24 December, 2010

Merry Christmas

It seems rather obvious that most of us are gathering with family over the next few days. Whether family means the neighbours next door or the entire familia at your parent's house, there are likely to be a few familiar treat on the table.

For me that means a big Ukrainian feast, followed by Christmas Tree bun, a fantastic gourmet feast, and more hot cocoa than anyone possibly needs. Don't forget about the rogalki, the shortbread, the rum balls, and definitely the booze. (Have you ever noticed how Christmas is much more enjoyable now that you can drink in front of your parents?)

As a parent myself now I was fighting crowds and crossing fingers. There I was in Canadian Tire, not quite begging Santa to come through for me. The Monster asked for a water gun in her letter to Santa. A water gun, in December. While I waited for a very, very kind elf to check the basement of Canadian Tire for a random water gun I browsed the candy aisle. That's when I came across the Misty Mints.

These were a favourite holiday treat in my family. Only for Christmas. We hoarded our favourite colours, even though they all taste the same. They aren't even real chocolate, but are so tasty. And full of memories.

When the elf returned, miraculously, with a couple of soakers, I grabbed a few boxes of Misty Mints to share with my family. Santa will still be the popular guy with my four year old. And maybe my family peace can be negotiated with some pseudo chocolate. Merry Christmas.

What will you be sharing this week?

I'm taking some time off for the holidays. See you in the New Year!

19 December, 2010

Sunday Mornings

It's time to say goodbye.

This week marks the last week of operation for the Calgary Farmers' Market at the Currie Barracks. In February they are scheduled to open in their new location. In the meantime, you can definitely visit the Kingsland Market.

We moved to Calgary seven and a half years ago. As we struggled with the adjustment to a new city while obligations kept us going back to Edmonton the Calgary Farmers' Market opened. We'd been so used to buying all our groceries at the Old Strathcona Market at home. We had our Saturday routine of quiet morning, the market, brunch, a dog walk, and some lazy time. It was awesome.

In Calgary, however, we really struggled to establish any sort of weekend routine aside from ordering pizza on Friday, drinking too much beer, and watching a hell of a lot of home improvement TV. We tried the Crossroads Market. It's good, but it never felt like the right fit for us. It was winter, so the outside market at Hillhurst Sunnyside wasn't an option (but traffic makes it difficult as it is).

Then the Calgary Farmers' Market opened. I'm pretty sure we went there on one of the first weekends. It was close, we met some great folks, and the food was great. We've been going pretty much every weekend since.

At first we were in and out, food in hand, rather quickly. Say hello to our favourite vendors, buy some groceries, and back home for more home improvement TV. Then we had kids. One of my first outings after a C-section was to the market. Even with The Monster as a baby we went and now lingered. Once the bouncy castle was a non-lethal option for her we stayed, played, ate, and then shopped. Coffee and tea in hand, of course.

In time, we've not only got to know the producers we buy from and their staff, but the food vendors who sell us our lunch, the balloon man, market staff, and an infinite number of other market goers. Vendors and staff ask about my knees and exclaim over the growth of the girls. When Smilosaurus/Death Wish decides to wander off people know who she is and stop her. This place is our Sunday morning home.

Just today we sat with our odd combination of waffles, pakoras, blintz, chai, and coffee, chatting with our table mates. (I'm not sure we've ever sat by ourselves for lunch.) The couple we sat with looked like they could have been models for Mr. and Mrs. Claus. We spent 45 minutes eating and chatting about organic farming and the history of large agriculture, in between cutting waffles and cuddles. Last week we chatted with two other folks about gifted and geeky kids. It didn't matter who or what, we've always had a friendly time there.

There are so many market options in the city now, fantastic options. Each one will have their benefits and downsides. Like us, those factors will change for you depending on your life circumstances. If it wasn't for our CSA membership we never would have ventured to Hillhurst-Sunnyside, for example, because the traffic is brutal from our end of town. But it is a great market. We haven't been to them all and I'm certainly willing to check them out. You should too.
I'll admit, I'm a bit worried that the new location will be too slick, too mall like. I'm more than willing to give it a good Sunday morning chance. Many of our favourite vendors will be there and I don't want to lose their food or our relationship. The girls are going to be without a bouncy castle for months, I hope they survive!

(As for dinner tonight, do wings and a beer count? Hubby and I had hot parent date of Christmas shopping with the girls after our trip to the market. We celebrated starting and finishing in a matter of hours with a trip to the bar.)

17 December, 2010

Gingerbread Cake

This is the cake that very nearly saved my life. Not changed my life, saved my life.

I have a very bad habit of waking in the middle of the night and snacking. I totally blame the tiny bladder I was blessed with, it wakes me and I'm left with nothing to do but snack before I try and get back to sleep. One April morning I awoke and tried to talk myself out of the extra ten steps to the kitchen for a piece of leftover gingerbread cake. I have no will power when fully awake, let alone at 3 am.

There I found myself, a piece of cake in hand and staring out the window when I noticed an orange glow. It took a few seconds to register that the glow wasn't actually supposed to be there. And a few seconds longer to realize that the glow meant fire.

