19 December, 2008

Christmas Morning

Certain traditions cannot be shelved in the name of vacation. Sadly, we didn't chop down a tree this year. Hands down, tree chopping is my favourite part of the year. Coming in a very close second is the Christmas Tree Bun.

Originating in Hubby's family (thanks Susan) the Christmas Tree Bun is a sweet bread dough, formed into this cute tree. Drizzled with icing and rainbow sprinkles it serves as a carrier for the all important honey butter. Mimosas, sausage, and bacon on the side.

On the now rare occasions where the A clan gets together for Christmas morning, er... noon hour, we have to sit through the gift-opening to get to the Tree Bun. After the kids have torn through their gifts and we adults opened our present from Susan we have to wait for Susan to finish opening all the presents her friends and family send her. We aren't very patient with her, to be honest, as she stops her opening to chat and watch the kids. Yes, they are cute and the excitement is contagious, but we need her to finish in order to eat. And eat is what we want to do.

When Hubby and I spent our first Christmas alone in the new city - five years ago! - the only thing he asked for was Christmas Tree Bun. We sat in our dining room, devouring bread with honey butter and downing mimosas. I think people got a few tipsy phone calls that morning. Ah, the days before kids. The tradition carries on, minus all the champagne.

I would share the recipe, but I don't think I am allowed - until my daughters are married off and then, only to their partners. But pick your favourite soft or sweet bread recipe and form it into buns to rise. Bake together and enjoy.

This year we are off to Mexico for two weeks, with my family. While I can make no promises regarding rainbow sprinkles I do intend to bake on Christmas morning, 30 degree C weather be damned!

Have a Merry Christmas to all who celebrate. We'll see you in a few weeks.

16 December, 2008

Christmas Baking Done and Delivered

We made a few things in our house the past few weeks. Nothing fancy, but some homemade treats to share with neighbours, the daycare, and some friends. I wanted to make more, but The Monster was sick and baking wasn't high on our list of things to do.

That still left us with some very yummy results. There was my peppermint bark, cherry vanilla biscotti, sugar cookies dusted with vanilla sugar, and my all-time favourite cookie for Christmas - chewy chocolate gingerbread. I think The Monster agrees with me already.
There are few recipes in all the magazines I read that capture me as much as this one. Good ol' Martha. I've been making them for 10 years now. And it's no wonder that she chose them for the cover of the Cookies cookbook, where the recipe is repeated. I've done nothing to change the recipe, so I won't repeat it here (check out the link above). But I encourage you to go out and make them - right now.

We are currently a nut free household, so my childhood faves are still off-limits. Rugelah and something called Christmas Jewels were the treats that graced our table for dessert on Christmas Eve, along with shortbread and so much more. I'm hoping that our nut allergy potential is proven wrong in time and I can introduce these to the girls.
For now, I am phenomenally happy with the sugar cookies. I tried Martha's recipe and this year it just did not work. Maybe I was overtired when I mixed them up and missed some flour. I'm not sure, but I ended up throwing out the entire batch, what I baked and the rest of the dough after I gave up - an entire pound of butter all said and done. I remembered Julie posting about them after her adventures in Jasper and tried her recipe. Oh. My. Gawd. Fantastic. Nearly as good as these ones, but homemade.
I changed Julie's recipe only in delivery. Rather than roll them into balls and press them down I pressed the dough into a rectangle, sprinkled them with vanilla sugar, and cut out squares. The dough is quite soft, so I thought this would work better. Besides, I already had round cookies and wanted variety.
It was back to Julie for the biscotti as well. I used her basic recipe and added my own flavourings. There were dried cherries in the house so I chopped them up, used vanilla sugar, and doubled the vanilla extract. It would have been preferable to use a vanilla bean, but there were none in the house. As a final touch, I drizzled some melted bittersweet chocolate on top.
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to deliver our treats to daycare as The Monster was in no condition for play and company. That means another round of baking in the New Year. I'm sure the girls there will be in no mood for baking in January, but I have a lot of butter and flour to get through. Truth be told, we never need a reason to bake in this house. But I am sure glad we have people we can share with.

12 December, 2008

It Must be the Ukrainian in Her

There are a million lists that circulate through inboxes that start with, "You know you are X when..." I must admit that I can identify with the ones that refer to children of the 80s, Ukrainians, and quilters. But nowhere on the list about Ukrainians does it mention wanting pickles for breakfast.

Mornings in our house are lazy affairs, what with me on mat leave and Hubby self-employed and not a morning person. The Monster wakes up, steals a few snuggles, aggravates her sister and sits down with a handful of raisins and Zaboomafoo while I nurse Little Miss Sunshine. Once the little one is fed I make myself some tea and try to convince the Monster to eat some breakfast. Like her Dad, she isn't much for eating early in the day.

Well, one day last week she made the particularly unique request for pickles for breakfast.

We had a jar sitting on the counter, waiting for Hubby to open. When my parents make pickles and my dad does up the jars with his beefy construction worker hands a special gravity is enabled, one that holds the lids on with particular force. Of course, old lids don't help and being the frugal Ukrainian that he is, he won't replace the jars. Opening his jars is a two person, hot water, wooden spoon, and damp cloth job.

So that morning Hubby and I tried struggled. We rinsed, we banged, we grunted, we braced ourselves and turned. Nothing was working. Hubby finally felt some movement so tried that extra bit harder. I could hear the crack in the other room. The lid came off - with the top of the jar. Definitely time to replace the jars, Dad.

After the Monster got over the shock of the noise and the short-lived drama of thinking she wasn't going to get any pickles, we opened one of the jars that my mom and I made while our playhouse was being built. The Monster got her breakfast of three little pickles, and a bit of cheese too. Off to daycare a happy little Ukrainian. Well, half Ukrainian with garlic breath.

