31 August, 2008

Hard Day on the Job

It takes a lot of energy to build all day, especially if you are only 5. My nephew came down for the weekend with my folks to build a playhouse for the girls. He was set with his real and play tools, his own tool belt, and the right attitude to be a supervisor. That meant he stood around a lot, complained about working, and took many breaks to eat. Okay, he did climb on teh roof and help install the shingles. But it seemed like everytime I went outside to check on progress he was eating. Of course, with Baba (my mom) around, no one went hungry. We are Ukrainian, after all.
It was hard work building that playhouse. In true Ukrainian fashion my mom fixed up an impromptu lunch of some Sylvan Star Gouda, Stawnichy's kubasa, homemade dill pickles, and some bread from a filipino bakery in Edmonton.

At the end of the day I teased my dad that although this was for my girls, that it really was a dream come true for me - 25 years late. I grew up in the days where you were sent out to play with instructions to come back when it was dark. My friends and I would go to the park behind our elementary school where there were woods and a small clearing. We called it Smurf Village. It was our fantasy to have my dad build a playhouse in the clearing. We could then go out there every day and have lunch and commune with the Smurfs. Truly, I would have settled for a playhouse in my backyard. Now I have it. And my dad made it a bit taller than the plans so I will fit in there nicely. Hmm, maybe I will put a comfy chair in there for me instead of a little table and toys for the girls...

All it needs is a coat of paint - once the rain stops and the Monster goes to daycare this week. But the Monster was happy to peek out the windows and open the door to scare whoever she made stay inside. We even brought out some tea supplies so we can have our first official picnic.

The playhouse was christened last night. What a better way to wrap up the busy day with a campfire in the backyard and s'mores. The porch was a perfect venue to sneak marshmallows straight from the bag and snuggle up to Dido for chocolate. Our nephew, not surprisingly, was happy to fill up on Taber cob and s'mores. But hey, he had a busy day supervising, er, I mean, pounding nails.

Stawnichy's Meat Processing
Sylvan Star Cheese

28 August, 2008

Taste Adventure - Gorgonzola Cheese

I'll save the suspense - the Monster didn't like it.

She happily stood by me on her chair to help cook dinner. She got rather excited at the prospect of pizza. She ate the end pieces of the pear while I put it together. She was quite curious about the sticky, brown onions. She eagerly took the piece of cheese I handed to her to try. She sucked on it for a second, opened her mouth to let it drop out, and pronounce, "I no like it." Simple and blunt with her declaration and no hissy fit. Fair enough.

So I made part of the pizza with feta, her favourite, instead of gorgonzola. The taste memory must have been imprinted for the night because she wouldn't touch that either. No feta? Then she wouldn't touch the rest of the pizza. She was lucky that her aunt and uncle called with rather exciting news and I was distracted enough to give her some leftovers and raisins.

Oh well, all the more for me, and damn, this was good pizza. Two onions - carmelized while I nursed the Babe - a ripe pear, a blue gorgonzola, and some fresh thyme sprinkled on top. She will learn to like it because I intend to make this a lot over the winter.

22 August, 2008

Pick, pick, pick

Lest you think my kid is some kind of glorious foodie that will graciously or voraciously eat what we put in front of her, I must set the record straight. On Wednesday night, all she ate was the above peach brown butter bliss cake. But only the cake, not the peaches. So much for her love affair with peaches. And this was after I made her chickpeas, a near constant favourite. Maybe it was the way I made them - roasted, with garlic and swiss chard - but she's never complained about any of those ingredients before. And last night she wouldn't touch her pierogies and kubasa (garlic sausage for the non-Ukrainians out there). Oh, and she would only eat the peaches, not the cake, after she ate a small bushel of peas instead of her Ukrainian feast.

Kids are fickle, and damn that is frustrating sometimes. We made a commitment early on that we would not make a separate meal for the kids once they were off babyfood. They eat what we eat. If they don't like it, then there is still fruit and anything that might be for dessert. We think that this will lessen any food issues and pickiness. I'm not sure where we got that idea because my parents made me eat everything on my plate and I was picky as anything until I started working in the food industry. On the flipside, Hubby's brother ate nothing and my mother-in-law will still cook separately for him sometimes (and he's in his 30s). Either way, it's what we decided and we're sticking to it.

Sort of.