Hubby's car was parked behind our garage on a parking pad. The car was the 1975 Triumph TR6 he bought a decade before. For years it had been in need to repair. In our garage sat the engine and an extra transmission. We'd moved 6 months earlier and he borrowed a flat bed to transport it all 3 hours down the highway. He knew exactly what he was going to do to the fix that car.

Having it lit on fire wasn't part of the plan.

In that eventual moment when I realized the car was on fire I screamed for him. He came running out, yelling at me to pick up the phone and call 911, then raced outside to grab the fire extinguisher from our daily driver in the garage. The garage two feet away from the burning car. I'm freaking out while the 911 operator is quite calmly and kindly reminding me that cars blow up and perhaps we should not be standing in front of the windows, let alone trying to put it out ourselves. That's when Hubby reminds me that there is no engine in the car and the gas tank would be empty. I'm obviously not very smart when faced with fire.

Fire trucks come and with very little ceremony the flames are doused in just minutes. The facts all point to someone having thrown accelerant on the hood of the car and tossing a match. By the time I'd discovered the fire there wasn't much left.

The garage was also hot and had to be hosed down on one side, siding eventually replaced. If the garage had gone up we would have lost our other car, the one with a full tank of gas, and who knows what else. As sad as Hubby was at losing his car, we were thankful that that was all we lost.

We came in the house as the sun was coming up and cracked a beer, a bit charred ourselves. When I went to put the bottles away I noticed the cake. One piece of cake fallen on the counter, with a single bite taken.

Peterson Gingerbread Cake
This is the recipe of my sister-in-law's mother. Their family likes it with Bird's Custard Sauce or even cream cheese icing. I'm partial to it with some maple butter. It is moist and heady with gingerbread.

1/2 cup shortening (I use butter)
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup molasses
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1 cup hot (not boiling) water

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8'' by 8'' baking pan.
2. Cream shortening/butter. Gradually add the sugar, then the egg. Beat until light and fluffy. Add the molasses.
3. In a medium bowl whisk together the dry ingredients. Add to the batter, 1/2 cup at a time, alternating with 1/4 cup water. Beat until smooth after each addition. Pour into pan.
4. Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.
1 cup molasses

14 December, 2010

Kingsland Farmers' Market Opens

There's a new market in town. Well, not entirely new. Kingsland Farmer's Market opened this past summer, with a strictly outdoor show. Now, the indoor show is open.

The Kingsland Farmers' Market is a player in the not quite saturated market game in Calgary. There was a lot of controversy about the Calgary Farmers' Market this past year, controversy I have no interest in getting involved in. The Kingsland Market is a welcome response to all of it.

I say welcome because there is a host of new vendors at this market. Well, new to this regular of CFM and the Hillhurst Sunnyside Market. I am also totally biased because, with good knees, I could walk to this market.

The indoor market opened last week. The building, a not quite renovated completely former car dealership, is more spacious than expected. While only a few dozen of the vendors were open for the first day of operations, I can see that there is room for a lot of interesting sellers. As the building gets completed and the word gets out, I can see this being an attractive spot for vendors. Rumour has it that some new to Calgary vendors will be there soon.

It is also an attractive spot for shoppers. Already there is a wide variety of vendors with produce, meat, dairy, and bakery options. When the market started there was a really strong focus, on paper, for the make/bake/grow commitment. For the most part, that is there. But there are some fruit resellers there - mangoes can be found at times in the midst of Southern Alberta cucumbers. Then there are the treats - pastry, chocolate, wine, mead, cookies, and more pastry. Seriously, two great pie options here. That includes these gimmicky but very good pie pops.

The location is ideal for more that people in my neighbourhood. I predict that it will hit commuters well with the Macleod Trail location. If you commute that way how could you not stop? You have no excuse now.

Maybe it was because there were more vendors than shoppers that first morning, but I was hooked when one vendor loaned me cash when the ATM was down, another captured my runaway toddler, and one more kept the bag of groceries I forgot in her stall until I returned to claim them. I'm not saying you can't get great service at the grocery store, but in the months, as I get to know these people I hope that we can all laugh about the day my Evil Genius stole your stickers and ate all your goat cheese samples.

12 December, 2010

I Tried

You win some, you lose some.

Today I lost the dinner battle. The girls didn't want to eat due to our own parental mistake of a late snack. We sent The Monster to her room for having a snippy attitude. (She now says "Double" instead of "Oh Man" when she's extra frustrated because that is short for "Oh Man, doubled.") Frankly, dinner wasn't all that great either.

It was supposed to be good. It was a meal that was going to make my preggo sister-in-law jealous when she logged in from the office tomorrow. Sticky, slightly spicy ribs, roasted potatoes, and coleslaw with orange and pomegranates. For dessert, gingerbread cake, her mom's recipe.

The ribs were tough. I cook them about once every few years, so that is totally my fault in assuming I knew what the hell I was doing. The sauce was great, a combo of the tomatoes and onions roasted with the ribs, tomato marmalade, molasses, sambal olek, and mustard. We would have been better off licking the sauce from the ribs than trying to, literally, pretend we were lions to get the girls to eat. Thankfully the coleslaw was tasty and I've got roasted potatoes down pat. The gingerbread cake tasted pretty good too, although, it fell.

