a peek inside the fishbowl

04 May, 2019

Mushrooms on toast

By andrea tomkins in Recipes and Food

When your family is away and you can eat WHATEVER YOU WANT, what meal do you make for yourself? Of course, this is a prime opportunity to serve yourself something the fam doesn’t like. (Which I prefer to eating cereal over the sink.) In the past, I’ve made myself big salads with candied salmon, enjoyed stinky cheese, or made something with tuna fish or beets, but more often than not it’s probably something made with mushrooms.

Mushrooms for toast

What got me thinking: I enjoyed mushrooms on toast at an event recently and I remembered how terribly deprived I am of mushrooms. I am the only person in my family who likes mushrooms, so we rarely have them here at Casa Fishbowl.

So yes, I am just a tiny bit obsessed right now. In fact, I’ve had mushrooms on toast twice in the last two days (once for lunch and once for dinner) and I’m debating whether or not to run out and buy another bunch and make it this weekend because they are just so good. One feels a little bit fancy eating mushrooms on toast, but it’s also very humble fare when you think about it – not to mention rich, earthy, savoury, meaty – this dish has it all.

Mushrooms on toast

– 1 shallot, finely diced
– blob of butter
– 1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, washed and chopped
– 1 TB or so of chopped fresh parsley
– 1 TB or so of full-fat sour cream
– sliced baguette

Grab a big frying pan and sautée the diced shallot in butter over medium-low heat until well-browned. Turn up the heat a bit and dump in the chopped mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and reduced. Maybe 10 minutes. Add parsley and sour cream. Stir until well-combined. Divide across toasted baguette slices. Sprinkle with freshly ground sea salt and pepper to taste. Eat! Enjoy! And if you’re like me, make it again tomorrow.

27 Apr, 2019

Weekend reading: April 27 edition

By andrea tomkins in Weekend reading

On the nightstand : Caleb’s Crossing, by Geraldine Brooks

When I was 18 I visited family in the Czech Republic for the first time. It wasn’t long after the Berlin wall had come down. I never expected to be able to go there, back to the motherland, but I did. I stayed with my grandmother, my mother’s mother, who lived in Prague. I remember going grocery shopping together, shocked at the differences between here and there. Here we have nearly endless food choices: An aisle of condiments, for example, or twenty different types of bread, or a wall of fridges with an ocean of dairy products. Here we have almost any kind of fruit or vegetable you want. Not there. There, you were lucky if there were bananas. (BANANAS.) There, the milk was packaged in waxed cardboard boxes. There, you bought what was available and didn’t complain. No one cared. The other big difference was that you didn’t get a grocery bag when you checked out. I was really surprised by this. Isn’t this what was supposed to happen when bought something? Aren’t grocery bags practically a sacred right?

They are not. Not there. My grandma simply pulled out some netted bags from her purse. The bags were perfectly ordinary. The situation was perfectly ordinary. If you didn’t bring your own bag, well, tough bananas for you, dear shopper.

This was long before stores here in Ottawa started charging for grocery bags. Many people were incensed when that happend. They saw it as a way for stores to make more money off of them, instead of seeing it for what it was, a subtle way to change peoples’ habits. I see it as a very tiny fine or tax. You forget your bags? You pay the idiot tax. It’s small enough to be almost meaningless, large enough to be annoying and prompt you to grab those bags as you leave the house.

Somewhere along the way, the act of bringing our own bags became normal. What has helped this along is seeing other people bring their own bags. There comes a point in which the act of bringing your own bags reaches a critical mass and a tipping point happens. Suddenly the act of bringing bags isn’t seen as something crazy, but just… normal and ordinary.

I remember seeing a rough and tough middle-aged construction worker amble through the Farm Boy parking lot with a reusuable bag in hand. It struck me. If HE is doing it, this bag thing is catching on.

I can think of a lot of environmental behaviours that have changed over the last dozen years or so. And I think one of the big reason for this change in behaviours is that we talk about them and see others doing them, so we do them too.

– Composting is normal, whether it’s through the Ottawa green bin program or with backyard composters.
– Weedy lawns are normal. It’s no longer de rigeur to spray the crap out of our lawns with pesticides and herbicides. In fact, an increasing number of front lawns are being turned into flower and vegetable gardens.
– Recycling is normal. I see overflowing blue bins (plastic and glass) as well as black bins (for paper). As a kid we used to stuff our fallen leaves in giant orange garbage bags and put them out by the curb on garbage day. They are still in a landfill somewhere.
– Second-hand shops are normal. There used to be a stigma associated with anything second-hand, that is, unless it was deemed to be an antique.
– More people are choosing to ride their bikes for their work commute. I’ve never seen so many people riding their bikes in the winter and the off-season(s) here in Ottawa! I think this is pretty cool.
– I’m seeing more hybrid and electric vehicles.
– CSAs, farmers’ markets, local produce, home gardens, and preserving and pickling are more popular than ever before.

These things all have something in common: (a) they’re good for the environment (b) they used to be the domain of “crazy people,” or should I say, long-haired Birkenstock-wearing eco-nerds. I recall this vividly in the 1980s. The very idea of people bringing their own cloth grocery bags or tying up stacks of newspapers to bring to the recycling depot was seen as something weird, almost distasteful. Now those things are commonplace. It’s cool to care! Of course, we can’t honestly say that ALL people do the things I’ve listed above. There are still people out there who drive a Hummer, refuse to use their green bins, and happily douse their lawns with poison so that their grass remains pristine and dandelion-free, but those people are slowly going the way of the dodo. After all, we didn’t inherit the earth, we’re just borrowing it for awhile.

