Saturday, January 31, 2009


Honestly, I don't want to spend another day feeling this low on patience. I feel like a spring that wants to be sprung.
We were fortunate to get out in the snow and wind, and go ice skating at a neighbours' (everyone skating but me and CJ, that is).
But still.
Excerpt from an ongoing conversation, which has been ongoing in this vein ALL DAY LONG (topic interchangeable):
"No one loves me," sayeth Apple-Apple, lying on the floor behind me.
"We all love you," sayeth OCM. "We just want you to take a bath."
"No one ever plays with me. No one ever plays with me when I'm bored."
"You just need to take a bath."
"No, baths are yucky. Baths are disgusting."
"Honey, you just need to take a bath."
"No! You can't make me have a bath anymore!"
I feel like George's dad in Seinfeld screaming SERENITY NOW!
Patience, please!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Flu

This Blog has the flu. Even though it got its flu shot. Apparently, the strain making the rounds wasn't included in the mix. Don't worry about me, however. I am fine. Touch wood and send skyward a hearty prayer.

My children, on the other hand; sigh. One has very nearly recovered the pink of health, and the other, suffering pallidly, is clad in green pajamas, a fuzzy hat with earflaps, and a giant blue blanket. Those affected are school-aged; the other two have thus far escaped. (Touch wood; pray). This morning, things are looking up: the kids are playing together--all four! And I am sneakily watching ... as it all falls apart. Hmm. Excuse me, dear Blog, you'll have to fend for yourself momentarily. Drink your tea.

I'm back. The lull has returned to the living-room. Children quietly reading books and baby happily knocking books off the shelf (his favourite upright occupation).

Last night I went out to shovel snow. That was actually a mental health necessity. I'd been indoors since Sunday; though Sunday we all dragged our post-Robbie Burns selves down to the theatre and while Kevin did clean-up, I played the grand piano on stage, and the kids danced. There are photos on the blog opposite.

My local food round-up evaporated when the Blog lost its appetite. But now that the Blog is cranky and hungry for toast (sure signs of improved health), I can tell you that we're working with a Vegetarian theme this week. Which means the food is only somewhat local. I made a nice big red sauce from the freezer tomatoes and we've had pasta, we've had baked mac & cheese, we've had chili. The kids have been drinking the homemade grape juice as a special treat during illness. Tonight we're planning corn bread and honey-baked lentils. And, as our stores dwindle, I am feeling excited about Nina's buying club starting up again in the spring. Whoo-hoo!!! And an extra whoo-hoo just for the very thought of spring!!!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

25 Random Things

I just wasted, er spent, a ridiculous amount of time doing this "25 random things" exercise on Facebook (it is actually pretty fun, which is why I did it). You just write twenty-five completely random things about yourself. Decided to post it here, too. I've changed one because in the five minutes since I pushed "publish" a better idea came to me.

1. I'm the eldest of five children and the only one with red hair, which I "got" from my great-grandma Ida Snyder. We almost named CJ after her; except he turned out to be a CJ instead.
2. I play piano, some classical, but mostly by ear. I write exceptionally cheesy songs. They always make use of the same four chords.
3. I have a minor in Peace and Conflict Studies.
4. At one point in my life, I was certain I would do a doctorate, but instead became a "terminal masters"; ie. stopped with an MA in English Lit.
5. I played Anne of Green Gables in high school. I taught drama at summer camp.
6. For several years in my early teens, we lived in the country, and I had ponies.
7. I really can't ice skate, but loved roller skating as a kid.
8. I take up jogging every few months, but never stick with it.
9. I met my husband before we'd heard of email, and therefore have a collection of fat letters he wrote to me that spring. They smell like patchouli.
10. Before children, Kevin and I used to go off-road cycling on ski trails.
11. I was homeschooled for a year and a half: grade eight and part of grade nine. This coincided with the ponies.
12. If Albus had been a girl, he would have been named Lucia. If Apple-Apple had been a boy, she would have been Teddy. If Fooey had been a boy, she would have been Walter. For CJ, see above.
13. I worked as a copy editor at a newspaper; it was my only "real" job.
14. My first job was baling hay, age twelve, on the neighbour's farm. And picking stones. He paid us $1.50 an hour, and I was over the moon. Honestly, I would have done it for free.
15. I was born in Hamilton, Ontario. My parents are both American. I have dual citizenship, and feel like I should know more of the history of both countries.
16. I've lived in Ontario, Germany, Ohio, and Nicaragua, and have visited Spain, Switzerland, Belgium, China, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, and Trinidad & Tobago. When I was twenty-one, I drove across the continent with my parents and siblings.
17. My friend Katie, my brother Christian, and I tried to spend the night camping on the barn roof in sleeping bags once. Yes, on top of the roof. Fortunately, we couldn't fall asleep and decided to come inside. Ditto, the time my brothers and I tried to spend the night in the "treehouse" we'd built out of scrap boards.
18. I used to play a lot of card games. Now I can't remember any of the rules.
19. I was in the room when my sister Edna was born. We are twelve and a half years apart, and no one ever guesses we're related when we're side by side.
20. We moved often when I was growing up, and the longest I've lived in one place is here, in the house Kevin and I bought a little over five years ago.
21. I like to walk, in almost any weather.
22. I prefer hanging laundry to dry, and washing dishes by hand.
23. I love cooking from scratch, and baking, but I can't sew or knit, despite having been taught these skills by grandmothers and various other motherly figures at different points in my life.
24. I was more than two weeks overdue, and my mom spent two days being induced before she went into labour. I'm a Capricorn, but sometimes I wonder.
25. I have a knee-jerk resistence to change, but actually thrive on it.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Word of the Year

