I spent that one lovely warm week in April getting my deck ready for the season, removing winter covers from the metal furniture, washing away all the dregs of the winter, and touching up the stain on the deck where it had gotten worn. And now, if you, like I, have been closely following the Weather Channel meteorologists for their projections of warmer weather, the good news is they are advising that once we are past this unseasonably cool and wet weather, we are moving straight to very warm summer weather! Hooray!
And now, if you are already planning your entertaining for the Victoria Day weekend - our first long weekend which marks the beginning of the summer season - we are with you !! And to help you get started and take some stress out of both the planning and preparations, we have some recipes to share, including salads, a vegetable dish, cookies and a dessert, much of which can be made ahead. That leaves you only to choose your meats! And that choice is easily accomplished with a visit to our neighbouring Hensall facility, Metzger Meats, whether you fancy gourmet hamburgers, footlong hotdogs (a summer tradition!), smoked pork loin chops, or one of their other specialties, such as skewered pork tenderloin medallions, or a selection of their dry aged beef products. Alternatively, you may wish lighter fare than these meats, however delicious, and so we are including a favourite recipe of ours - grilled mango scallop skewers with a spinach toss.
These recipes are easy to make, and a number may be made ahead, to save you precious time when friends and family assemble on your patio or deck to share with you the first warm weather of the season! These tried and tested recipes, listed here, and detailed further below, will serve you well throughout all the summer months, and be a hit with your guests, so don’t think of them as ‘once-and-done’ recipes!
Mango Scallop Skewers with spinach toss – so easy to make
Mediterranean Potato Salad - which uses oil, so make-ahead, and longer lasting
Lesley’s Bok Choy Salad, a treat which provides vegetable goodness and sweet, tangy crunch
Green Beans Gremolata – another easy, make ahead dish to just assemble last minute
Sandra’s Secret Recipe for Dessert – your secret weapon !
Doubletree’s signature chocolate chip cookies – which Doubletree graciously shared publicly during the pandemic – and allows for freezing the dough and baking from frozen
Hands on time: 15 minutes
Total time: 15 minutes
Makes: 4 servings
The combination of sweet mango and buttery scallops makes this dish an easy dinnertime option.
24 frozen jumbo scallops, thawed
1 mango peeled, pitted and cut in sixteen (16) ¾ inch (2 cm) cubes
2 tbsp butter
2 tsp mustard
6 cups baby spinach
1 sweet red pepper, julienned
1/3 cup peeled julienned mango
¼ cup thinly sliced red onion
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp lemon juice
1tsp Dijon mustard
Pinch each salt and pepper
Alternately thread 3 scallops and 2 mango cubes onto each of 8 metal or soaked wooden skewers.
In a small bowl, gradually whisk butter into mustard; brush half over 1 side of the skewers. Place, buttered side down, on greased grill over medium-high heat. Close lid and grill for 2 minutes. Brush with remaining butter mixture; turn and grill until scallops are opaque, about 2 minutes.
Spinach Toss: Meanwhile, combine spinach, red pepper, mango and red onion; arrange on a platter. Whisk together oil, lemon juice Dijon mustard, salt and pepper; drizzle over salad. Top with skewers.
Baked alternative: On greased, foil-lined baking sheet in 400-degree F (200 C) oven, bake skewers, turning once, until scallops are opaque, about 4 minutes.
About 249 calories per serving.
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes (plus chilling time)
2 pounds redskin potatoes, cooked, cooled and cut into cubes
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
½ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ cup sun-dried tomatoes, thinly sliced
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
¼ cup pitted kalamata olives, quartered
3 green onions, washed, thinly sliced
Place the cooked, cubed potatoes in a large bowl.
In a measuring cup, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper. Pour the dressing mixture over the potatoes and stir gently. Add the sun-dried tomatoes, feta cheese, olives and green onions and gently stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours to allow flavours to blend.