09 December, 2008

The Games We Play And the Songs We Sing

For all you with thirty-something suburban white rap fans as partners, this one is for you. Hubby grew up on De La Soul, Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, Eric B. and Rakim, and Methodman. For all these folks there is actually a kids show for you. We are addicted to it in this house. Please welcome DJ Lance and Yo Gabba Gabba into your house.

Sure, it is pretty much as irritating as any other show geared towards toddlers, at least when you are forced to watch it as much as they are allowed to watch TV or DVDs. It is not nearly as painful, however, as purple dinosaurs or creepy costumed grown men with fake hair. But it is quite catchy and oddly entertaining, what with the beatboxing with Biz Markie, celebrity guests who dance, and funky monsters with weird names like Fufa.

Hubby and I were never ones for pretending that airplanes or choo-choos were making their way to the baby's mouth when she ate. Open up or don't eat. You don't want to eat? No worries. But as The Monster asserts some independence and, at the same time, is getting a bit lazy about eating, we've glommed on to one thing to help us through dinner.

Normal dinnertime in our house generally involves Hubby and I trying to have a conversation over The Monster's singing, or rousing bouts of all of us roaring like lions or comparing owies and eye colour. The Monster hasn't been eating much lately so we resorted to a bit of a guilt trip a la Yo Gabba Gabba. Did you know there is a party in your tummy? And the beans want to be there, so do the pierogies, and the roast beef. Seriously, all we have to do is remind her about the party and she eats more. And when she is done she repeats all the attendees to her party. Heck, days later she is still telling us who came.

She had a bit of a gastro problem the past few days and yesterday she asked why she was sick. I told her it was because a funny bug went to the party in her tummy and made her sick. A perfect explanation. And then she asked to peel a banana and send it to the party, complete with the action of lifting-up her shirt and pointing at her belly button. Let the Party begin.

Check out the official version of the song here.

05 December, 2008

If You Can't Buy Shoes...

Stay-at-home moms don't get Christmas parties. Especially stay-at-home moms married to a self-employed men. There is no reason to go shopping and buy a fancy dress and wickedly sexy shoes. There is no babysitter to find and pay a small ransom. There is no mediocre prime rib dinner and boring dance. There are no door prizes, cheezy centerpieces, and someone embarrassing themselves.

Okay, it isn't all bad. But a night off is nice. My girlfriend Tanya to the rescue (she is so good at that)! She invited a few of us over for treats, gossip, and Grey's Anatomy. We all brought more treats too. That way none of us was really cooking and all our little girls stayed home with Daddy (or were already asleep).

We had a fantastic time. What a treat to talk without interferences from little girls demanding our attention. We ate way too much sugar and talked about everything from Barbies, pajamas, colo-rectal surgery, vacations, bilingualism, waxing, and politics. There was no need to watch what we said, and no reason to watch how much sugar we ate. Oranges gave us some semblance of feeling healthy.

My contribution to the night was peppermint bark. Williams and Sonoma be damned, make it yourself. I am by no means a chocolate making expert, so anyone can do this. If you know how to temper chocolate (to make it solid again at room temperature and a little but shiny), great. I don't, but I try. Either way, it is ridiculously easy and highly addictive. Just keep it in the fridge and no one will know the difference.

Peppermint Bark

4 candy canes
16 ounces semi-sweet or dark chocolate
10 drops peppermint extract
16 ounces white chocolate

1. Prepare a rimmed cookie sheet by lining it with parchment paper.
2. With candy canes still their wrapper bash them lightly with the handle of a knife or a wooden spoon. Don't bash too hard or you will have candy cane dust everywhere. Unwrap them over a bowl.
3. Chop semi/dark chocolate coarsely. In a bowl set over a pot of simmering water melt chocolate slowly. Pull off the heat just before it is fully melted. Stir to finish melting. Let sit, stirring occasionally, for a few minutes, until it is still warm, but not hot. Stir in the peppermint extract. Pour and spread around prepared pan.
4. While the semi/dark chocolate is resting, coarsely chop the white chocolate and melt in a bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Pull off the heat just before it is fully melted. Stir to finish melting. Let sit, stirring occasionally, for a few minutes, until it is still warm, but not hot. Pour directly over the semi/dark chocolate.
5. Sprinkle the candy cane bits over it all.
6. Cool in the fridge until hard. Break into bite size pieces.

01 December, 2008


It was a sad day in the kitchen a few weeks ago. With an accidental bump of my wrist while turning on the oven I also turned on a burner on the stove. To maximum. Dinner was cooking away in the oven, and I may have had rice on another burner. We could smell the burning, we opened a window (one day we'll have a hood fan), and we checked inside the oven for crusty bits maybe burning on the dirty floor. Did we drop something on a burner? After about twenty minutes I finally noticed the smoke rising up from the cookie sheet.

Dammit. Dammit. Dammit.

This was the cookie sheet and Silpat Hubby bought me to avoid buying me a new oven. I was sick of burning cookies on my old cookie sheets and I blamed the oven. So he bought me these instead. I have to say that it really helped. I still wish I had a new oven, but I settled for buying two new cookie sheets and Silpats last week. Just in time for christmas baking.

26 November, 2008

The Emotional Eater

The perfect brownie can make anyone feel better. I've been feeling the need to eat a lot of brownies lately. Not that I need more things brown in my life, what with the mud flat currently surrounding the house. And the mud piles in the backyard and the muddy paw prints and footprints littered over the hardwood... But these brownies really do make you feel better.

They are dense yet still a bit cakey. They are fudgy but not heavy. They are a hug in a square crumbly package. With a glass of milk at lunchtime or a stiff scotch at bedtime they fill you with love. Sure I have a great Hubby and the girls can do that too, but the perfect brownie is just for me.

It's hard to not feel better when you start with chocolate and butter. Seriously, not much gets better than that, on their own or melted together in fantastic richness. I need to make them without the Monster around or else she takes them both and messes up my measurements.