Today's topic ... nope, haven't got one. I'm tired, end-of-the-week drained. Needing to prep for the arrival of guests this evening. Fooey wants me to bake a cake. Bread dough rising. Plus two potential evening outings on the horizon. If I can rally some oomph.

Fooey's got a friend here and they are playing so sweetly in the room next door. "Neighbour CJ" has joined them, too. I'm supervising by ear.

This week I've gotten a bit more writing time; but not enough, and it's painful to leave chapters mid-telling, with the over-arching narrative hanging there too, just scribbled notes left for myself, for later, which hopefully I'll be able to interpret. My printing is appalling, a cross between failed cursive script and all-out scrawl, with idiosyncratic short-form thrown in for good measure. Spent one walk to school, post-writing-stint, struggling to delineate and then sear into my memory a series of plot changes and character developments. One kind mentor once told me that the writing will wait for me; mostly I agree and am comforted by that thought, but sometimes I wonder what gets lost. Nothing brilliant; just unique to that moment.

A friend and I have chosen a "word of the year." We each chose our own, and will focus and reflect on that word for the full year, checking in periodically to evaluate and discuss. I'm excited about this project because it feels manageable--one word! And I love words. And it has the potential to anchor me in a variety of situations. The word I've chosen is "imagine." Or its variation "imagination." I wanted an active word related to potential change and growth and movement, because my life feels very rooted already, and I want to challenge myself to question and be flexible and aware of the possibilities even within a grounded, locally-lived life. I'm also someone who likes to dream, whether or not these dreams come to fruition, but as a way of exploring and adventuring. And I hope the word will be a reminder that there are always alternative solutions to even the most insignificant conflict, if something isn't working.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

My Children Reflect on President Obama

Conversation (paraphrased) with children on way home from school today re Barack Obama's inauguration:

Apple-Apple: We cheered for Barack Obama. The lunch-room helpers did a poll about who was glad George Bush got hit in the head with a shoe, and everyone was glad. [note: No teachers were present; the lunch-room helpers are in grade four or five.]
Me: What was this poll?
Apple-Apple: repeats above, approximately.
Me: Huh. Well, no one has thrown a shoe at Barack Obama yet.
Albus: That's okay. He would stop the shoe with his magical forcefield.
Me: Umm ... Barack Obama doesn't have actual magical powers.
Albus and Apple-Apple: Yes, he does! He has lots of powers. Super-powers.
Me: Well, you're right, he does have lots of power. But no super-powers. He's not magical.
Fooey, piping up: That's because he isn't real.
Me: Well, he actually is real.
Fooey: No he's not. He's on tv!

Recipes; Imagine

Baking with Fooey this morning. Listening to the radio. Turning my back on cynicism and doubt for at least a few hours, because even though the man cannot possibly, even if assisted by miracles, live up to the hype, these moments are rare and can only be celebrated in the moment. That's why rituals actually matter: punctuation marks in the run-on sentences of life. Change. Hope. Imagine the best.


