SideBar: Mint Julep, Modified

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This year, Ottawa marked one of the hottest summers on record. I’m sure that wherever you are, the super el Niño occurring this year really messed with your summer. Here in Ottawa, summer is very reluctant to let go, and the temperatures here in September are only now just starting to cool down to what they should be.

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As it still feels like summer, why not enjoy a summer beverage on this lovely Friday? Yes, it’s yet another bourbon drink, but bourbon is such a very adaptable alcohol – there’s so much you can do with it (and Trav drinks a heckuva lot of it). This is a twist on the traditional mint julep, which is made with bourbon and mint and sugar – that’s it.

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Trav and I decided to take advantage of the massive amounts of lemon balm taking over my garden (so I can make more lemon balm tea) and do a wee varietal (lemon balm is also mint, after all). We also used honey syrup instead of regular sugar syrup (which is 1 cup honey dissolved in 1 cup hot water).

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Grab yourself a glass of some sort. I didn’t have any silver julep cups on hand because I’m not that fancy, so this is just a tumbler that used to be filled with weird Italian effervescents for digestion. Shove about 8 or 9 lemon balm leaves into the bottom of the glass.

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Tip in 3/4 oz honey syrup, and using a muddler (or a spurtle, because I’m not fancy enough to own a muddler), proceed to squish the crap out of your honeyed leaves.

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Squish, squish, squish.

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Now pour in some decent booze, about 2oz bourbon to be exact. I like this Evan Williams kind for this drink because it’s a little fruity.

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Top with some ice cubes. Or one giant one. The ice will hold the leaves down so you don’t sip them up accidentally.

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Sip it whilst calmly admiring your bumper crop of lemon balm.

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Waging the Weed War

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This is the first of two posts about my garden this year, so if you’re not into gardening tune back in on Friday when I teach you how to make a frittata in less than five minutes.

If you’re still here, let me tell you now that I am not a natural gardener. I’ve made a few attempts at horticulture, but they rarely work out. That said, if the Pie and I want to take our eventual business of home ownership seriously, we both want an outside space that is a pleasure to visit, so I’ve been practicing my gardening skills in all our rentals up to this point. I might actually be getting somewhere now.

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But gardening isn’t all fun and games (well it’s rarely those things). There’s a lot of grunt work, and most of that involves WEEDING. My issue with weeding is that most of the time I try to plant things from seed and then I end up weeding out that which I planted. Whoops. Then dandelions happen. Whoops again. Don’t get me wrong, though, I do adore dandelions.

Dandelion Forest
Our back yard in St. John’s …

In our current house, we have a weed forest coming through the cracks in our patio stones.

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I spend a chunk of my gardening time hauling the weeds out for compost (I tried to take a picture of the compost bag but Gren decided to get in the way.

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I have this handy crack weeder that I got from Lee Valley (Gren’s nose again), and it’s useful for pulling the weeds out of the cracks, but they always come back.

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I keep hearing, however, that if you boil a kettle with half vinegar and half water …

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… and then sprinkle a little bit of salt in the cracks where the weeds are growing before drizzling boiling hot vinegar water into the cracks …

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… that the weeds die and don’t come back. So I will keep you posted on if this works.

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Lemon Balm Tea

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Lemon balm (Melissa oficinalis) is one of those magic herbs with many medicinal properties. Among other things, lemon balm tea can settle upset stomachs, calm colic, and help you sleep better. So I’ve been drying the lemon balm that comes out of my garden, and I stole my mother’s as well when she cut her garden down for the winter.

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For several days my house was full of minty-smelling bundles. It doesn’t take very long to dry, which is awesome.

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Then I pulled the leaves and flowers off all the stems. A handful of the loose leaves makes a delightful pot of tea.

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You can sweeten it with honey if you like, or even chill it for a refreshing beverage in the summer.

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Loose leaves aren’t all that practical for me, though, because I wanted to give some of this marvelous tea to people as gifts.  I ordered 200 tea bags off Amazon. They took forever to get here from Hong Kong but were so cheap I didn’t have to pay tax or shipping to get them.

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I got the large size as with dried larger leaves like this you tend to need to use quite a few to make a whole pot of tea.

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Then I stuffed all the bags and tied them off.

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I ended up with 96 bags of tea. That’s a lot of tea.

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I made little tea tags for my tea. I used a circle punch and a hole punch to create the tag itself from cardstock.

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Then I carved a giant T out of a rubber stamp blank.

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Stampy stampy stampy.

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I tied the tags to the bags and stuffed them into wooden boxes I picked up from Dollarama for three bucks, together with a little blurb about the tea itself.

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Fun gift, eh?

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Strawberry White Chocolate Cupcakes: The Cheater Edition

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Because General Zod has now figured out how to crawl around his parents’ condo, Atlas had to do some quick reorganizing to get certain things away from his little graspy fingers, and as a result, she unloaded a number of pantry items on me when she ran out of room. One of these items was a box of cake mix.  I don’t normally use cake mix, but I hated to waste it, so I came up with these cheater cupcakes the other day.  They were both a success and somewhat of a failure, as I’ll show you in a minute.

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I started by chopping up some delightful fresh local strawberries, about 2 cups’ worth.

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Then I preheated the oven to 350°F and lined my sole muffin tin with cupcake liners.

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I only have the one muffin tin at the moment, though, and the cake box makes 24 cupcakes, so I decided to experiment.  I put the other 12 liners in a 9″ x 13″ baking pan and wedged them together with parchment paper.  I figured they’d come out slightly misshapen, probably more square than round.

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Then I prepared the cake batter according to the box instructions.  I did add an extra shot of vanilla, just for flavour.

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Then tipped in the strawberries as well as a package of white chocolate chips.

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I scooped the batter into the cupcake liners and baked them for about 24 minutes.

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They came out nice and brown.

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And the others came out like this.  Whoops.

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While they cooled I whipped up some cream cheese icing: 1 cup butter, 1 250g package plain cream cheese (both at room temperature), a dash of vanilla, and 2 cups icing sugar.

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Then I used the icing to cover up my mistakes!

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I sprinkled on a bit of coloured sugar I had lying around, and gathered some fresh lemon balm from my herb garden.  A half strawberry on top adds the finishing touch.

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And this is my attempt at the other ones.  NAILED IT.  At least they tasted good.

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