I find myself caving a little by making sure there is a slice of bread with butter if I think she won't eat her dinner. And we almost never eat bread with dinner. I justify it by putting it on her plate as we sit down and not giving it to her after she's turned her head at the plate or spat out what she tried. She is a full-blown two year old and her attitude is not something I am pleased with. But really, am I surprised?

So we put some bread on her plate, and always a few peas in the pod. She is offered fruit and dessert, but she doesn't always take it. And I've stopped letting her eat after dinner. She has to learn that dinner is it. We hardly eat before 6:30 pm and bedtime is two hours later, she doesn't need a snack... unless we go raspberry picking.

Tonight I needed a break and cooked a guaranteed pleaser. Besides, I was at the dentist this morning and needed soft food. Quesadillas. A.K.A Exotic grilled cheese. Hey, I put diced tomatoes and chili powder in them! And I served them with my dad's famous salsa and the best side dish ever - guacamole. Seriously, I love guacamole almost as much as I love chocolate. Thankfully, the Monster does too.

Here is my recipe for basic guacamole. I have no idea if it would be considered authentic, but it tastes pretty close to what a Mexican friend makes. Personally, I prefer it a bit chunky so I chop half the avacado and add a chopped tomatoe. This recipe is a basic proportion, but it can easily be doubled, tripled, quadrupled...

The Easiest Guacamole
1 clove garlic
1 avocado
1/2 lime, juiced
1/2 tsp chili powder
Hot sauce to taste
Salt and pepper

1. Mince the garlic clove.
2. Mix all ingredients together with a fork, mashing the avocado to your preference.
3. Season with salt and pepper.

19 August, 2008

Silver Linings

When life hands you an emergency trip to Kelowna in August you must seek peaches. Hubby's grandpa landed in the hospital last week with what turns out to be his second broken hip in a year. At the last minute we decided to drive out on a rare free weekend. How could we not take the opportunity to see Grandpa? The old man is doing okay after surgery and we all got another visit with him.

With a bit of free time in the afternoons - they have forced naptime at the hospital - we were able to enjoy a swim in the 40 degree weather. Whew. And the family in town (Hubby's uncle and his family also live there) had us all gather in the late evenings for beer can chicken and pizza. In their backyard they have some fruit trees and a walnut tree. Eager to always teach the Monster where her food comes from we climbed the terraced garden to the peach tree. Can I just say that my idea of heaven now involves a comfy chair under a peach tree? The scent is the pure scent of peach. No bath product can truly replicate this. And a fresh picked box of peaches is close, but it isn't as fresh or sweet as the scent right under the tree.

The Monster is suddenly a fan of whole fruits. On Sunday night she ate two plums, a peach, and then she stole my apple. This was after almost two slices of pizza! But there was no way I could deny her the fresh off the tree goodness. Bedtime be damned, still warm fruit in a sultry breeze with a full moon rising is not to be denied.

Hubby's uncle was generous and sent us home with a box of fresh-picked peaches. The car radiated sunshine as we drove home. We ate more than a few along the way, and then some more after the girls were finally asleep last night. Then I had some for breakfast and the Monster took one to daycare for lunch.

After making ice cream and some jam today I still have almost two dozen giant orbs that need to be made into something yummy. I am going to make this Browned Butter Bliss tomorrow. And a pie or two and some crisps will need to go into the freezer. That should take care of these peaches, and then I'll buy more on the weekend.

I searched and searched for some ice cream recipes. After my research I decided to be brave, or cocky, and make up my own. I wanted to stick with the custard base, still feeling like I need to master that before I branch out, but I was really disappointed with the egginess of my first attempt. And I had some thick whipping cream from Vital Green in the fridge that needed to be used. I found one recipe for brown sugar peach ice cream, and one for roasted peach ice cream. Without a doubt those two flavours needed to go together. I wasn't the only one who thought so... Julie, maybe we were separated at birth? I had no yogurt in the house and the baby was napping so I went on my own with the custard.

This was definitely a better attempt. Still not perfect, but I think the problem was the peaches, not the custard. I only mashed them when I should have blitzed them in the food processor. Mashing left them pulpy instead of pureed. I could have mixed the puree and some cut chunks. Lesson learned. We were able to wait long enough for it to harden before we ate it tonight, but just barely. Surprisingly, the Monster wanted nothing to do with it. I guess she wants to stick to whole fruit.

