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Ontario, Canada
I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
--Bobby Flay

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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Bernardin's New BPA-Free Canning Lids

This has been the first year in many, many, many years that my home canning in down.  Despite that, I am always on the look-out for home canning products.  One of the recent food contaminants concerns has been BPA (Bisphenol-A), an additive found in many plastics.  Most of the exposure to BPA is dietary through plastic food containers and the lining in metal cans.  The general work around is to avoid using plastics entirely and if not possible use BPA-free plastics.  Home canners, however were forced to use BPA lined single use canning lids unless they used glass inserts or Tattler reusable canning lids.  [Please note the warning against using the 4ever Recap canning lids as they have an extremely high seal failure rate during storage.] 

Bernardin BPA-free canning lids
One of the reasons I do a lot of home canning is to avoid food contaminates like BPA.  The fact that the metal single use snap canning lids contained BPA has bothered me ever since I made that discovery.  As a result I have been in the process of switching to glass inserts and Tattlers.  However, only gaskets for the Gem jars are currently available which limits how many of my inserts can be used and switching to Tattlers is expensive when doing large scale canning.  Despite the additional initial cost, Tattlers really are the frugal choice but only if you going to do enough canning that they will be reused to justify the added expense.  Glass inserts and Tattlers are too expensive to be used on home canned foods that will be given as gifts.

I recently discovered Bernardin BPA-free canning lids at Dollarama.  Dollarama is currently the cheapest source for the single use canning lids.  A couple of years ago a package of 12 cost $1 but now they are $1.50, still almost half the cost of other retailers. A lost cost BPA-free canning lid is definitely a welcomed addition in the home canning world!

Visually there is very little difference between the BPA-free lids and those containing BPA.  In comparison to the older gold colour Bernardin lids, the underside is whiter than the newer silver lids.  The newer lids with BPA are very slightly mottled while the BPA-free lids look smoother.  Other than that, you can't really tell the difference.  You can however, have peace of mind that you are not contaminating your food with BPA.

I currently have a stash of 36 boxes of snap lids in three sizes (standard, widemouth, Gem).  As I use those boxes I am replacing with the BPA-free lids.  In general, food does not come into contact with the plastic coating when foods are properly processed in a boiling water bath canner.  Food will come into contact with the plastic coating when foods are pressure canned.  It is imperative to follow the instructions with the lids as the prep has changed.  The plastisol sealant on the new lids (with or without BPA) has changed so there is no longer a need to boil or heat the lids before processing.  Simply place them on the prepared jars and continue with the sealing process. 

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Welcome to Aruba - One Happy Island!

view from our condo balcony in Aruba
Our View From Our Condo Balcony
Costa Linda Beach Resort, Aruba
May 17, 2014

Aruba is an amazing island to visit!  It is one of the friendliest and safest islands in the Caribbean.  The average temperature is 82ºF with trade winds keeping the humidity at bay.  My husband and now former friends first visited Aruba in May of 2012.  We very much enjoyed our visit so when the owner of the condo offered to sell it to us, we accepted buying it between the two couples.  Quite frankly I was against the purchase but decided to go along with it because it made good financial sense.  Unlike a time share that has a set ending causing the value to decrease, the units at Costa Linda Beach Resort are deeded with no ending date so the value will increase.  Essentially we own that unit for one week each year until such time we decide to sell.  If we don't go one year, we can always rent our unit out.  It is an ideal way of making a tidy profit.  This year it was apparent that we were incompatible for shared ownership so we are in the process of buying out the other couple.  The paperwork was on its way to us before we left Florida!  Aside of that bit of conflict, my husband and I had an amazing time in Aruba!

Our trips to Aruba are very much a vacation in that we have housekeeping services so there is no time wasted opening up or preparing for possible tenants like there is with our vacation home.  There's no laundry or maintenance aside of clearing after any meals we make.  While the kitchen is fully equipped for cooking, the kitchen equipment in minimal.  I suppose cooking is not a high priority when you have only a week to enjoy such a beautiful island.   Surprisingly, I forgot to take pictures of the kitchen in the condo that was renovated in 2013.  It is now sporting new cabinets and a granite counter top with expanded space.  I'll be sure to take pictures next year!

There are a couple of grocery stores nearby so one of our first stops was for groceries.  We generally eat breakfast and lunch in the condo then eat out for dinner.  I was up every morning just before 7 AM to do a quiet, brisk 30 minute walk then hit the gym before heading up to share breakfast on the balcony with my husband.  Just look at that view!  It is total eye candy! 