No good pictures of our meal, no great leftovers. When I eat some gingerbread cake with my tea and a Bosc pear tomorrow morning it should be right around the time my sister-in-law arrives at work and starts her day. Know that I was thinking of you.

It's the thought that counts.

08 December, 2010

Caught in the Act

Have you ever considered boycotting the entire notion of Christmas baking? Frankly, I'm sure most of us have at one time or another. We're so busy during December and stopping to bake a couple of dozen cookies for a swap, a party, or simply to steal from the freezer for the rest of the month is the last thing we want to do.

Then we see the covers of the magazines and every single one is a Christmas tree arrangement of glittery cookies tempting us back into the grocery store for butter and sugar. Our kids/partners beg for a batch of shortbread or some esoteric treat their mom used to make. Or the guilt hits.

Every year I swear I'm not going to do it. Maybe a batch of Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread or Peppermint Bark. But THAT'S IT.

And every year I bake 3 or 4 more kinds of cookies. Then I pretty much eat them all myself. What a Ninny.

So this year I vowed I wouldn't do it. I swore to my husband and my jiggly tummy that I wouldn't even buy the butter.

Then The Monster started prepping for the concert at school. It was all about The Gingerbread Man. In fact, a reenactment of the story. She's been walking around reciting the damn thing non stop. Then she asked to bake. I suggested gingerbread men. This brought on tears, full can't catch your breath sobs out of fear that our gingerbread men would run away after we baked them. We settled on gingerbread penguins and moose. Thank goodness there are no stories about runaway moose. At least none with catchy songs attached.

I pulled out the icing sugar, sprinkles, and ridiculously fake food colourings. It was craft time/kitchen time/treat time as far as the girls were concerned. It was a messy way to kill an hour. That's how I approached it at first. Still a Ninny.

The messier it got, however, the happier we all were. Grandma was visiting and happily iced the requested purple and pink penguins. We eventually laughed at the number of sprinkles underfoot, joking that one of us was going to wipe out like it was a pile of ball bearings and we were in a cartoon. My counters are stained and my kids ate more icing than cookies. There wasn't a single tantrum, by them or me.

No longer is Christmas baking about a pile of cookies in the freezer for the guests that might pop by. It isn't even about treats to share with the neighbours over tea. It is about process, the act of making. Baking and decorating cookies with the girls is like Jackson Pollack at a canvas.

Who cares that the cookies will likely not be eaten for lack of enough icing or the wrong sprinkles? They'll make me a little more Santa like, in spirit and with my jiggle.

For the record. We used this recipe from Julie for the cookies. The only change I made is that we cooked them for 10-11 minutes so they would be a bit softer.

05 December, 2010


I promise you that I cooked. Aside from our regular Sunday jaunt to the market, I actually cooked nearly all day. Unfortunately, I can't share it with you.

Everything I made today was for one article or another. None of which are due to come out until the New Year at the earliest. That means I can only tell you that I made apple kugel, butterscotch pudding, blackeyed peas, cardamom cookies, potstickers, and something called sabzi polo. I can't share a recipe or a photo. I'm sorry. If it helps, we ate this very eclectic meal for dinner and we are very, very full.

This is one of the advantages and disadvantages of the food writing gig. Sure, dinner gets made out of your work. That means your groceries are, in part, paid for. But after a day of cooking you are left with this really odd meal that you are too full to eat anyway.

Full confession: I totally sat and read a book with a beer in my hand when the light went and my mother-in-law arrived for a visit. Thanks, Susan, for playing hide and seek with the dinosaurs while I did nothing.

Don't get me wrong. I am not complaining about this new life I've chosen. I am getting more writing gigs. Being on my own with Hubby away as much as he's been is much more manageable now... sort of. And, no offense to my old colleagues, I don't miss the desk job at all. If anything, the hard part is giving everything the attention it needs. That includes the girls.

Truly, though, is there a mother in the world who thinks she spends enough time with her kids? Okay, quality time actually paying attention to them and doing nurturing activities?

If you are one of those mothers then I'm probably not the writer for you. Smilosaurus is losing her voice with a never ending cold and the realization that she might not be able to talk tomorrow made me very happy. Ridiculously happy.

So the kids watch a bit too much PBS Kids when I have a deadline. I'm not losing sleep over it. I feed them, and I feed them well. Tonight was a perfect example of that. Of course, with all that food I made all they wanted to eat was the spinach salad I served on the side.

Then Hubby still needed a snack. "There is nothing that goes better with kubasa than beer." We are a classy bunch.

01 December, 2010

Peppermint Chocolava

Christmas baking has begun. In my world nothing Christmas can come before December 1st. Even that is pushing it. Then again, we are a house that leaves the tree up until at least the second week of January (for Ukrainian Christmas). A 6 week season is a bit much.