Roasted Peach Brown Sugar Ice Cream

3 large, fresh peaches
1 tbsp butter
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp dark brown sugar
1 cup whipping cream
3/4 cup skim milk
2 egg yolks
dark brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees C.
2. Halve peaches and place in oven proof pan or baking dish. You don't have to peel them, but mine pretty much peeled themselves as I cut into them.
3. Dot peaches with butter and sprinkle 2 tbsp brown sugar. Roast for approximately 30 minutes. Let cool.
4. Mix cream and milk and heat over medium heat.
5. Whish egg yolks and 1/4 cup brown sugar.
6. When milk and cream are warm, but not hot, pour a little over the egg yolks to temper them, whisking constantly. Slowly add the rest of the cream and return the mixture to the pan.
7. Whisking constantly, cook the custard until thick and bubbles subside.
8. Cover custard and cool for a few hours or overnight. When cold, process in the ice cream maker according to your manufacturer's instructions.
9. While ice cream is being made pulse 2 of the peaches in the food processor until you have a coarse puree. Finely chop the remaining peach.
10. As the ice cream finishes in the maker, add in the puree and the finely chopped peaches to incorporate.
11. Place into a container and freeze for a few hours.

13 August, 2008

People Watching at the Grocery Store

I was at the big grocery store today, picking up the basics for the week. Then the baby needed to eat. Now. So I hightailed it to the coffee shop section, parked my butt, and whipped out my boob. Now, as I normally breastfeed in a comfy club chair in my living room watching the Olympics, this afforded a whole new perspective on the world.

The Express check-out was right in front of me so I watched people with their after work purchases. People buy weird things. Well, weird combinations of things. Like 2 litres of chocolate milk, a package of the mini boxes of cereal, and baby carrots - by a man in his 30s in a suit. Or a deli salad and a big bag of oranges. Most people bought milk, refilling their fridges midweek. I am amazed by the people with only one item. A loaf of bread, a bundle of flowers, a bunch of bananas, some toilet paper.

What we buy at the grocery store is a tiny glimpse into our lives. What we eat is, I believe, a reflection of our values. Not just that some of us value the quality of our food more than others, rather that how we live is reflected in our consumer choices. It comes down to what cleaning supplies we buy, which breakfast cereal we choose to eat, or whether we're willing to buy strawberries in January.

I'm sure Rose, the regular check-out lady I seek, probably wonders why I hardly buy any veggies and never any meat. But she doesn't ask. Instead I know more about her son, a bass player in a big-time Canadian rock band. I would happily brag about the farmers I buy my veggies and meat from, if she asked. She is just there to process my purchases and make some idle chitchat. She is the face of my grocery store shopping, even if I am only buying cleaning supplies, dairy, and bread from her. So she isn't the farmer who grew my food, but she is the friendly face in the commercial giant.

The folks running through the express check-out weren't interested in chit-chat, they wanted their milk and to get home. For them, the grocery store was a means to an end. Being forced to sit down and observe the people in the store gave me a new perspective. The staff who work there, for the most part, are there because they like people, not food. So look at your grocery store as another way to connect with people, not just fill your cupboards cheaply. It isn't always about food.

10 August, 2008

Raspberry Rapture

I can't decide what I am more excited for - making ice cream for the first time or the raspberry haul we got the other night. Perhaps it is the fact that I combined these two loves and made raspberry ripple ice cream.

Walking down the alley the other night, avoiding the jackhammer noise that Hubby was making in the backyard, we discovered an unattended raspberry patch. The Beagle Lady, so-called by us because she breeds and raises beagles in her house, has a huge patch behind her fence. The Monster and I rudely snuck a few berries and continued on our way. I mentioned the patch to Poppa, our neighbour, and ten minutes later he poked his head in the door to say we have permission to pick as much as we want.

Friday night we grabbed our bowls and went down a few houses. Grandma Betty and I picked and picked despite our aching backs. The Monster had her own bowl, but it was for show only as all raspberries went directly into her mouth. Soon she realized that it would be much easier to eat them directly out of my bowl. And so she did, by the fistful. Unfortunately she wouldn't sit still long enough for me to take a picture of her messy face and raspberry heart, from crushed berries running down her shirt.