Note: if you’d like to soften the ready-to-eat sun-dried tomatoes in this recipe, place them in the bottom of a colander and drain the cooled potatoes over them.
About 137 calories per serving
Cooking time: 15 minutes
Preparation time: 1 hour
1/3 cup butter
1 tbsp sesame (or poppy) seeds
1/3 cup sliced almonds
1 head Bok Choy lettuce
3 tbsp soy sauce
1/3 cup vinegar
2/3 cup oil
2/3 cup sugar
1 pkg ramen noodles
Put sliced almonds and sesame (or poppy) seeds into a baking dish along with one package of broken up ramen noodles. (Do not add the space package from the noodles!) Melt the butter and add to the noodle/almond mixture and stir. Brown the mixture in the oven. Allow to cool before serving, and add as a garnish to the salad.
At least two hours before serving, mix the dressing: combine sugar, oil, vinegar and soy sauce in a sauce pan. Bring to a boil and melt the sugar, stirring regularly. Pour mixture into a dish to cool. Refrigerate before serving.
Wash one head of Bok Choy lettuce. Chop the leaves into bite-size pieces. Wrap in a tea towel to dry the leaves.
Combine the lettuce, dressing and garnish at the time you are serving the salad. (Dressing and garnish may be made ahead and stored.)
You can blanch the green beans and make the gremolata in advance, storing them separately in the refrigerator. Then just before dinner, you can reheat the beans and toss on the gremolata. What could be easier!
1-pound French green beans (haricots vert), trimmed
2 tbsp pine nuts
2 tsp minced garlic (2 cloves)
1 tsp grated lemon zest (from 2 lemons)
3 tbsp minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
3 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 ½ tbsp good olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add green beans and blanch 2 to 3 minutes, until tender but still crisp. Drain beans in a colander and immediately put them in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking and preserve their bright green colour.
Place pine nuts in a dry sauté pan over low heat and cook 5 to 10 minutes, stirring often, until lightly browned. Set aside.
Gremolata: toss garlic, lemon zest, parsley, Parmesan and pine nuts together in a small bowl and set aside.
When ready to serve, heat olive oil in a large sauté pan or skillet, over medium-high heat. Drain beans and pat dry. Add beans to skillet and sauté, turning frequently, 2 minutes, until coated with olive oil and heated through. Remove from heat, add gremolata, and toss well. Sprinkle with ¾ tsp salt and ¼ tsp pepper to taste and serve hot.
Note: A charming Italian friend uses any Gremolata which may be left over, on fresh pasta.
Preparation time: all of 10 minutes or less!
Total time: overnight chilling after assembly
Serves: can be sized according to your number of guests
Your secret weapon! A very flexible, quick and easy dessert recipe, which can be sized according to your number of guests.
Equal proportions of whipped cream and plain yoghurt
A selection of tangy fruit, such as:
Put your choice of berries - something with a bit of tang! - in the bottom of your serving bowl
Whisk the whipping cream to the same consistency as the yoghurt. Gently blend the yoghurt and whisked whipping cream together and pour over the berries.
Put a good layer of brown sugar (to your taste!) on top and then place in the refrigerator overnight.
Presto – delicious!
Makes 26 cookies
½ pound butter, softened (2 sticks)
¾ cup + 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 ¼ teaspoons vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 ¼ cups flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 2/3 cups Nestle Tollhouse semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 3/4 cups chopped walnuts
Cream butter, sugar and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed for about 2 minutes.
Add eggs, vanilla and lemon juice, blending with mixer on low speed for 30 seconds, then medium speed for about 2 minutes, or until light and fluffy, scraping down bowl.
With mixer on low speed, add flour, oats, baking soda, salt and cinnamon, blending for about 45 seconds. Don’t overmix.
Remove bowl from mixer and stir in chocolate chips and walnuts.
Portion dough with a scoop (about 3 tablespoons) onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper about 2 inches apart.