Okay, maybe it's not just her who snitches tastes along the way... Somehow it is naughty when I dip my finger to lick the chocolate, and just messy and fun when the Monster does it.

When all is said and done and the oven brings out the chocolate scent the hugs begin. It is almost painful to wait for them to bake and cool. Warm brownies are more fudgy, but I prefer them cool and dense. A good brownie can make you feel comforted and warm, a bad one leaves you cold and cranky.

About 13 years ago I worked at a health food store with a bakery in it. Beyond the granola and ultra-healthy food, we specialized in items for people with restricted diets. At one point that summer the chef and I took on a mission to create a healthy brownie. We tried multiple substitutions like carob for chocolate, fake eggs, brown rice syrup, and more. None of them worked. This was before some good gluten free recipes were readily available. Eventually we decided that we would go back to basics and make a recipe with real food - butter, eggs, chocolate, brown sugar, and unbleached flour. This was before the slow food movement or Michael Pollan. You know what? They were amazing brownies! Sadly I lost the recipe in the post-university moves.

After experimenting with many recipes I finally found The One. It never fails me, it's fast, has only a few ingredients, and results in a perfect brownie. The recipe comes from a cookbook I picked up on a trip to New York. Broke and spending an afternoon with a quilting friend in Brooklyn I picked up The Brooklyn Cookbook. Really just a hardcover community cookbook, the book is filled with personal anecdotes and recipes from locals. The perfect brownie comes from this book.

What makes a bad brownie? To me that means anything that is not chocolate related inside. No nuts for me, I hate the sudden change in texture when you bite into a brownie with nuts. I don't like glaze or icing because it changes the mouthfeel. On a cupcake yes, but not on a brownie. I've added chocolate chips, even mint ones, and raspberries before, but it's not my favourite. Just a plain, simple brownie, thank-you.

The Perfect Brownie

(adapted from The Brooklyn Cookbook)

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3 eggs
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup flour

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease an 8 inch square baking pan.
2. Melt the chocolate and butter together in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water. When melted set aside and let the mixture cool.
3. Beat the eggs with the salt until foamy. Gradually add the sugar and vanilla, beating until the mixture is creamy. Quickly stir in the cooled chocolate mixture, then the flour. If you are going to add anything like chocolate chips or nuts (!) this is the time to do it.
4. Pour into the greased baking pan and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the center is set but still a bit giggley. Cool before cutting.

24 November, 2008

Sushi Night - Taste Adventure

It was a surf and turf weekend. After a crazy week with the renos and lots of mess the family - meaning me - was in no mood for cooking. Out for steaks one night and then Hubby and I decided we needed sushi. Time for The Monster's first sushi.

We chose to go to Kinjo, a sushi bar in an old Tim Horton's. We've been there before, and been quite happy. On the plus side, it's close. It isn't the best sushi we've ever had, but it's good. And after our adventure on Saturday we'll be back.

The gregarious owner, Peter, greeted us with a carved orange and melons for the Monster, a forced (by knife) declaration of love from Hubby to me, a couple of boxes of Pocky candy for the table, and a free treat of four pieces of sushi rolls, a Japanese amuse bouche. It was quite the welcome and good start to the night.

Hubby and I decided to simply order what we liked and let The Monster taste as we went. We've also learned in our restaurant ramblings with her to make sure there is at least one thing on the table we know she will eat. Usually that's bread and butter or some snacks we brought from home. At the sushi bar that is edamame.

She devoured her fruit, attempted to use chopsticks (giving up and spearing fruit with toothpicks instead like they were chopsticks), ate a whole lot of edamame, and opened wide for the sashimi we fed her off our chopsticks. She happily ate her tuna, salmon, snapper, tuna belly, and even tobiko. In fact, the tobiko was quite fascinating to her. After her first bite she swallowed and then had a little shiver, like it went down a bit wrong. We thought we were done with that but she asked for more. About the only thing she wouldn't touch were any kind of rolls. That wasn't surprising to us because she has never been a fan of rice.
Did I mention that she liked wasabi?

This isn't a restaurant review, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention the service at Kinjo. The kids were welcomed warmly. In fact, one thing that struck us was just how many children were there. All the kids are welcomed with a carved orange and the Peter told us that they'd served at least 30 oranges that night. It made us, as a young family, very comfortable. Sushi bars can have a lot of reverence and formality associated with their hospitality, making you feel welcome but hushed. Not Kinjo. Kids are encouraged and entertained. It keeps the parents happy (and coming back) and the kids a bit more adventurous.

Kinjo Sushi 403-255-8998

20 November, 2008

Backseat Adventure - Glamorgan Bakery

When you return to the memory of tastes it is easy to be disappointed. Too often the memory is linked heavily to the event or the circumstances of the taste. The brioche aren’t as rich as they seemed when they were a luxury in your days with a limited student budget. The meringue cookies you cherished on your bakery visits are more sweet than blandly crisp, more cloying than any adult should enjoy. Then there are the dinners, marked by romance, birthdays, or trips that can never be replicated. But sometimes, just sometimes, something is as good as you remember.

My brother-in-law, B, and I had this discussion over the weekend. A birthday present for my mother-in-law brought Hubby’s family to Banff for a weekend of eating and laughing at the children, with some swims and a hike thrown in. With a need to get my girls out of the house I decided to take them to Glamorgan Bakery, to stock up on B’s favourite cheese buns for the weekend.
Glamorgan Bakery is a Calgary institution. Since 1977 the owners have been churning out buttery goodness to Southwest Calgary. Hubby’s family grew up a relatively short bike ride away and took advantage of that quite regularly. It wasn’t until B and his then girl-friend and now my preggo-sister-in-law came to visit us shortly after we moved that I was properly introduced.