After a day of snacks and breakfast of sweet ruby goodness I decided to tackle ice cream. Nigella Lawson has an entire section on ice cream in Forever Summer. I borrowed/stole my mother-in-law's ice cream maker the last time we visited, ice cream was mine to make.

First lesson in ice cream making: read all directions to the ice cream maker the day before you want the ice cream. It turns out I was supposed to put the bowl in the freezer for at least 6 hours before any attempts at ice cream are made. That meant watermelon for dessert last night. And I now know that the freezer bowl needs at least 12 hours to freeze with my new ice cream maker.

Second lesson in ice cream making: make sure Hubby is home to keep both the Monster and the baby occupied so you can pay attention to the custard. Even then it almost curdled on me. I listened to Nigella and had a sink of cold water handy. She said if the custard starts to curdle to immerse the pot in the cold water and whisk the custard like crazy. It worked!

Third lesson in ice cream making: try to be patient after you put it the freezer to harden. Otherwise you have ice cream soup. Yummy ice cream soup! We'll see how the leftovers are tomorrow night.

Fourth lesson in ice cream making: make more ice cream. It really isn't hard - if I do it during naps or when the Monster is in daycare. I'm excited to try more recipes from Nigella, even if her custard seems a bit eggy to me. And I want to try some other recipes, like this raspberry ice cream.

Raspberry Ripple Ice Cream
(adapted from Nigella Lawson in Forever Summer)

500 ml half & half cream
100 ml heavy cream
1 vanilla bean
6 egg yolks
200 grams sugar
1 tsp vanilla
125 grams raspberries
1.5 teaspoons balsamic vinegar (make it a good one)

1. Fill a sink with cold water.
2. Split the vanilla bean down the middle and scrape the beans into the creams in a heavy pot.
3. Whisk the egg yolks and 150 grams of sugar together.
4. Heat the creams to a near boil.
5. Pour a small amout of the heated cream on the eggs, whisking continuously, to temper the eggs and not cook them outright with the hot cream. Slowly add the rest of the cream to the egg and sugar mixture.
6. Return the mixture to the stove and cook, whisking continously, until the custard no longer has bubbles on top and is thickened.
7. Immerse the pot in the cold water, add the vanilla, and whisk to chill. Alternatively, you could stir in the vanilla and set it aside to chill.
8. Once cool, follow the directions of your ice cream maker to make ice cream.
9. While the ice cream is freezing, blitz the raspberries, remaining sugar, and the balsamic vinegar in a food processor or mash together. Push through a fine mesh sieve to remove the seeds.
10. Freeze the raspberry mixture to thicken, but not set.
11. When the ice cream is frozen, but not solid, pour a third into a container. Dribble a third of the raspberry syrup over. Repeat with two more layers. Run a wooden skewer or sharp knife through the ice cream to swirl the raspberry ripple into the ice cream.
12. Freeze until set.

Forever Summer Nigella Lawson

08 August, 2008

Lemon Water

Everyone knows the juice parents. These are the folks who will run across a room, throwing people and furniture aside in a slow-motion exaggerated "N-O-O-O-O-O-O!" if someone offers their kid juice. I have to admit that I used to be one of those moms. Then the Monster starting asking for apple juice. We were confused because we've never given it to her, let alone is it really ever in our house. How did she even know what it is? The joys of daycare. We asked, and sure enough, they often get juice at snacktime. We asked them to stop giving to her and they tried. But daycare isn't as strict as Mama.

Oh well.

Seriously, oh well. Is juice a battle we really want? We control most of what she eats and it's not like she walks around stuffing candy in her face while falling asleep with a sippy cup of pop.

This summer we've introduced her to lemonade or, as she calls it, lemon water. We always have a pitcher in the fridge and she is now allowed a very diluted sippy cup once a day. Come to think of it, we could probably just put some lemon slices in her water and she would be happy. Although, that would take all the fun out of it.

We are lazy lemonade makers. Yes I could squeeze lemons and make sugar syrup. But I have a toddler and a newborn and a need to spend my time on other things, like raspberry picking later today. Lucky for us there is a great local lemonade concentrate, Zora's Lemonade. Yum, yum, yum. It is a liquid concentrate so you can make your drink as sweet as you want. And for grown-up lemon water we find it goes nicely with vodka or gin and a bit of mint.