This month I have a cookie feature and a holiday potluck article in the Holiday 2010 issue of What's Up. Included are these Peppermint Chocolava Cookies. Along with some Hazelnut, Cherry, and Cocoa Nib Shortbread and Lemon Sugar Cookies. Pick up the issue for a fun treat, along with tips for holiday baking with your kids.

28 November, 2010

Feeling Green

Can you tell what team we were cheering for?

Dinner tonight was in front of the TV. I know, not exactly a proper Sunday dinner. It was the Grey Cup, though, and that means a more than slight bending of the rules. (For my US and International readers, the Grey Cup is the big finale game of the Canadian Football League.) Dinner tonight was also at my parents' house. Seeing as they are from Saskatchewan, there was some green in the dinner.

We gathered, with the girls and my nephew running circles around us, in front of the TV. There was a pile of food. Mostly frozen puff pastry treats from President's Choice (not bad, all things considered). There was my Dad's salsa. There always has to be Dad's salsa when we get together. Then the spice continued with a giant vat of chili. A few beers too. Just a few, I was driving.

Saskatchewan lost. Seeing as I'm indifferent to football it didn't bother me. I was too busy remembering our Grey Cups as kids. Back then all available surfaces would be covered with Grey Cup tickets, a sort of lottery ticket. There would be score predictions on each one. It was my job to keep an eye on the tickets and remove those no longer eligible when a touchdown was scored. I kind of missed those tickets tonight. Instead, I kept myself busy with chatting, keeping the girls from driving my father nuts, and eating.

It's been an odd sort of weekend. I don't feel as bad as the Saskatchewan QB, but I'm not ready to put on my party hat. Instead, I want to just eat more salsa and drink more beer. I'm settled for the night, no more driving. I think that's just what I'll do.

24 November, 2010

No Empty Plates

The American Thanksgiving holiday is bearing down. Showing all the regular signs of excess - over eating, over drinking, and even over socializing for many. Throughout the US, Canada, and the rest of the world, however, there are many staring down at empty plates. There are parents figuring out how to make one drumstick feed many or how to explain to their kids that there is no feast like they've seen on every single TV show and commercial.

If you've been reading the last few weeks of posts you've probably sensed my growing stress and frustration with parenting while Hubby works out of town. Aside from the loneliness, being home alone means you start staring at every corner of chipped paint, drop of condensation on the ceiling, and hair ball with growing disgust. If only he was home to deal with the house stuff. If only he was home to work on the basement so the family wasn't tripping over each other and our things. If only.

The truth is, I'm totally being selfish. We live in a house we own. Okay, the bank still owns a portion of it, but we can afford to make the payments. I am working part-time as a freelancer, without the worry of having to make enough to buy groceries. I have the luxury of purchasing most of the groceries at the farmers' market from local and mostly organic suppliers, including my meat.

I have a wonderfully middle class life and I should just shut up when I start whining about when I'll have a family room in the basement.

Jennifer Perillo (she, of the chocolate chip cookie fame) invited a number of other bloggers to share an empty plate this Thanksgiving. It serves as a reminder that while we chow down, many others will not. She is also invited readers to donate to Share Our Strength, to help combat child hunger.

Here, in Calgary, I also invite you to think of donating to the Calgary Food Bank (or the food bank in your own city. Me, I'm making a donation to Made by Momma. Based in Calgary as well, it is an organization of moms helping moms in need. Something that I can truly identify with.

Please think of helping out others and paying it forward with your Thanksgiving this year.

Other bloggers giving thanks:

22 November, 2010


It was the perfect Sunday dinner, minus the tantrums before hand. Roast beef, mashed potatoes, brussels sprouts and carrots. There was even chocolate cake for dessert. There was no gravy.

Half hour before we were to sit down Hubby informs me that he isn't feeling well. That perhaps it is now his turn with the tummy bug making its way through our house. Sigh. It was at that point that I nixed the gravy. Actually, I might have told the gravy to go do something else.

As I realized last week, Hubby really is my audience. The girls could have cared less about a big roast beef dinner. In fact, they only wanted the chocolate cake. But I made them sit with me while Hubby moaned in front of the hockey game. Only one of them ate anything, both spent the entire meal screaming or singing, and I fought tears of frustration over my now cold roast beef. There may have been a tantrum or two as well.

The frustration got to me. One was sent to her room, the other to a quiet spot by the front door. I spent 20 minutes cleaning up after dinner saying, "No, you may not come out yet." Bring on the therapist's bill if it turns out they are gay and I control their honesty by my need to do the dishes in peace.

Honestly folks? I'm just cracking. Too much stress, too much work, too much single parenting, too much whining (on everyone's part). I think it's time to regroup. Anyone have a Mexican vacation they want to give me? A cabin in the woods with a personal chef/masseuse? No? I guess I'll settle for a hot bath, a good scotch, and a trashy book.

It was a good meal. It really was. Maybe, just sometimes, I should give in an let them eat the damn cake and we'd all be happier.

17 November, 2010

Love = Chocolate Chip Cookies

For the record, a chocolate chip cookie is not just a chocolate chip cookie. Put aside the preferences for chewy or chunky, nuts or pure, cocoa or not. A chocolate chip cookie at its most basic is pretty much love.

