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.