All I can remember B talking about was the cheese bun. How it was filled with cheese and butter to such an extent that the bread dough involved seemed superfluous. For a man who practically survives on any variety of cheese on bread – pizza, grilled cheese, melted cheese on bread dipped in ketchup – the Glamorgan Bakery cheese bun was his idea of perfection.
Then came the sugar cookies. We came for the cheese buns and we will return again and again for the sugar cookies. He says that he remembers eating them as a child, although I find that hard to believe because my mother-in-law is a fantastic baker. But then, fueled by a childhood memory, he went back to bakery and tried the sugar cookies, . Shockingly, they were better than he even remembered.

The Monster was enthralled by the selection of the bakery -colorful cupcakes, the overwhelming scent of butter and chocolate, and too much selection in the cookie department. I went straight to the counter for the cheese buns and she went straight to the sugar cookies. More precisely, the brightly coloured dinosaur cookies. How can you say no to a happy 2 year old? She got her cookie, promptly sat down on the floor, and took a bite. And then another and another. Two men were enjoying their coffee at the tiny counter for that purpose, oblivious to the joy of a sugar fueled toddler at their feet.
The dinosaur cookie was bigger than the Monster could handle so sadly I had to help her finish it. Let me rephrase that, I thought the cookie was too big and too good so I forced her to share it with me. Seriously, these are the best sugar cookies I’ve ever had. Not so much cookie as sweet butter that someone like Ferran Adria or Heston Blumenthal decided to serve in a crispy form. So I went back yesterday and bought more. Some for me and some for a girlfriend who was hosting us for tea in the afternoon as Little Miss Sunshine and I escaped the mess at home. By the time I got to her house the butter had stained the brown paper bag they came in and one cookie was missing. Good thing I bought more for dessert.

12 November, 2008

Was It Really Worth It?

Some things are just more trouble than they're worth. I now put homemade ketchup in that category, along with transplanting houseplants you already hate, arguing with a toddler over green socks versus white ones, and trying to keep the dog hair off the new couch. Is it better than your bottle of Heinz? Hell yeah, but it still isn't worth the expense or the effort.

I blame you, Jamie Oliver. You and your ridiculous enthusiasm for gardening, food, and making sure people eat well. I blame you, Safeway, for having Jamie at Home on sale in the book bin. I blame you, Calgary weather, for making sure I had loads of tomatoes ripening in stages on my kitchen counter in September and defeating my efforts to make a large batch of tomatoe sauce. I even blame the Monster - just a tiny bit - for having the common desire of any toddler to dip everything in ketchup. In that case, I blame you, Hubby, for fueling that desire in her by never growing up yourself.

Ultimately, however, I have to blame Michael Pollan. He and the Slow Food folks are encouraging me to reduce the amount of processed foods coming into the house. We go through a lot of ketchup and I thought I was being a good mom/wife by introducing another homemade staple.

The recipe* itself was time-consuming, but not difficult. The toughest part was reading through the Jamie Oliver style of recipe writing. And there were a ridiculous number of ingredients! Who knew?

So I spent an afternoon chopping, simmering, reducing, and pureeing. The house smelled wonderful. Two pounds of tomatoes and I got little more than 1 bottle of ketchup. Then the Monster decided that she liked mustard better. Seriously, every time I tried to serve it to her she cried for mustard instead.

Now the ketchup sits in the fridge. This is good stuff. I can't wait to try it on Hubby's famous hamburgers. For now, and post root canal, I will savour it on some scrambly eggs. But next time I'm just making tomatoe sauce.

*Let me know if you want the recipe and don't have the book. I followed it exactly so I won't repeat it here.

06 November, 2008

Taste Adventure - Bok Choy

There are sleep regressions well documented for babies and toddlers (and we know all about them lately), but are there eating regressions?

The Monster's voracious appetite was called into question lately. A few bites of her dinner and then on to playing with her placemat or milk. A couple of rounds of Itsy Bitsy Spider and The Alphabet Song and she declared herself done with dinner. While this makes for a loud and entertaining dinnertime, it frustrated us because a half hour later she asked for a snack. She wasn't proclaiming the food bad, just that she was done eating. What were we to do?

It turns out that feeding her is the thing to do; actually putting the food on fork and directing it to her mouth. Happily she lets herself be fed bite after bite of food she seemingly didn't want. This from a girl that downright refused to be spoon fed once her fingers discovered how to pick up food and shove it in her mouth.

In the past week we shared dinners of spicy Tex Mex beans and avocados, moose chili, and stir fry. She ate more meat than she's eaten in a month with us feeding her. And she very happily ate the rice and baby bok choy from the stir fry the other night. She's never happily eaten rice before.

The baby bok choy was a taste adventure for her and a cooking adventure for me. It's been years since I made it, stir fry taking a backseat in my repertoire for some reason. It was a weekly staple in my univerisity and early co-habitating days. On Sunday I couldn't resist the bright green and white crisps, knowing they would taste fantastic with a load of garlic and ginger. There was some leftover pork tenderloin to add and a few carrots and peppers to round out the dish.

The Monster ate one pepper and carrot, then declared herself done. Uh uh, little one, you need to eat more than that. So, after she serenaded us, Hubby started loading up the fork. Bite by bite she ate it all, even declaring the slightly spicy stir fry yummy. Did she know she was eating anything new? I doubt it, but I'm happy she ate it.

My only question is this, how long do we have to keep feeding her? Little Miss Sunshine started solids this week so I don't want to spoon feed two kids.

02 November, 2008

Old and New

Gasp! I gave away 3 bins of magazines this week. That's 10 years of Gourmet, Food and Wine, Cooking Light, Bon Appetit, and Martha Stewart. I must be crazy. Or a little under the gun to get the basement cleaned out so we can develop it. And I have to thank my sister-in-law and mother-in-law for really giving me the ass-kicking needed to do it.