After breakfast we went down to lounge around the pool.  Our usual spot was under the canopy to the far upper right just where beyond where the person in the white shirt is standing.  My husband would take a dip in the ocean then do water aerobics at 11 AM, island time.  Everyone is on island time so the 11 AM was just a suggestion.  After water aerobics he slips across the beach for a dip in the ocean before settling in to people watch and relax. 

The largest peak to the back of the rounded peak is an enclosed restaurant Water's Edge North 12º N that replaces the former Turtle's Nest.  The larger peak on the right side is the restaurant's bar and casual, open seating area.  There is drink and meal service right to the lounges with three happy hours and live entertainment.  The many iguanas and birds are always on the lookout for any food that happens to drop to the ground.  It's a relaxing, pleasant way to spend much of the day!

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Vegetarian Lettuce Wraps at Ohana's Restaurant in Disney's Polynesian Resort

Ohana's restaurant in Disney's Polynesian Resort quickly became one of our favourite eateries when at our vacation home.  This restaurant is famous for it's grilled meats prepared over an oak fire served from long skewers, churrascaria style as well as their delicious Ohana Bread Pudding à la mode with Bananas-Caramel Sauce!  The atmosphere is simply delightful.  Reservations are a must and are six months out so we have already booked for our fall visit!

Ohana's has changed their menu slightly.  Grilled chicken skews are no longer available, the salad dressing has been changed from honey lime to passion fruit vinaigrette, and the stir fried vegetables have been updated to include more vegetables, less broccoli and no garlic sauce.  The atmosphere and quality of food remains above average.

The dinner began with Ohana Pineapple-Coconut Bread Mixed Greens Salad with Lilikoi Dressing (passion fruit vinaigrette with chunks of passion fruit and mandarin oranges).  Pork Dumplings tossed in Garlic-Ginger Sauce Honey and Coriander Chicken Wings appetizers are followed by skewers of Sweet-n-Sour Pork Loin served with Peanut and Sweet-n-Sour Sauces,  Szechuan Sirloin Steak served with Peanut and Sweet-n-Sour Sauces , and Spicy Grilled Peel-n-Eat Shrimp accompanied with noodles, tossed in a Teriyaki Sauce with Fresh Vegetables and Stir-fried Vegetables.   Ohana Bread Pudding à la mode with Bananas-Caramel Sauce finishes off the delicious meal.

I was intrigued with the vegetarian lettuce wraps.  This low calorie dish is a must make at home.  The spicy  filling consisted of edamame, bean sprouts, mushrooms, shredded carrot and sauce.  Unfortunately there is no mention of the wraps on the website for Ohana's dinner menu.  They may be a new menu offering in the testing stage.  According to reviews, the wraps replace the grilled chicken which may or may not be the case.  At any rate, I am going to experiment to create a similar filling for lettuce wraps.  These will be a nice change from salad!

If you go to Ohana's the Ohana Bread Pudding à la mode with Bananas-Caramel Sauce is a must!  Even if you are counting calories, factor in enough wiggle room to enjoy a bit of this absolutely heavenly dessert.  The ice cream has flecks of vanilla bean giving a decadent flavour that pairs nicely with the bread pudding.  The warm banana-caramel sauce tops this dessert nicely.  Delicious! 

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Steak and Zucchini Stir Fry

The first part of the May trip at our vacation home is quite the adjustment as we are coming off of a four month schedule of up at 3:30 AM and into be by 8 PM.  Suddenly we are thrust back into somewhat normal hours without any time to get used to the change.  We generally spend the first few days of our trip rather low keyed and relaxed.  The second day of any of our Florida vacations is always grilled steak.  The Publix there has a nice meat counter so we buy a couple of extra thick cut steaks.  There is always enough steak left over for snacking and another meal!

steak and zucchini stir fry
Zucchini melody is one of our all time family favourites!  This simple dish consists of sautéed zucchini, mushrooms and onions.  Not only is zucchini melody tasty by itself, it can be quickly converted to a full meal stir fry as I did with the left over steak.

Basic Method:  Heat about a teaspoon of olive oil and a little butter in a non-stick fry pan.  Add the onions and cook until translucent.  Add the mushrooms and continue cooking until onions start to caramelize.  Add the zucchini pieces. Cook, stirring often until zucchini is tender.  Remove from heat and serve.

For the steak and zucchini stir fry modification, I added fresh green beans with the zucchini.  Once the vegetables were tender, I stirred in slices of left over steak cooking just to warm through.  The result was a delicious, quick to prepare stir fry to enjoy on the lanai while chatting about our plans for the rest of our vacation. The following day we would be picking up my husband's sister and her son.  They would be staying with us for four days so we were excited about the days to come.