Now. Two recipes. Both are very good and worth posting. First, the banana muffin recipe that Fooey and I are making this morning; this is a dairy-free recipe, and my guess is it could be made quite successfully with any flour. Second, the hugely successful chickpea recipe which EVERYONE ate and enjoyed last night (the meal made out of the recipe, not the actual recipe, for those of you literal-minded seven-year-olds questioning your mother's every grammatical slip-up).

Banana Muffins (adapted from Annabel Karmel's The Toddler CookBook)

Makes 20 large muffins, more or less. Line muffins pans with muffin liners (or grease tins, if you prefer). Preheat oven to 350. Have child squash two ripe bananas in a bowl. In another bowl, have child mix two eggs with 2/3 cup brown sugar, and 1 tsp. vanilla extract. Add mashed bananas and 1/2 cup vegetable oil and mix thoroughly. In another bowl, have child sift 1 and 1/3 cups whole wheat flour, 1 tsp. baking powder, 1 tsp. baking soda, 1/8 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon, and (optional) 1 tbls. unsweetened cocoa powder. Mix dry with wet, and (optional) 1/2 cup or more chocolate chips. Spoon into prepared pans and bake 18 minutes.

Baby CJ just ate and destroyed one of these, and I will post a pic on the blog opposite.


Chickpeas with Pork (adapted from Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cooking)

Soak several cups of dried chickpeas overnight. Boil up the next morning, adding salt once the chickpeas have softened (could be hours). In another large cooking pot, fry up 2 lbs pork sausage (or other meat), adding oil if needed. Add and saute: 1 chopped onion, five minced cloves garlic, 2 inches (or so) minced ginger root, 1/2 tsp. ground cardamon, 1 cinnamon stick, 2 bay leaves, 1 tsp. cumin seeds, 1 tbsp ground cumin, 1 tbsp ground coriander, 1 tsp. turmeric. When everything's nicely sauteed, add 2 cups (or more) canned or fresh or pureed tomatoes; add the chickpeas (the amount can really vary, to taste), and some of their cooking water; add six finely chopped potatoes. Season with 1 tbsp salt, or to taste. Add more chickpea water if needed. Cover and cook till potatoes are soft and flavours combined (25-40 mins). Add 1 cup of frozen peas and cook a couple more minutes. Optional: add 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper. Serve over rice.

Note: The recipe could easily be made meat-free. Other veggies could be added, too. I apologize for not giving exact measurements for the chickpeas, but I cooked up about five cups (dry), and eyeballed the amount added to the stew.

Seriously, this recipe got unanimously rave reviews. It looks like a lot of spices, but don't be afraid of the amounts.


And, now, to turn on the tele for a dose of collective joy.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Local Food Round-Up

This week's theme: Indian spices; curries.

Goal: To use some of those less-popular legumes and pulses now languishing in our pantry. These strange small hard dark chickpeas that never seem to soften, no matter how long I boil them, for example. Kevin purchased several pounds awhile back on the advice of a taxi driver in Thunder Bay (no kidding). And that bag of black-eyed beans.

Meat to be thawed: 2 lbs pork sausage; 4 lbs turkey parts.

To kick off the week, I'm planning red-lentil dahl and rice with peas for supper tonight. Admittedly, that will not diminish our supply of peculiar chickpeas and black-eyed beans ... but it's all about inspiration. I've discovered in my Indian Cookbook, by Madhur Jaffrey, some recipes that should fit the bill.

Pork with Chickpeas. Chicken (Turkey) with Tomatoes and Garam Masala. Black-Eyed Beans with Mushrooms. All recipes also call for fresh or canned tomatoes, with which our shelves are laden. In Extending the Table there's also a cabbage (local) with lentils recipes I'm keen to try. Further recipes making me drool this afternoon are Kusherie, an Egyptian meal of lentils and rice cooked together, served with a cumin-spiced tomato sauce, macaroni, and fried onions. But we've run plum out of onions, and must replenish next market trip, so that will have to wait. Another nice plain meal whetting my appetite is Khichri, rice and lentils cooked together with potatoes and some milder spices: cinnamon, cloves.


