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.