So when I handed Mark a bread bag to use when he was going on a bagel run this past weekend, I was already expecting the look he was going to give me, the THIS IS GOING TO BE WEIRD face.

I had just tried using this same bread bag at a local bakery and failed. I held the bag out to the person behind the counter and asked her to put the loaf I had requested into it. She obviously misunderstood, because before I knew it she was sliding my lovely country sourdough into a plastic bag and putting THAT into the bread bag. Sigh.

As for the bagels, Mark was successful. No plastic bags or slip-ups to report, and no weird looks, just a lot of fresh bagels. We had friends over for brunch so we ate most of them. The rest were sliced up and went into a resealable bag I keep in the freezer for this purpose.

So how do we normalize “greener” behaviours? We just do them, and keep doing them, and talk about them, and share them.

20 Apr, 2019

Weekend reading: April 20 edition

By andrea tomkins in Weekend reading

On the nightstand: Ellen In Pieces, by Caroline Adderson

At the end of my previous post I linked to a very old blog post, an 18-year-old blog post, to be exact. It’s so old it’s not even part of the archives. I actually had to go and find it on my computer and upload it.

I had to laugh at a sentence I had written at the top of the page: “Welcome to andrea’s blog. Here for no reason in particular. May or may not be here tomorrow.”

I guess I really didn’t plan on keeping it going for this long.

When I first started blogging it was primarily to keep my friends and family updated about our family life and how our girls were growing. It wasn’t technically meant to be a scrapbook of milestones, just some random jottings, but I guess that’s what it was in those early days. The eldest is walking! Talking! Reading! The youngest ate solids! It was ultimately around those milestones that a sort of community was formed. And I also learned that I was not alone in this parenting thing. There were other people out there who were walking around like semi-living zombies with crumbs in their bras and dried patches of baby spit down their backs! Amazing.

Today I have almost 20 years of journal entries. It is, in a sense, a scrapbook of our lives.

A few of you who are reading along have been here since the beginning and watched our kids grow up. You have also probably noticed that I wrote a lot about them when they were small, and less so as they got older. I thought they deserved a greater degree of privacy and I’m happy with this decision.

We are hitting a few milestones this year and for those of you who know us best and have been reading the longest, I wanted to share a little bit of where we’re at right now (while keeping some degree of privacy intact).

The eldest is in her second year of university at Queen’s. She’s studying to be a primary school teacher. We just helped her move to a new place with new roomies and there will be four young women living in the same home. When she first moved out on her own (a.k.a. left the relative shelter of university residence life) I was worried she wouldn’t feed herself very well (eg. get enough veggies and remember to pack a lunch) but I am very pleased to report that she’s doing ok! She knows her way around the grocery store – and the kitchen – and even sends us the occasional photo of stir-fries and other tasty concoctions she cooks up. (Thank you Pinterest!) She has been working part-time while completing her studies. Exams are happening right now, and her tales of studying and revising have reminded me why I DON’T want to go back to school, even though sometimes I think I am craving more higher education. When exams are over she’s jetting off to British Columbia to stay with friends for a bit before coming back to Ottawa and looking for summer work.

The youngest is finishing grade 12 this year and will also be at Queen’s in the fall. I repeat: Our two kids will be going to school in THE SAME CITY. I’m pleased for them, of course, but I am doubly pleased for Mark and I. Easy drop-offs, pickups, deliveries, impromptu dates and dinners! I am excited about this.

The youngest recently told me about some of the courses she’s interested in taking within the faculty of Arts & Science and it’s a very long and interesting list. As I mentioned before, she just got her driver’s license so the car is getting a lot more use now. I am glad she’s driving but I tell ya, it also worries me. New drivers tend to drive a little slower and with extra caution and it will take a little more practice to gain confidence. It’s the other drivers I am most worried about. Both Mark and I have been in the car with them when other drivers honk and rage and pass them at furious speeds. It’s scary.

We are super proud of both our daughters and look forward to seeing what the future brings.

Mark and I are starting a whole new chapter soon, which is weird to think about. The “what will you do when the kids are gone” question is one that I’ve been fielding quite a bit, along with “did you have children when you were TWELVE??” (haha). I haven’t come up with a satisfactory answer to the first one. I do know that I enjoyed every stage of parenting and will likely enjoy the next one too. Mark and I have a few ideas. As for what the blog will look like, I can’t say for certain. On one hand, I am asking myself what a parenting blog looks like without kids in the picture. But on the other hand, I know the Fishbowl isn’t really about parenting. It’s about me, essentially, and the topic matter is as varied as the ideas that are swirling around in my brain. Maybe it’s always been that way, too.

We shall see what the next chapter brings, but in the meantime, thank you for reading. xo


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  • andrea tomkins: I will definitely check that out Tiana!
  • Yana: There is one near the train in Carleton Uni
  • Tiana: Oh there's a great book, if you haven't read it already - Gathering Moss by Robin Wall-Kimmerer.
  • Quail: Mushrooming is a fantastic hobby. Take a course in late September. These fun fall outings are usually very productive and often led by keen experts.
  • a peek inside the fishbowl » Blog Archive More about mushrooms - a peek inside the fishbowl: […] week I shared a quick recipe for mushrooms on toast. I deeply regret not running out and shoring up my mushroom supplies because I have a se
  • Jacquelyn: This is a personal favourite of mine. Try adding a splash of balsamic vinegar to finish the sauteed mushrooms - very umami! Also delicious with thyme
  • Jinjer: Yummo!!!!! I need that like right now.

The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark. We have two daughters: Emma (19) and Sarah (17). I am the managing editor of our community newspaper, the Kitchissippi Times. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

If you'd like to contact me, please use this form. If you're so inclined, you can read more about me here. Thank you for visiting!


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