaten cake, with cupcakes in background

Happy birthday, little one. May I always be able to fulfill your desires… in a way that pleases both of us.

Halloween in Canada: a crash course in cross-border candy differences

When you send a barely-three-year-old and an almost-six-year-old out trick-or-treating, they come back with far more candy than they can or should consume. So there’s plenty of extra. As a bonus, they unquestioningly accept your arbitrary rules re: amount of candy they’re allowed to eat in any given time period. And their memories honestly aren’t that great. (Though the older one is pretty territorial about his peanut M&Ms.)

It’s a really great time to be a parent, is all I’m saying.

Candy we don’t have this year: Snickers, Milky Ways, Butterfingers, 3 Musketeers. Apparently they don’t exist on this side of the border? Candy we do have: Kit Kats, M&Ms, Skittles, Reese’s Pieces. So there are plenty of familiar items.

(Edit: I am told that Snickers etc do exist up north, but clearly they are nowhere near as ubiquitous as they were back home.)

We also have Smarties, but they’re not the Smarties that I was used to back in the States. Smarties here are kind of like M&Ms, in that they are made of chocolate and covered with a hard candy shell. But the candy shell is thicker and crunchier.

Smarties in Canada, which are hard M&Ms

The Smarties that I’m used to, the powdery pastel-colored disc-shaped candies arranged in a tube, go by the name Rockets here.

Smarties in Canada, alongside Rockets in Canada, which are Smarties in the US

Yeah, it’s confusing to me too.

There are also a bunch of chocolate bars here that aren’t carried back home – mostly the Cadbury line (more on that later), but also some Nestle products. There were quite a lot of Aero bars, which is basically chocolate lightened with air bubbles. My favorite Nestle Canada bar, though, is the Coffee Crisp, a wafer filled with coffee flavoring and covered in chocolate. I love it so much that I bought up extra bags of it to take home every time I visited family in Canada. I have long been boggled that there is no mass market coffee flavored chocolate in the States. It’s okay though, I’m in Canada now. I have all the Coffee Crisp I want.

(Hilariously, I have my kid so well trained in the concept of “coffee is only for adults” that he immediately handed over his Coffee Crisp bars to me, and told me, in scandalized tones, that people were just giving them out to kids! No one tell him that he’s allowed Coffee Crisp. I’m totally fine with him giving all of his to me.)

Coffee Crisp and Kinder Egg at Loblaws

The above picture also displays another chocolate treat not allowed back in the States: the Kinder Egg. I’ll probably do a whole separate entry on the Kinder Egg later. The kid did actually score a single Kinder Egg this Halloween, but generally people stuck to handing out fun size bars and candies.

We got plenty of Cadbury chocolates too. Here’s the giant Cadbury box I saw in the grocery store.

a picture of the Cadbury line

I love the Wunderbar, which has a peanut center and a caramel coating underneath the chocolate. The Mr. Big is also pretty good; it’s got a wafer center and a nice crunch from the crispy rice. (I’m also fond of it because one year we came to Canada and saw Alex Ovechkin on the candy wrapper, with the text “Mr. Big Deal.” Of course we had to buy a couple of bars, to hand out to fellow Caps fans back home.) The kids didn’t get any Caramilk so I can’t speak to it – I assume it involves caramel. And the Crispy Crunch was basically a version of the Butterfinger, but flatter (so the butterscotch-to-chocolate ratio was tilted more in favor of chocolate) and a little sweeter.

our giant bowl of candy

Good job, kids – great haul. Now I just need to figure out how to get rid of all this candy, because no one needs this much refined sugar.

I’ll have to harvest all of the Coffee Crisps first, though.