Growing up they are the special treat doled out by Mom, whether she made them or not. Our first forays into adulthood are filled with Mom's replacements where we can get them on the occasion of loneliness, break-ups, girls' nights, and stress. When we get our own kitchen we bake them for our boyfriends and girlfriends and friends to give them comfort and happiness and a morsel of love wrapped in chocolate in butter. Then we have kids and we start the cycle all over, baking together and for them to pass on the love.

No one ever answers cinnamon pinwheel when asked what kind of cookies we should bake.

When the controversy over this post, by a pastry chef no less, blew up on my Twitter Feed all I could think about was chocolate chip cookies. It seems other felt the same way too. Check out this post from Abby Dodge, one from Gail at One Tough Cookie, and another one from Jennifer Perillo.

For days all I thought about were chocolate chip cookies. But Mama's had a bit too much love lately, if you know what I mean. Then Jennie responded and I couldn't not make cookies. And if you're going to to do it, then do it with this recipe and do it a few times.

I've been meaning to test out this concept of letting cookie dough rest since the original New York Times piece came out. Frankly though, there is never a world where I can make cookie dough and not bake it right away. Mama needs her love, as do little girls who helped make the cookies and fully expect one RIGHT NOW.

So, I planned a little experiment. One night, after the girls were asleep, I made the cookie dough, using this recipe from Jennifer Perillo. By far it is the best recipe I've ever made and she's happily letting me share it here.

All but two chunks went into the fridge for their little rest. Seriously, who can make dough and not eat a cookie? Waiting is the hardest part of baking chocolate chip cookies. I baked off two chunks for a late night snack.

Those two cookies, however, were not going to be enough to let me know the difference between a fresh dough and one that has rested for 36 hours. But they were tasty! That meant another bowl of dough was made. I used the exact same recipe and made them the exact same way. The only difference is that I had a 2 year old helping me the second time.

While The Monster was at preschool we baked trays and trays of cookies. I was worried about telling them apart, but it turns out that isn't a problem. The rested dough gets more golden in the oven and doesn't spread as much as the fresh dough. Difference #1.

Now I certainly don't need 6 dozen chocolate chip cookies in my house. We took most of the cookies to the playground for an after school treat, and an experiment. I walked around to all the parents and the teacher, asking them to try one of each cookie. I wanted to see if they could taste a difference and if so, which one they preferred. (The kids got some too, but they didn't care at all which bag they came from.)

The first surprise to me was that everyone could tell a difference between the two cookies, by taste alone. It was a subtle difference to me when the cookies were warm, at home. At the park, however, the difference was more pronounced. The fresh dough cookies taste sweeter. Difference #2.

People were trying to guess the difference and the guesses ran from the addition to honey or more sugar to potentially more butter in the freshly baked dough. The people who preferred these ones all thought they tasted more rich.

The people who preferred the rested dough cookies, however, often called them more decadent or gourmet. Personally, I found the difference was the cloying sweetness and that the fresh dough was almost a bit acidic, tasting it at the back of my tongue more than anything. The flavour, overall, of the rested dough is more sophisticated and frankly, mature. Difference #3.

What makes them technically different? Resting allows the liquids in the dough to be better absorbed. This results in a drier, firmer dough that bakes better. Hence, less puddling in the rested dough cookies. And a better texture overall when you bake the cookies to a precise just underbaked. It also encouraged better caramelization of the dough.

The remaining dough in my fridge (from both batches) was baked off the next day, topped with a sprinkling of fleur de sel. By far, my favourite version.

It's winter here now, I'm single parenting again, and I already have dough resting in the fridge for some post school and snow romp love.

Jennifer Perillo's Very Best Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes 36 3 inch cookes (or 4 dozen slightly smaller ones)*

4 cups flour (18 ounces)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 sticks butter, softened (8 ounces butter) (1 cup)
2 cups sugar (15 ounces)
2 tbsp molasses
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate discs (or chocolate chips)

In large bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Beat butter, sugar and molasses until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla extract. Beat until well mixed. Add the flour mixture and mix until just combined. Stir in the chocolate discs (chips). Let sit in the refrigerator overnight before baking, and may be stored this way for up to two days. Yes, I realize this is the very hard part.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with silicon mats or parchment paper. Gently form dough into 1 1/2 to 2 inch (1 to 1 1/2 inch) balls and place 2 to 3 inches apart on prepared baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes (13 minutes in my oven) on middle rack. Remove from oven and let cool on pan for 2 more minutes. Transfer cookies to a rack to cool completely if you have any will power left.

*The notes in italics are my personal changes due to ingredients on hand, preferences, and my oven.

14 November, 2010

For an Audience

Love stories are as varied as the people that make them. We didn't have farts at our engagement, but there was a fair amount of bird poop. Hubby proposed on an outcropping of rocks on the Ingonish beach. What's a few dead crab shells and a pound of poop to commitment?

