Backyard: Saturday (or, a list of rejected backyard blog topics)

In recognition of yet-another-local-lockdown due to the ongoing pandemic, I'm doing a week of feature blog posts about living in the backyard. From May 10th through 16th, my posts will be themed around life outdoors but as close to home as possible, a few steps out the back door.

After nearly a week of deeper restrictions that have left me (and most law-abiding residents of the city) without many places to go, I’ve turned that into an opportunity to enjoy my own backyard. Think of it less like a lockdown, and more like permission to do nothing but enjoy my own grass, trees, garden, and relaxing spaces.

If you’ve been following along for the week, I’ve posted a short list of reflective blog posts that haven’t done much for my Google search ranking, but certainly have helped me get a few things pried loose from my own brain.

Given another couple weeks, maybe I’d have stooped to writing about even more trivial topics, like these rejected titles and not-so-interesting daily blog ideas:

Backyard: Naps

Wherein I chronicled the joy of falling asleep on my new, hand-built patio couch under the shade of the pergola sail fluttering in the wind. It’s tough to see how I would have turned that into more than about a hundred words without a serious thesaurus.

Backyard: Chores

Having spent my Saturday morning tilling the garden, planting the potatoes, and dealing with even more weeds (gah!) this rejected blog post risked turning into a long list of all the things I need to get done, y’know, instead of writing blog posts.

Backyard: Chronology

As it turns out this idea was really only of interest to me as I sorted through fifteen years of photos of my own backyard and marvelled at how much my trees had grown since I’d planted them. Breaking news: trees grow!

Backyard: Music

As at least one of my neighbours always seems to be playing music, the distant and indistinct muffled tones of random streaming playlists wafts through the air. My music knowledge is average though, so guessing what songs were playing could have been an amusing blog game.

Backyard: Garbage

Imagine my slow-motion, hand-typed embarassment in reading a blog post listing all the weird objects my eight-month-old puppy has found in my I-thought-I-had-a-clean-yard backyard. A scandalous post idea, and obviously rejected. Photos redacted.

Backyard: Terrible Ideas

A tongue-in-cheek list of some deliberately bad blog ideas, loosely acknowledging the author’s commentary on how difficult it is to make writing about his own backyard interesting and how easy it would have been to veer that metaphorical wheelbarrow into a fence post …oh, wait.

Ten Sweet Desserts Made Sweeter By Cast Iron

If your Easter weekend was anything like mine, it involved a lot of food.

And like many holidays it also happened to involve a lot of sweet desserts. Here’s hoping you got your fill of flavourful delights this year. And for next time, here is some inspiration for how to get you holiday sugar rush with help from your cast iron pans.

1. Cobbler. Almost any fruit will do, but peach or apple slices baked with a crumbly sweet streusel topping can be scooped right from the oven to waiting dessert dishes.

2. Apple Pie. With a flaky pastry crust, a cast iron pan makes for a natural pie pan.

3. Dutch Baby. Call it popover or German pancake, or maybe even a Bismarck, this puffed pastry dish in a cast iron pan is delicate and tasty.

4. Ollie Bolen. My Oma’s recipe for these small, sweet apple fritters was passed down through the generations and we deep fry in our Dutch Oven for New Years every year.

5. Funnel Cakes. Fried in a few centimeters of oil, swirly sweet funnel cakes topped with powdered sugar remind me of being a kid at the summer carnival.

6. Coffee Cake. A standard cake doesn’t do great in cast iron, but the dense, crumbly consistency of a traditional coffee cake works just great.

7. Brownies. Thick and chewy bars of chocolate baked right in a big old skillet. No excuse required.

8. Cinnamon Rolls. Sweeten your sourdough bread recipe and then roll it with butter, cinnamon and sugar. Baked up golden and caramelized are great plain or drizzled with cream cheese frosting.

9. S’mores. No campfire required, a graham cracker, chocolate and marshmallow open faced sandwich toasted under the broiler on a cast iron skillet is a close second to the camping version.

10. Skillet Cookie. A big lump of cookie dough smashed into a small 6 or 7 inch cast iron pan, served hot from the oven and topped with whipped cream and drizzled with chocolate syrup and sprinkles is a sharable hit for kids of any age.

People like lists. I like people. So I’m giving the people what they like. I ran a blog for 16 years and one of the most popular posts ever on that blog was a list of “100 things” that I’d compiled and posted. I’m trying to recreate something similar over the next couple months for the cast iron guy blog. This post will eventually form part of that mega list.