These magazines represent my first forays and my development as a foodie. I can still remember reading my very first issue of Gourmet, April 1994. I was finishing my second year of undergrad in Halifax. My part-time job was with a caterer - cooking and selling food in a fancy mall food court. I picked up the mag at The Daily Grind and walked to the Public Gardens. Settled on a bench near one of the ponds I opened that magazine and took my first steps into fancy food, dreamy travels, and inspirational writing and photography. I started to revise my educational plans, thinking about cooking school after undergrad. Most importantly, they helped me learn to taste and to really cook.

I'd grown up watching the Frugal Gourmet, Wok with Chan, and Biba's Italian Kitchen on Saturday afternoons - in between Wide World of Sports and napping. With my Ukrainian roots food, homemade rich food, was central to our daily lives. But I was a picky eater, and showed no interest in being in the kitchen other than to bake cookies. Something changed with that first issue. I devoured more and cooked as much as my limited student budget and roommates would allow. I started going to the farmers market on Saturdays, bringing home what fit in my backpack because the walk was too long for more. Food became a means to pleasure, not just a means to an end.

Reading the magazines has been a ritualistic pleasure in and of itself. A lazy Saturday afternoon meant getting through one or two issues, cover to cover, no skipping ahead. Sundays in the summer found Hubby and I curled up on the thrift store couch on the porch of the blue house, beers at our side, and magazines in hand. Road trips, unless they took us through mountain passes, found me reading out interesting (at least to me) foodbits to Hubby while he drove.

Hubby has been bugging me for years - basically all the years we've been together - to cull the herd. The first place we lived together came with roommates. My magazines were proudly displayed on a large bookshelf in the dining room. When I felt like something new or something I recalled seeing I would pull issue after issue off the shelves and sip tea at the dining room table, enjoying my search. One roommate even made a joke of it, sitting down with boyfriend to observe me - like Lorne Greene and National Geographic - when I was searching for a particular pancake recipe.

The move to Calgary five years ago left my magazines languishing in bins in the basement. There was simply no room for them in our little bungalow. I found that I hardly ever went to them, turning to the computer instead for recipes and additional inspiration. The new magazines are still here, still taking me to the kitchen and feeding my soul when I have a moment. There are no luxurious afternoons of reading anymore. Rather, I sneak a few pages in here and there, often when the Monster and I are eating meals when Hubby is out of town. She now wants to read recipes with with me.

As I went through the bins and sorted the magazines for the lucky recipient I found myself reminiscing about a particular roadtrip to a wedding on the West Coast where I read the September 2002 Gourmet. Or the Bon Appetit about the Mediterranean Islands that I read and reread on our honeymoon in Cuba. Or the conversation with an oyster shucker over Hubby's 27th birthday dinner in Toronto, about whether we thought Ruth Reichl was doing a good job with Gourmet (yes!).

These magazines are my history. My history as a foodie. My history as an adult, really. It was hard to give them away. But I have look forward, find some new inspiration. I did that even while I was saying goodbye, enjoying a recipe I found from a new friend and resource, and the lucky recipient.

Here's to the next ten years! And some good storage in the new basement.

29 October, 2008

Macamoni and Cheese

When you write about kids and food it is easy to get way too cute and brag about the latest mispronunciation as the most hilarious thing your child has ever done. I certainly fall victim to it... frequently. This week is no exception. From calling the bobcat sitting on the driveway (renos have begun!) a pomegranate, to the subject of today: macamoni and cheese.

It might be a not so secret food snob goal of mine to see if I can get my kids to adulthood without a taste of Kraft Dinner. Sure, they'll be tempted along the way, but I can police all their meals at friends' and daycare, right? Okay, but I know Grandma won't give it to her, and neither will Hubby. And so far she loves what Mama and Daddy give her in the way of macaroni and cheese.

For as long as Hubby and I have been together we've engaged in somewhat spirited debates about the best way to make macaroni and cheese. He in the melted cheese with a little bit of milk camp and I in the cheese sauce and baked with bread crumbs on top camp. We will happily eat each other's rendition, while secretly thinking ours would be at least slightly better. All that being said, I may have created a winner for both of us.

Before I go further I need to also get another food snob confession off my chest. I don't believe in hiding vegetables in food. Sure, there are things like zucchini chocolate cake, but that's just plain good. I'm talking about the sneaking in and stalking of vegetables, just for the sake of getting your kids (or partner) to eat vegetables, a la this book.

This recipe for mac and cheese, however, is one that would qualify as sneaky. I had a vague recollection of seeing something similar a few years back, but couldn't find the recipe. So I made one up. And have made it again and again and again. Use whatever cheese you have around, but the strong, aged ones are my favourites. Use whatever kind of squash - aside from a spaghetti squash - or even a pumpkin. The sauce contains more pureed squash (or pumpkin) than milk and cheese. It is creamy without being heavy. It is orange! It can be eaten straight as made or baked without drying out. It is so good, seriously.

Two real mom advantages of this dish are that you can feed your baby and the rest of your family at the same time. Make the puree for baby and use the rest for the mac and cheese. Plus, you can easily freeze it. I bake mine in two small pans. We eat one and I freeze the other for those days when Little Miss Sunshine and the Monster keep me out of the kitchen.

Sneaky Mac and Cheese
(makes one 9 by 13 baking pan or two 8 by 8 pans, or a lot from the pot)

4 cups dry macaroni
2 Tbsp butter
2 cups pureed squash or pumpkin (fresh or canned)
1 cup milk
5-6 ounces finely shredded cheese (your choice)
1 cup bread crumbs (optional)
2 Tbsp olive oil or melted butter

1. Cook your macaroni in boiling, salted water until al dente. Drain and return to pot.
2. While your macaroni is cooking, melt butter in a medium saucepan. When melted, stir in the squash puree and milk.
3. When squash mixture is hot, stir in 5 ounces of cheese until melted. Season well.
4. Stir the squash mixture into the cooked macaroni.
5. If you like your mac and cheese baked, then put it in a buttered pan, and top with 1 ounce of cheese mixed with the breadcrumbs and oil/butter. Bake in a 325 degree oven for 20-25 minutes.