I've spent the last few days devouring Gluten Free Girl and The Chef. More than a cookbook, it reads like a romance novel, minus the bad hair, pecs, and euphemisms. The subtitle does refer to the love story, and it is. A love story between two people, a love story of food and cooking. It is captivating, very funny, and full of the romance we all need in life. Even if you don't cook you want to read this book. Ask my girls, they've been flipping the page exclaiming YUMMY! at every turn.

Hubby has been home for 2 days now. That's 2 days of not working, a first for the last 6 weeks. This means he's exhausted and cranky. I'm bursting with the desire to talk about home renos, preschool gossip, and bedtime routines. Oh, and trying not to run screaming from the house to take a break. What we are doing is retreating, sleeping, and trying to find a little bit of rhythm again. Until he leaves again in another day.

One thing I've realized that with cooking for just me and the girls is that I really, really like cooking for my husband. He's an eater, not a cook. He's my audience.

When I can fill his belly with a warm meal that he didn't have to get from a crappy, small town restaurant I feel great. It isn't about being a good wife, I've already got that down. Food is love and I am totally guilty of showing my love with food.

Inspired by Shauna James Ahern and Daniel Ahern I decided to spend the weekend in the kitchen. Bolognese and cookies yesterday. Sunday, a Braised Pork Stew with Cabbage and Caraway from the book. I followed the recipe exactly this time - not something I do often - thus I'm not comfortable sharing it here. We were all filled with love, or just some lovely herbal, mustardy, and nourishing comfort.

If you want the fart reference and the recipe, then you best buy the book.

10 November, 2010

A Run-In, With Eggs

Every now and then you have one of those eerie, weird run-ins with your past. The kind that remind you of just how far you've come in life and how happy you are with that journey. And sometimes you just run into a friend's ex girlfriend.

Sunday morning I gave the girls their bread with butter and honey. That wasn't going to cut it for me. I was also facing a surfeit of eggs. Instead of my usual scrambled eggs with salsa I pulled out a memory from our long ago partying days. We still lived in Edmonton and would drive down to Calgary on a regular basis to go out drinking with friends. For a while there we would stay at the house of our friend's girlfriend. One morning she made us these scrambled eggs.

They were the best scrambled eggs ever.

Normally I shun from such platitudes that involve the expression best ever. More than once I've been disappointed. But I've been more frequently disappointed with bad scrambled eggs.

A's technique was also very simple and perfect for lazy, hungover people. Now, as I'm older and wholly unable to manage a hangover, it is still perfect. Perfect for lazy mornings while the girls sit, mesmerized by Cat in the Hat, and I sip tea. Perfect for long brunches with friends or little girls.

Eggs and butter on low heat. Stir a lot. Cook very slowly. Eat the creamiest scrambled eggs ever.

Now that I'm kind of getting the hang of the single parenting thing I can, without too much stress, take two highly energetic and dramatic girls to the farmers' market by myself. This week we faced our usual challenges of impatience and spilled drinks. But we also embraced the energy of the bouncy castle, meeting an Olympian, loading up on Honeycrisp apples and brussels sprouts, and dancing like maniacs to the buskers. There my kids were, one moving her hips like a 4 year old shouldn't and the other nuzzled into me because it was past naptime, when A walks by.

The same A that showed me how to make those scrambled eggs. We haven't seen each other in at least 5 years. The relationship with our friend long since ended and our two kids later, it was a somewhat shocking reunion. We chatted and shared a quick story or two. I found myself only mildly freaked out by seeing my history and my past all together there. Mostly I found that I was proud of where I was - a mom with a hardworking husband and my crazy kids. Pleased that I wasn't waking up hungover in a sort of stranger's townhouse anymore, but by two kids bounding in to cry about bad dreams and lost blankies and could I please turn on their shows?

I never told her that I'd made her eggs just that morning.

The Maybe Almost Best Scrambled Eggs Ever
Serves how ever many you want, just multiply the recipe accordingly. Your cooking time will increase with more eggs and you may want to use a pot accordingly sized to the eggs you use.

1 tbsp butter
3 eggs
salt and pepper

1. In a small saucepan on low heat melt the butter. As soon as it is melted crack in your eggs. Stir well with a fork to beat the eggs well.
2. Cook over low heat, stirring quite frequently with the fork. Total cook time may take anywhere from 20-30 minutes.
3. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Optional - top with sauteed mushrooms, greens, or slow roasted tomatoes, if desired. Just please don't top with ketchup.

07 November, 2010

Iron Will

He would have loved it.

Steak sandwiches with carmelized onions and radishes. Served on fig and fennel bread from The Bakery at the Market. The last of our CSA beets, roasted and tossed with white balsamic vinegar. Spinach salad with pomegranates.

Hubby is away again. Was he ever home? We all miss him terribly He misses us. Everyone is exhausted and cranky. We have to think big picture for this short term sacrifice of our normal family life. Dammit, it's hard. I was very tempted to serve popcorn for dinner again but steaks that I took out a few days ago needed to be cooked. And I thought we girls needed to sit down to a proper meal. Away from the TV, the computer, and a million library books.