The Great Big List of 50 Pancake Topping Ideas

Saturday mornings are pancake mornings at our house. In fact, I was looking through some old videos yesterday (on my day off) and I had recorded some footage of my then-toddler daughter and I cooking pancake shapes and then smothering them in syrup. That is evidence enough that this has been a tradition for at least a decade around here.

This morning was no different: chocolate chip pancakes on the cast iron grill topped with some mixed berries and a generous slog of maple syrup (…did I mention we live in Canada?)

My plate looked particularly photogenic this morning, and so I took a shot before digging in. All of this, the old videos, the Saturday routine, the fresh fruit and maple syrup of course got me thinking about how we fall into routine and stick with the things that are comfortable. Chocolate chip pancakes are amazing, but we don’t veer far off course of the toppings list.

So, if I someday soon decided to stray a little bit from my patriotic imperative of supporting the national maple syrup industry, here are some of the things I might consider as a good starting list of familiar, unique, interesting, tasty, and maybe a little off-the-wall ideas to add to or on top of my Saturday pancakes:

  1. maple syrup (obviously)
  2. powdered sugar
  3. butter
  4. strawberries
  5. chocolate
  6. fruit syrup
  7. banana slices
  8. chopped toasted almonds
  9. shredded coconut
  10. mixed berries
  11. peach slices
  12. hazelnut spread
  13. whipped cream
  14. caramel sauce
  15. crumbled bacon
  16. lemon sugar
  17. cinnamon sugar
  18. lox
  19. blueberries
  20. fruit compote
  21. vanilla ice cream
  22. dulce de leche
  23. peanut butter
  24. baked apple slices
  25. poached egg
  26. yogurt
  27. raisins
  28. toasted macadamia nuts
  29. cream cheese
  30. honey
  31. marshmallow cream
  32. crumbled graham crackers
  33. cottage cheese
  34. avocado slices
  35. grilled ham
  36. candied ginger
  37. nut butter
  38. apple sauce
  39. corn syrup
  40. ricotta
  41. raspberries
  42. canned pears
  43. lemon curd
  44. mango coulis
  45. pineapple slices
  46. grilled spam
  47. hot fudge
  48. rhubarb sauce
  49. candied nuts
  50. chopped candy

…and now go check out my chocolate chip pancake recipe if you need some inspiration for where to put all these amazing options for toppings.

Ten Hunks of Meat for Any Occasion That Cook Great on Cast Iron

Apologies to my vegetarian friends out there, but this one is for the omnivores in my audience. Never was I so convinced of the superiority of cast iron as part of my cooking contraptions than after I’ve plated some perfectly seared meat.

Hopefully these ten classics will inspire you to oil up a pan.

1. Beef Steaks. The pride of my homeland, a thick cut of Alberta grain-fed beef, peppered and grilled on a scorching hot pan to seal in the juices, cooked medium rare and sauced with a warm and sweet hickory glaze.

2. Hamburgers. In the summer I revert to the barbecue, but on those winter days a searing hot pan is a worthy replacement to grill up a patty or three, slipped into a bun and stacked high with all the fixings.

3. Lamb Chops. Seasoned simply and then pan seared in a bit of olive oil until a mouthwatering crust forms.

4. Fried Chicken. Buttermilk soaked and breaded, dropped into a bath of hot oil and fried up golden, and then served with biscuits (also cooked in cast iron!)

5. Salmon Steaks. Pink and thick, fried flaky on the outside, soft and tender under a butter fried crust, dashed with fresh lemon juice then sprinkled with dill from the garden.

6. Chicken Parmesan. The crisp cheesy breading browned to a crunchy finish around a chicken breast is almost good enough to eat without the sauce and pasta, but why would you.

7. Wings. Whether you like them spicy, crispy or saucy, properly deep frying a batch of chicken wings in a cast iron pot of oil can’t be matched by takeout.

8. Braised Roast. A hot cast iron pan can sear the sides to a gorgeous and delicious brown then finished in the same pan for a tender meal.

9. Schnitzel. Pounded thin chops, breaded and spiced, then shallow pan fried to a crispy finish with homemade potato salad on the side.

10. Fresh Caught Fish. Those lakes and rivers are calling, and over a campfire or just a kitchen stove, a fresh fish in a scorching hot cast iron pan is almost iconic as a fried egg.

People like lists. I like people. So I’m giving the people what they like. I ran a blog for 16 years and one of the most popular posts ever on that blog was a list of “100 things” that I’d compiled and posted. I’m trying to recreate something similar over the next couple months for the cast iron guy blog. This post will eventually form part of that mega list.