Preheat oven to 300°F. Bake for 20 to 23 minutes, or until edges are golden brown and center is still soft.
Remove from oven and cool on baking sheet for about 1 hour.
Cook’s note: You can freeze the unbaked cookies, and there’s no need to thaw. Preheat oven to 300°F and place frozen cookies on parchment paper-lined baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake until edges are golden brown and center is still soft.
These delicious recipies are best served alfreso! Cottage Culture has a variety of outdoor dining tables, outdoor dining chairs, outdoor lounge options and many more items to help you entertain outdoors this patio season. Need help finding the perfect outdoor patio table and outdoor dining chairs for your space? Visit our blogs How to choose the perfect outdoor patio table. and How to choose the perfect chair for helpful information and tips.
Compared to our North American culture of working, even when on vacation it seems(!), Europe embraces vacation. While it may seem crazy to us for some European businesses to close for two weeks during peak tourist season so that the owners can take their own vacation time, the European vacation culture is strong.
Perhaps there is something to be learned from this mindset. And, if we have the luxury of taking vacation time during our warm and sunny summer months, we should consider their cultural approach to fully embracing our time off!
Swedes have long embraced the staycation, which is called “hemester”, derived from the Swedish word for home “hem” and holiday “semester”. “Hemester” can mean simply staying put in their home or apartment during their annual summer leave, although it is also commonly used to describe the more general concept of taking a vacation anywhere within one’s own country. A Scandinavian staycation is also a time to connect with nature, and recharge one’s batteries for their long cold, dark winter. Staycation is a time for social get togethers, sunny lunches, evening gatherings and picnics.
Swedes have discovered that taking a lot of vacation actually makes them more productive. When you have time to unwind, destress and enjoy everything in your life, you come back to work refreshed, brimming with energy and ideas, ready to dig in with gusto. Proof of the productiveness in this work/life balance is that Forbes magazine named Sweden the best country for business in 2017. It is also known that the tech and start-up sector is one of the strongest in the world, with investment per capita in Stockholm second only to Silicon Valley.
World-wide, and certainly in Canada since the Covid-19 pandemic began, people are choosing to ‘staycation’ which makes good sense for that reason alone. Travel restrictions, airport challenges and fuel prices have all contributed to the ever-increasing popularity of the staycation.
To support tourism and hospitality industries recover from the financial impacts of the pandemic, the Ontario government announced a temporary Ontario Staycation Tax Credit for 2022. The aim is to encourage families to get out and explore our province, rather than resort to the previous international long-haul travel mindset. This tax credit is a bonus for would-be travellers who are put off by the Covid risk of venturing too far from home.
From our perspective, there is another great reason for choosing a staycation. We in Southwestern Ontario live in a prime vacation area with plentiful beach and park areas, and gorgeous countryside views to soak in world renown sunsets. Plus, some of us even have the luxury of working from home in this beautiful area!
Southwestern Ontario extends North from the Lake Erie shoreline up to the Bruce Peninsula and reaches west from the neighbouring Toronto-Hamilton-Niagara Golden Horseshoe region to Lake Huron - Ontario’s West Coast.
Lake Erie, as the smallest and shallowest of the Great Lakes warms up quickly in the hot summer months, and its shores share many delightful beach towns and provincial parks with us, including Point Pelee with its 20 kilometers of smooth sand on either side of the peninsula, Port Stanley, Port Dover and Long Point, which is recognized as a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.
The entire western shore of Lake Huron exhibits natural beauty, with long sandy beaches and steep bluffs trailing along the lakeshore interrupted by an occasional river valley. A string of pretty harbour towns, including Grand Bend, Bayfield, Goderich, Kincardine and Southampton. One of these towns, Goderich, boasts that it is the prettiest town in Canada!
We who live on Lake Huron like to believe that we have the most gorgeous sunsets in the world. And it’s not just us making theses claims as National Geographic once said that Grand Bend, Ontario has one of the Top Ten most beautiful sunsets in the world.