So we sat together over some red meat and songs. And we talked about Daddy.

03 November, 2010


Hunting - According to a Preschooler

1. Get a Gun
2. Find and Animal
3. Kill it
4. Eat it.

Oh and Steps 5 and 6 involve bodily functions but I'd rather not get into specifics.

31 October, 2010

Go! And Stop

"Can I have some candy? I don't care, I'm going to pull down your underwear!"

"Trick or Treat. Smell my feet. Give me something good to eat. Not too big, not too small. Just the size of Montreal!"

These and the the screams of More Candy! More Candy! are echoing in my ear. The girls are off, speeding through the neighbourhod as fast as their costumes and legs will let them, trick-or-treating their hearts out. It may seem a little young at 2 and 4 to let them go. If you've got a problem with that, keep it to yourself.

Besides, who do you think gets all the candy?

Before I sent them out they were fed with a proper dinner. I'd love to say it was quick but, despite their impatience they still spent a half hour chatting and practicing their Halloween chants. This wasn't the night for a huge Sunday dinner. Roast, potatoes, and cake for dessert? Not going to hold the attention of my girls. Or frankly me, after a 10 day stint on single parenting.

Instead, I pulled out a weekday favourite: calzones. With a puffy, light dough that comes together quickly I can make dinner in about 20 minutes of active effort. It only needs an hour to rise and about 10 minutes to bake. The hardest part is waiting for them to cool so you don't burn your tongue on the fillings.

The recipe was developed for an article on after-school snacks for What's Up Families. Since then it's become our go-to pizza crust recipe in addition to the calzones. For pizza, stretch out the dough, top with sauce, tomato marmalade, garlic oil, or pesto and all your favourite toppings.

Makes 8 hearty calzones

Tomato Sauce
Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
Toppings - peppers, ham, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, fresh tomatoes, onions, olives, pepperoni

1 egg, beaten

1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees F. One section at a time roll into a rectangle about 8 inches by 6 inches. Cut in half at the 4 inch mark.
2. Top each half with a tablespoon of tomato sauce, leaving a half inch without sauce around all the edges. Add a half cup of shredded cheese and toppings of choice.
3. Fold each calzone in half, pinching and rolling over the edges to seal. Brush each calzone with the beaten egg.
4. Bake for 10 minutes. Let cool completely before eating as fillings will be very, very hot.

27 October, 2010

Hot Cocoa for Brett

Not surprisingly, it snowed in Alberta this week. Saskatchewan too. (Hubby is snowed in there right now.) For all the grumbling of my mom and mother-in-law, it is actually expected. I remember more Halloween's with snow than without.

Snow means snowsuits, snow forts, snowball fights, wet mittens, and hot cocoa upon re-entry to the centrally heated house. Most kids these days are quite used to the package of hot chocolate, full of sugar and preservatives. Well, they don't know the last part, but they are used to the packaged taste.

I was watching some of my nephews and niece yesterday. All five kids ventured into the snow as soon as school was out. When the four youngest came in I set to making them a little treat. It was all for them, I swear. My 6 year old niece and Smilosaurus were keen on helping. I hope my brother doesn't mind them sitting on the counter. But they were quite into the whole process. I'm writing this post so my niece has the recipe for cocoa, she was trying really hard to memorize it yesterday.

Hot Cocoa - The Basics
1 serving

1 cup milk
1 tbsp cocoa
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla

1. Heat the milk in a pot on the stove (ask Mom or Dad to help if Auntie isn't around)
2. In a small bowl, stir together the cocoa and sugar. Add a few tablespoons of warm milk. Stir well to make a runny paste.
3. Stir the cocoa and sugar paste into the hot milk. Add vanilla. Serve with marshmallows.

If you want to make this a little fancy, try some garam masala, chai spices, peppermint extract, orange zest, or raspberry syrup. And definitely add marshmallows. Personally, I am a huge fan of these ones from Aimee.

22 October, 2010

Friday Favourites - Channeling Baba

As I learn to embrace my domesticity I find myself clinging to objects that celebrate my Baba. She was the stereotypical Baba - tiny, barely spoke a word of English, a garden the envy of Martha Stewart, and she thought everyone was too skinny. All summer she gardened and put food up for winter. All winter she cross-stitched and cooked. I'll never live up to her gardening, but I can embrace her other domestics arts.

This was her apron, just a cheap, commercial thing probably purchased at the Nu-Way store in tiny Hafford, Saskatchewan. Maybe she made it from material from the store? It's machine stitched, though, so I doubt it. She added her own flare with the extra large cross-stitch. I have two of these and I wear one every day. I would probably wear it all day but it is quite likely that I would forget I had it on when I went to pick up The Monster at preschool.

And the measuring cups are a new addition to the kitchen, purchased by a dear friend to celebrate my recent domesticity. They are such a fun treat in the kitchen and using them does indeed make me think of my Baba. With three dolls in the Matryoshka set I like to think it is three generations cooking together.