Is there any way to style mac and cheese to look good? I'm not a professional, but I couldn't do it.

26 October, 2008

Just Orange

Have you been watching Saturday Night Live lately? Sarah Palin and Obama imitations aside (freakin' hilarious!) on Weekend Update they have a new segment called, "Oh My God, Are you Serious?" I've been saying that a lot lately when it comes to the Monster's food preferences.

Orange is one of my favourite colours. It favours heavily in the decorating in our house, I use it liberally in many quilt designs, and my favourite mug and second favourite purse are bold displays of the citrus tone. Apparently it is also one of the Monster's favourite. She, however, displays her propensity for the colour by only eating orange cheese. Oh my God, are you serious?

Our suspicions about this were confirmed a few weeks ago when she boldly stated that the cheddar on her plate for snack would not do because it was not, as she said, "lellow cheese." I knew that she wouldn't eat a hunk of mozza, nor a Babybel round, having defiantly turned her nose at these for months. But that aged cheddar was fantastic, plus she'd already eaten it in a quesadilla.

Still, I thought I would try an unscientific experiment on her, a cheese plate taste test if you will. At the market last week I stocked up on some gouda from Sylvan Star, a whisky cheddar from The Village Cheese Company, and some fantastic Honeycrisp apples and Bartlett pears. Along with some supermarket marble cheese, dried apricots, and a few bagel crisps my mom left behind we had ourselves a snack.

She went straight for the fruit. Okay, so maybe including the fruit skewed the experiment. But just a plate of cheese didn't seem like a good snack, plus I have to groom her for a trip to France...one day. It should be noted that the first fruit she ate were the dried apricots, shockingly orange.

The volume of choices did her excited, not overwhelmed. Everything was picked up, and usually licked. Oh my God, are you serious? And all was put down, except the supermarket marble cheese. She almost took a bite of the crackled whiskey cheddar, but thought better of it. Brown is not orange.

Seeing as this wasn't a formal focus group and I resisted the urge to question her choices I can only come to one conclusion: she's weird. That, or she's just a toddler.

I did leave out her favourite cheese - feta. A salty sheep's feta is her hands down cheese of choice. If that is an option she will eat nothing else. Knowing that, I left it out so as to avoid skewing the results. Feta is white, or at best, cream. Oh my god, are you serious?

Sylvan Star Cheese
Village Cheese Company

22 October, 2008

Taste Adventure - Figs

Call me boring, weird, or simply odd, but I hate Fig Newtons. Nothing about them is good. They are dry, pasty, and boring. And the fig filling? Just gross. But like most commercial food based on a real food, I figured the taste of the real thing would be enough to make me wonder how they can even put said fruit's name on the commercial product. Nope, I now think figs are gross too. And the Monster agreed with me.

It rather surprises me that I've never had a fig before, at least consciously. There had to be some snuck into salads at high end restaurants, or in a tagine. Nope, not that I can recall. And I am thankful for that. Otherwise I would have had a spoiled meal and not discovered some damn tasty frozen yogurt.

After we cut up a fig to try the other day and both spat it out in disgust I had to figure something out. I'd paid money for the damn things, I wasn't throwing them out. Then I remembered a old issue of City Palate that had a feature on figs (Julie?) and I'd actually pulled some recipes to try. Because I am a firm believer that roasting makes almost everything taste better I went with the recipe for Roasted Fig Fro-Yo. I did end up halving the recipe because that was how much yogurt I had in the house.

Huge success! The fro-yo was rich and sweet and oh so creamy. Did it taste like figs? Not the gross ones we had, but it definitely tasted like more than plain fro-yo. The Monster happily ate hers with a glass of pear nectar for a post-dogwalk snack. For me, it was the perfect accompaniment to the last of the apple pie my mom made for us on the weekend.

Roasted Fig Fro-Yo
(adapted from City Palate July/August 2008)

500 grams thick plain yogurt (Liberté Mediterranée)
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
4 fresh figs, stemmed and halved
1 tsp canola oil
2 tsp honey

1. Drain the yogurt in a cheesecloth lined sieve set over a bowl for at least a few hours, preferably overnights.
2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spread the figs in a single layer in a small baking dish, drizzle with the oil and honey. Roast for 20 minutes, or until soft. Press through a sieve and discard the skins. Set in the fridge to cool.
3. Once the fig mixture is cool stir it into the drained yogurt. Freeze in an ice cream maker, according to manufacturer's directions.

For futher fro-yo adventures, check out this crazy video!

17 October, 2008

Eating Injury and Recovery

Barring a bizarre accident with a sharp knife and raw chicken, feeding your kids should not cause you injury or illness. Or so I thought. It seems that this nursing mama has developed mastitis. Fun times.

In order to give myself a chance to recover from my fourth illness (and definitely the worst) in the last month I decided to call in reinforcements. My mom came down for a few days to help us out. Today she made turkey stock from the Thanksgiving carcass, cleaned up my garden (which she planted in the first place after Little Miss Sunshine was born), took the Monster for walks, and baked cookies. Yum, cookies.
Okay, so I posted an oatmeal cookie recipe last week but these are amazing. Soft and chewy but with a little bit of crunch. Nutty without any nuts. Sweet without being cloying. Mom created the recipe after we tried some from a vendor at the St. Albert Farmers' Market a few years ago. That market is only open for a few months, so we needed to recreate them in order to continue the yummy love. After a few tries she came up with this recipe - even better than the original.

My theory is that you could make it with less sugar, but they aren't nearly as sweet as you think they might be. When I make them for myself I think I will try it with only a cup of sugar.