Never waste any amount of time doing anything important when there is a sunset outside that you should be sitting under.
C. JoyBell C.
Now that the personal benefits of real vacation time and the secrets of our beautiful geographic area are out, go ahead and take a vacation. Break out of your day-to-day routine! ‘Unplug’ - step away from your cell phone and your laptop. Europeans have proven for us that the world doesn’t end if you go on vacation, and that you are truly more productive afterward. Dive in and embrace this vacation attitude!
The Cottage Culture team dug in to what a staycation means to each of us. For me, the term “vacation” conjures up the warm sunny days of carefree youth stretching out in seemingly endless summers. While an idyllic holiday calls up memories of raucous lake days of splashing kids while watching peacefully from a chaise. And still another, casual patio lounging with summer cocktails and classic playlists. What we all agree on however, is that right now, what we all crave is a really comfortable lounge chair in the shade of an umbrella with or frankly, without a good book – permission to relax.
Great wellness thinkers of today suggest that slowing down, adopting a mindfulness attitude, appreciating what we have, like our health, our family and our friends, and developing a strong sense of gratitude can awaken and enhance that same child-like enjoyment of the world around us.
We can create an inspired place, an oasis, where our vision for our well-being can become our wellbeing reality and we can sink into relaxation and renewal. You don’t have to travel far to accomplish this wellbeing reality…
In fact, as staycations really embrace this idea of taking time for yourself, connecting with nature and enjoying home, it makes sense to create that space to be enjoyed whenever you can escape whether for a moment or a full vacation.
For some, simply creating a tranquil space where you can relax and breathe deeply, shifting out of the day-to-day busy-ness, To-Do lists and regular demands of your life and taking a break from the outside world is enough of a mini staycation to recharge.
Your staycation oasis is as individual and unique as you are! For some, this space is a private, sheltered location in their garden, or a spot by a pond or fountain, for others a quiet corner of their deck or patio isolated from main traffic areas, while for still others, a quiet seat overlooking a lake, field or city view.
And sometimes renewal is about lifting your spirit. It may not be tranquil or private. It might be about gathering together in a space that offers a welcoming and calming vibe. Girlfriends lounging on a patio while catching up after a busy spring or a young family lounging sleepily.
So, start planning your own peaceful sanctuary or perfect oasis now…
How do you actually go about creating this wonderful space? Wellness experts have a few points for creating your inspired spot for perfect relaxation. We’ve already mentioned your intention to create an inspired place, which is the starting point. So, focus on creating a space that looks and feels amazing.
What better way to enjoy that sense of peace and total relaxation than to stretch out on a chaise lounger or what is sometimes referred to as a “sunbed”? Although, with our health-conscious approach to sun safety now, we should perhaps rename them “shadebeds” and relocate them to cool shaded areas for refreshing relaxation.
Whether a private nook with space only for you, or a row of stylish loungers to share with friends, Cottage Culture offers a great selection of sun/shade beds with the clean aesthetic lines of Scandinavian design. All combining low maintenance textilene seats that allow rain to pass with a choice of sturdy sustainable teak frames or aluminum frames.
Imagine the Andy chaise, with both an adjustable footrest and backrest, high quality textilene, and softly curved solid teak arms, or the Elati sunbed, a reclining chaise with teak frame and high quality, soft charcoal grey colour textilene seat, without arms, so you can relax in unconstrained comfort.
Layer this with the Kotte stool, or ‘pouf’ that provides a comfortable foot rest and a portable extra seat. Constructed in Olefin fabric and all-weather foam, it provides functionality for any outdoor setting.
And take the lounger one step further with the flexible Gonesse that can easily flip from sectional to bohemian sunbed piled with textured throws and comfy pillows.
This is a small peak into the many options for creating your perfect oasis available at Cottage Culture. After giving thought to what your personal sanctuary will be, we would be happy to provide options to make this vision a reality. Enjoy your summer staycation!!