You can find Zora's at Cookbook Company Cooks or the Millarville Farmer's Market.

Speaking of local, the Calgary Herald's Green Guide has a great article today about the Innisfail Growers and yours truly is quoted in the article. The Monster got her picture in the paper too.

Zora's Lemonade 403-246-2046
Millarville Farmers' Market
Cookbook Company Cooks
Green Guide

02 August, 2008

Backseat Adventure - Innisfail Growers

Gas prices be damned, today was a day for a road trip. The family loaded up into the new car (it's still new to us after 6 weeks) and headed north to the Innisfail area. It was Customer Appreciation Day for the Innisfail Growers. The producers that make up this group opened their farmgates to customers for tours, treats, and sales.

The Innisfail Growers sell at the farmgate and in farmers' markets throughout the province. Our Sunday morning haunt, the Calgary Farmers' Market houses them in a prominent booth at the front entrance. Currently they are the first stop on my weekly grocery shop. I want to see what they have, what's being grown here before I stop anywhere else. This means I can get asparagus, crisp lettuce just picked, crunchy and sweet carrots, juicy tomatoes, baby potatoes, beef, lamb, and the Monster's favourite: peas.

There are five farms that make up Innisfail Growers. We made it to two farms: The Jungle Farm and Edgar Farms. A two-year old can only handle so much travelling, and will fight tooth and nail when you try to take her from the goats, pony, piglets, horse, chickens, and kitten of Edgar Farms.

At Edgar Farms the Monster and Hubby ate their bodyweights in fresh peas. Hubby said they were the sweetest he's had. Me? I don't do peas. Ask my mother, I've never been able to eat them. My standard excuse is that I am allergic since eating one pea will induce a violent stomach reaction in me. Really, I am like the princess and the pea, detecting just one pea in a serving of shepherd's pie and washing my hands with hand sanitizer every time I shucked some for the Monster today.

Alas, it was too late for asparagus. But we did get a good lesson from Elna, one of the owners of Edgar Farms, on how it grows and is harvested. The above shot is of the Monster exploring a field of asparagus gone to seed. Who knew this is what happens when you don't pick it? It makes me want to plant some myself, for the taste and late summer visual of those gentle fronds.

The Monster was in heaven at Edgar Farms. Beyond the animals to pet and feed was the tour of the fields and the all-you-can-eat peas. Sure these peas were hail damaged, but cosmetics don't matter to her. Sure they were starchy peas if you picked the ones on the bottom of the plant. But it was dirt and peas and tractors. Needless to say, there was a fit to be had when after over two hours there we insisted on heading for home. This nursing mom was starving and the jars of pickled asparagus for sale weren't going to cut it.

We did also make it to The Jungle Farm. This family farm is more than u-pick strawberries and flowers - not that I'm complaining about that! They grow lettuce, raspberries, zucchini, onions, pumpkin, artichokes, and more. They have a beautiful set-up, with a lovely red barn for farmgate sales and treats. Leona, one of the owners took us on a wagon ride with the swank red tractor. Personally, I found it quite interesting as she shared the struggles of our short growing season and extreme weather, but it was a bit much for the Monster and all the other kids. They just wanted a cool wagon ride on the hay bales. It's all worthwhile for the strawberries! Red, red, red. We didn't stay to pick, however, because a) it was damn chilly with a brisk wind and b) I have plans to go strawberry picking later this week.

"Not bad for 35 bucks in gas," was the Hubby's short summary. You can finger paint and take the dogs for a walk, but I think the Monster was much happier on the farm today and anyday. We just have to remember to take lunch with us next time, a few muffins and some raspberries won't cut it. The Jungle Farm had a delicious smelling beef on a bun, but we weren't hungry then. Unfortunately, the sandwich shop we wanted to go to in Innisfail was closed and peas were our option at Edgar Farms. Must bring picnics for adventures, must bring picnics.

I would love to say that we came home laden with food and I cooked this fantastic, simple, farm fresh meal. I would love to say that, but we got home at 6:00 pm and both the Monster and the baby needed to eat NOW. Sadly leftover pizza was the quick option. But we'll be at the market tomorrow to say hello to our new friends and pick up the newly appreciated bounty from the market stall.

Innisfail Growers
The Jungle Farm
Edgar Farms
Country Drive.ca