When it comes to your seeds, make sure they are fresh. Poppyseeds can go rancid easily when stored, so check any that you use before you stir them in. With regard to the pumpkin seeds, you can go with raw ones as well - with no change in flavour. Today we used roasted, salted ones because those are the most common ones found in the grocery store. We found the salted ones make no difference to the taste either.

Birdseed Cookies
(makes about 4 dozen)

1 cup butter
1 1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 cups rolled oats
3/4 cup sunflower seeds
3/4 cup roasted pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup flax seed
1/4 cup poppy seeds
1/2 cup finely chopped dates
1/2 cup chopped dried cranberries

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Cream butter and sugar together.
3. Add eggs and mix well. Mix in vanilla.
4. In a separate bowl stir together the flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Slowly add to the butter mixture.
5. Add oats and mix until just combined.
6. In a separate bowl combine the sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, poppyseeds, dates, and dried cranberries. Stir into the cookie mixture until well combined.
7. With wet hands roll a heaping tablespoon of dough into a ball. Alternatively, use a small ice cream scoop to form balls. Press down slightly on the cookies.
8. Bake for 8-10 minutes until lightly browned.

14 October, 2008

Backseat Adventure - Lacombe Corn Maze

Do you think she made the connection?

It was Thanksgiving weekend. After baking, the market, and dinner with friends we decided to take a trip to the Lacombe Corn Maze yesterday. From turkey dinner to feeding the turkeys at the petting zoo there. Of course, she wouldn't eat the turkey on Sunday and all she talked about on the way home was how the turkey and the goat nipped her fingers. Perhaps she is a bit young yet, but I wonder how many parents had to explain why the two turkeys were named Christmas and Thanksgiving?

We're getting better at these road trips. Rather, I should say we're getting better at packing lunches for these road trips. What better lunch on Thanksgiving than a turkey sandwich? Inspired by Aimee, we made ours with an aged cheddar and apples. No onion jam in the house, but I did slice a giant onion in the morning and let it carmelize while I made some apple and pear handpies to bring. I would have loved croissants, but where am I going to find good, fresh croissants on a holiday Monday in Calgary? Hmm, where to find them any day?

But I digress. The Monster isn't up for sandwiches yet, unless they are grilled. So she munched on some bread, the last of the cherry tomatoes from the garden, and a bit of chocolate. She ate so much at Sunday's dinner - peppers, carrots, apples, fruit salad, stuffing, and as much cranberry sauce as she could get from us - that she wasn't all that hungry yesterday. Kids go in such fits and starts. It can be frustrating, but I figure she will eat when she's hungry.
Ultimately we were a bit late in the game for the corn maze. Frost and wind have damaged it to the point where we could see over the top of the maze. But with the Monster guiding us through the maze we still managed to get lost. We did get out in time to play on the jumping pillow, slide our way down the giant slide, and make it home in time for a dinner of farfalle with pesto, corn, tomatoes, and leftover turkey.

PS We went to the corn maze last year as well, you can read about it here.

09 October, 2008

Despair is Setting In

My lunch just consisted of tea and cookies. Just that, nothing else.

As happy as I am about the cookies, however, there is a little bit of sadness in our house today. We're out of maple syrup. Between the cookies and the baked beans I made for dinner - and the numerous breakfast of waffles over the past year - we finally polished off the 2 Litres of maple syrup we bought on vacation last autumn.

My love of maple syrup means I could never be a true locovore. Sure, I've tried birch syrup, saskatoon, and even made my own blackcurrent syrup. None of it compares to the simple maple goodness of a rich maple syrup. I've tried to describe the taste, but failed. You can only taste it for yourself and be enveloped by that golden brown elixir of the forest.

I love it so much that I pushed for our first dog to be named Maple - and won. (The other dog is Buster.)

In the morning, as the Monster's waffles are cooking she is asked if she wants syrup or jam. Well, that's not entirely true. Hubby always puts raspberry jam on them because that's what he likes. I usually ask, and she always picks syrup. And when I started being specific about it being maple syrup she started responding, "No, Buster Syrup!"

With the days getting shorter at an alarming rate it is tough to make it to the park after dinner. And when Hubby is out of town, as he is this week, I try to stay home in the evenings to save my sanity. Oddly, baking cookies with the Monster is generally a sanity saving activity. I just have to keep her hands out of the mixing bowl while it is turned on because she so desperately wants to lick the batter.

I pulled out my the last of my Sugar Moon Farm syrup, my Highwood Crossing Oats, and the jumbo pack of chocolate chips (we were out of raisins). We mixed, she poured, we snuck chocolate chips, and we baked. She obviously liked the batter too because that paddle was licked like it just came out of the dishwasher. And when she was done she announced that she was going to eat her hands as well. It was all I could do to keep her occupied with a dizzying amount of Ring-Around-The-Rosie while the cookies cooled so she didn't burn her tongue.

After years of testing recipes and getting used to the crappy oven that came with the house I finally got an oatmeal cookie recipe that makes my heart happy. I can't lay claim to anything original about it, other than using less coconut than called for last night because I ran out. Martha strikes again. When I found this cookie recipe I had to try it. Not shockingly, it was a clear winner for me. Even if it takes away from my precious maply syrup supply.

I do have a call in to Sugar Moon to see if they will ship to me. Maybe if I get the Monster to say please in her tiny but emphatic voice with a drawn out plea they will say yes...

Oatmeal Raisin/Chocolate Chip Cookies
(slightly adapted from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook)

1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup sweetened, shredded coconut
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/3 pure maple syrup
1 large egg
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 1/2 cups raisins/chocolate chips/dried apricots/dried cherries or any combination

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
2. In a bowl whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. Stir in the coconut. Set aside.
3. Cream together the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add the maple syrup and mix well to combine.
4. Add the egg and vanilla, beating well. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
5. Slowly add the flour mixture to the butter mixture. When combined add the oats and raisin/chocolate chips.
6. Form 1 tbsp in a ball and place on a greased/line cookie sheet.
7. Bake for 10-12 minutes.