19 October, 2010

Backseat Adventure - Halifax Seaport Market

Scaling the steps and the crowds of the Halifax Farmers' Market in the Alexander Keith's Brewery is where I turned into a farmers' market regular. The stone hallways, dark corridors, over-crowded landing spaces, the cacophony of vendors and buyers, and the refuge of steps where I ate my noodles at the end of the trip combined to make a comforting and chaotic shopping experience.

Every Saturday in University I would empty my forest green Eddie Bauer backpack, leftover from high school, and make my way from one end of the peninsula that is Halifax to the other. I could only fill that backpack, using student transportation - my feet - as I was. Except in the fall when a pumpkin was in order. On those days I would carry my pumpkin in front of me, a harbinger of pregnancy much later in life.

There was the Polish spot where I could get some garlic sausage and a pretty passable pyrohy. One man selling mushrooms from his dark barns. The 50 cent piece of maple fudge I got every week. My loaf of bread, always purchased last, even though it meant backtracking. (Walking the market was like walking in IKEA, minus the arrows on the floor.) And I always ended where I could buy brioche and apples. The eggiest of brioche and the most wonderful apples that 14 years after leaving Halifax I desperately miss.

It was with more than a little nostalgia that I planned a market visit on our recent trip to Nova Scotia. We were staying at the Westin, right across from the recently redeveloped Seaport area. I thought it was just the cruise ship terminal and Pier 21. The signs for the farmers' market thoroughly confused me.

Halifax Farmers' Market is the oldest market in North America. And these signs were proclaiming that. But it was for the Seaport market. What about the Brewery? A little digging turns out that the new market is the old market, just moved, but the Brewery Market is still open. Confused? I was, so I committed to checking out the new market.

The completely updated Pier 20, located right next to the cruise ship terminal, housing the Halifax Seaport Market is a green building. Solar panels, windmills, and a garden on the roof And a living wall inside plus geothermal heat make it a very green building. A large open space, divided into the main floor and a second floor loft make up one immense shopping area.

There is still the cacophony of sound, and the crowds were even more ridiculous than in the Brewery, but the energy was not lacking. Nor were the vendors. Four long rows of vendors selling seafood, meat, fruit, cheese, tea, crafts, coffee, wool, jam, bread, vegetables nearly to the rafters, and a unique Nova Scotia kindness as you walked by. Not a single fruit reseller to be seen, and a lot of dirty fingernails on the folks passing you your change.

I spoke to a few of the vendors about the move, the ones I can remember from 14 years ago or from more recent trips to Halifax. They said it was certainly an adjustment, but they were happy with the move. They were already seeing more sales at the new market because there were bigger crowds and accessibility was easier. Some maintained a presence at both markets - the Brewery Market is still open and now competing with the Seaport market, only blocks away. One vendor, though, confided that the new market was better and they were going to give up the old one.

It will take some time to settle into the new space. They need another ATM or two, better power hook-ups for vendors, and eventually they will be open more days of the week (only Saturday for now). Judging from the crowds, however, Halifax has already warmly welcomed the new space.

As for me, I was sad to miss my beloved russet apples (too early in the season). A few samples of wine and scotch from Nova Scotia made up for that. So did people watching from the second story loft while I munched on the best dolmades I've ever had and a fine baklava from competing Lebanese and Egyptian vendors. Then there was the delicate seaglass necklace I found and the aptly names Dragon's Breath blue cheese I carried home on the plane. I'll admit that did miss the mysterious corridors of the Brewery, but not enough to complain. And the new market was enough to make me renew my fantasies of moving back to Halifax.

17 October, 2010

More Pyrohy

Pyrohy, I've decided, are a perfect Sunday dinner. The main reason for this is because Sunday morning many of us think to make bacon. Then we are too lazy to do the dishes before the birthday parties and errands so that pan with bacon grease is still sitting on the stove when the pyrohy are ready. And that pan is begging to be reheated and filled with just-boiled pyrohy for dinner. Yeah, Sunday.

Of course, I had to make the pyrohy first. Thankfully today I had company and a really well-timed nap from the girls. Andree and Gwendolyn came over for a little, old fashioned pyrohy bee. Well, really, I got the games started by making the dough then put them to work making pyrohy. And they were stellar for their first time ever!

We stuck with traditional fillings of mashed potato with cheese and bacon, plain mashed potato, and sauerkraut. Potatoes from our CSA and sauerkraut courtesy of my parent's suburban kitchen. I prepped it all this morning. And taking a cue from the lady's at my parent's church - home of a ridiculously large bimonthly pyrohy supper - we scooped and rolled our mashed potatoes ahead of time. Makes for faster and easier folding of the pyrohy.

Andree said that my babbling and instructions was like watching a cooking show. Minus the couch and red wine! I was a little chatty with pyrohy stories, who knew I had so much to say? Of course, that may have more to due with being surrounded by the kids for weeks now with little adult company than my extensive knowledge of pyrohy.

Did I mention the single parenting? That would also be why I needed pyrohy for dinner, with kale on the side, roasted carrots, kubasa, and the cookies both Gwendolyn and Andree brought us (chocolate chip with bacon and shortbread). And now I shall sit on the couch and drink my wine, with or without a cooking show.