06 October, 2008

Happy Birthday!

Birthdays change as you get older. They start as family gatherings, crowded around babies and spoiling them with cute and useless presents. Next comes the mayhem of ten kids running around hopped up on sugar and buying plastic toys. Down the line your friends change and instead of sugar your partying usually involves a lot of alcohol. Somewhere along the way your celebrations mellow and while the alcohol and sugar are still a part of things, the important part is gathering with your friends and family.

We travelled to Edmonton this weekend to celebrate a slew of family birthdays. My dad turned 67 - an insignificant number (although he did say he was happy to be out of what he called a devil year) but a significant birthday because he finished chemo last week. Our nephew turned 10! He is growing up into such a good kid, not that he wasn't always. That also marks 10 years of quilting because his baby quilt was the first one I made. My mother-in-law turned 60 on Saturday. She is a fantastic woman and I'm hoping that the coming years bring her happiness because she deserves it.

In all of this, perhaps most significantly, Hubby had a birthday. We reminisced about past birthdays - the crazy night at Rodney's Oyster House in Toronto, the birthday/housewarming party in our famous blue house when we were both still in school, and the hysterical night at the dive karaoke bar.

This year was pretty calm, all things considered. He asked me not to get him anything and I actually listened. That saved me the hockey skate buying. But I couldn't let the day go unrecognized. Friday night at home I invited some friends, old and new, over for steaks and fire. After a casual but boisterous dinner at his sister's and brother-in-law's on Saturday I took him out to brunch yesterday. From our lazy Sunday morning when we still lived in Edmonton, just the two of us, to a friends and the kids in a hectic brunch. But the eggs benny were the same.

Cafe de Ville is on the edge of Downtown, but inside the cozy space we never needed to look out the window. At brunch I usually devour the basket of warm knishes they bring you - muffins, donuts and pastries instead of a bread basket. Yesterday the Monster took care of that for me. Coffee, OJ, and Eggs De Ville. Hubby could and would order in his sleep - if the kids let him. Grilled back bacon, perfectly poached eggs that run just enough to enrich the hollandaise, and creamy roasted potatoes. It gets him every time. It's almost enough to make us want to come to Edmonton on the weekends.

So there weren't balloons, fancy wrapping paper, and a case of beer. At the end of the night he was happy. Lots of kisses from his girls, hugs from friends, some new underwear courtesy of his mom, and a full tummy. At 36 can you ask for much more?

Cafe De Ville

I just asked him if he ever read my blog and he - in typical fashion - made fun of it. Oh well, that means he won't see these pictures on line. Just a few recent faves of my gorgeous man and the girls.

30 September, 2008

A Breakfast of Memories

When people leave it is often the simplest things that you miss. Yes, they may have been war veterans, strong supporters of community service, or the most mischievious senior citizen you've ever met. But it is the rituals of hospitality, the conversations over greek salad and gin & tonic, and the breakfasts that you miss.

Hubby's Grandpa passed away last week and we were in Kelowna on the weekend for his funeral. Only a short 18 months after Grandma passed away we had to say goodbye to another kind, loving soul.

When I arrived in my husband's life he spoke fondly of his grandparents, their home in the Okanagan, and the sheer kindness of these two important people. The first time I met them they welcomed me with a shot of frozen vodka and a debate about the perfect martini. The first morning in their home came early - I was sleeping alone because Hubby and I were only dating and still young - but Grandpa was already up.

Every single morning Grandpa would be the first one up to ready breakfast. He would grind coffee beans and boil water to make coffee. He would set out plum or strawberry jam, the bread, and cereal. The table would be set for all of us, Hubby included, even though he never eats breakfast. Sleeping in wasn't an option, but mornings were never too early. Every setting would have a tiny juice glass and a mug for coffee. And always on the table was the English crockery jug filled with milk, frosting with the cold liquid in the morning sun.

As my relationship with Hubby deepened and we eventually married we made at least two trips a year to visit Grandma and Grandpa. We shared meals on the deck, happy hour, one particularly stressful trip where our car was rebuilt in the car port, and road trips to local foodie haunts. But I always welcomed breakfast there more than any other place in my life. From the giant kitchen in their retirement home to the bright kitchen of their final home, I would sip my tea while the rest drank coffee and we would talk and nibble for hours. I would tease them about those tiny juice glasses. We would discuss business and politics and history. Hubby and I would get lectures about when we were going to first, get married, and then, have kids. When the coffee ran out we would plan our daily adventures and clean up, only to get ready for lunch.

Breakfast will never be the same.

At the funeral one of their granddaughters spoke about her relationship with her Grandpa. She brought up something that struck home for me, in particular. Grandpa was the person who taught me how to make oatmeal - porridge, as he called it. I grew up on Cream of Wheat, but that's it. Other than some packets of instant oatmeal I'd never had the real thing until last year. When C discussed her Grandpa she reminisced about how she was forced to eat oatmeal as a kid and the shock in Grandpa when she started requesting it as she grew older. It may only be porridge, but we can always learn from those before us.

Grandpa showed me that the perfect bowl of oatmeal starts with simmering water and a generous pinch of salt. Put in half the amount of oats as water and cook ever so slowly to bring out the creaminess of the oats. Don't rush it, even if you are using the quick cooking oats. I've evolved a little and both the Monster and I enjoy our steel cut oats with some brown sugar, milk, and a little fruit.

We returned home late on Sunday and today I am quite sick. But the baby needs to be fed, which means I need to eat. Oatmeal seemed perfect. I sat, buried under a quilt with one baby napping and the other at daycare and thought of some pretty amazing people while I ate my soulful breakfast.