One final (promise!) Big Thought arising out of last night's walk: There's something about being in motion that frees the mind to think reflectively; and, if the motion is shared, to connect. Maybe that's why road trips on highways seem to have a mythical quality, everyone in the vehicle sharing that forward motion, that journey. Same with walking. Not so with city driving, in which forward motion is constantly thwarted by street lights, stop signs, other cars, pedestrians, et cetera. Being stuck inside a motionless vehicle is frustrating precisely because it feels like we should be moving. It doesn't matter if we're wasting mere precious seconds of time; the sensation is of a much larger waste, that sensation of being stalled in perpetuity, in the midst of the journey. Walking somewhere might take more actual time, but because we rarely have to pause for long, and aren't moving that fast in the first place, we don't have the same deeply irritating feeling of interruption.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Walk in the Snow

That photo of CJ looks so old now; well, he looks so young. Yet when I started this blog it wasn't so far out of date. Time, time. I'm just back from a walk in the snow. Last winter I walked virtually every evening during the final three months of my pregnancy, and tonight was very reminscent. The snow falling, the pull to go outside, but not quite wanting to go to the bother, feeling tired, couch and snack calling. And yet. Trusting it would be worth the effort.

I often start my walks feeling resistant to the work, to the same old boring route; and without exception that sensation disappears by the top of the first hill. Without exception. Which prompted me to reflect, tonight, on that peculiar human truth-- that so often our most rewarding activities are also the hardest to begin, to keep as routines, to follow through on. How much easier to pick up a magazine or newspaper than a book, for example.

And, also, how much easier to drive than to walk. Having spent part of this afternoon running errands in the family vehicle, crouched behind the wheel, muttering softly, I'm firmly in walking's camp. Not to say the car isn't occasionally my friend, and not to malign the wonders of a good old-fashioned road-trip; but happiness doesn't come in car-form. Feet upon ground. Exposed to the surroundings. So, yah, it's colder, damper, sometimes. Sometimes I choose not to go somewhere just because I can't bear to bundle up my kids one more time for one more trip. But, then, I'm never in quite the same panicked hurry; probably because it's impossible to panic and hurry, to floor the gas and cut people off, and therefore I usually leave myself enough time for error and last-minute bathroom emergencies. Usually, I said.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

That Feels Better

Just took advantage of CJ's nap, and put the telesitter to use for the others, and edited a couple of stories/chapters in this Nicaragua book. Feel infinitely better. It's what I'd fantasized doing last night.

Now to prep supper, do snack, and get really really bundled up for the walk to school. That should solve the stir-crazy feeling for today.

Burn After Reading

This is a January primal scream of self-pity and I apologize in advance, with an extra sorry to my little son who deserves to be picked up, rather than stuck clutching my pant leg and fussing with boredom--okay, he wins. Really, where are my priorities? I'm now typing one-handed.

I've been outdoors twice since Saturday--once to pick the kids up from school, and once to entertain those well enough to go outside and play in the snow. Otherwise I've been in here, tending to children throwing up and cooking elaborate local meals from our stores (cutting up a chicken is harder than it looks; though that might have been in part because said bird hadn't fully thawed).

But the biggest primal scream relates to a serious lack of writing time. I've had SIX HOURS to write since before Christmas. That's going on a month. It's not for lack of trying to schedule time, either; it's circumstances conspiring against opportunity, the unforeseeables of germs, of sleep deprivation, of dental and medical appointments. Last night, Kevin had a soccer thing and then a hockey game, so I put the kids to bed alone; in the fantasy version of that scenario, I laid CJ down in the crib in our room, and stayed up late writing in the office/baby room. In the actual version of events, I laid CJ down "for the night," and he woke screaming fifteen minutes later--though in the interim I'd carried Fooey off to a happy sleep; thank you, sweet Fooey--at which point I sat nursing a twitchy CJ for another hour, till finally, finally, he'd fallen into what approximated a deep sleep, at which point, I was glassy-eyed and hungry and resigned, and laid him to sleep in his own bed in the office/baby room.

I admire every parent who works after his or her children are asleep. No matter how hopeful my plans, by the time this blessed state arrives, four times over, my brain has ceased firing on all neurons. So instead, I went looking for a fatty cheese to spread on some crackers, then read in bed (Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri; oh read her, read her, her stories are quietly amazing; she is also the mother of two young children and said in an interview that she'd never write anything were someone else not regularly caring for them).

Okay, we get the life we choose, and I've chosen four children, and no nanny. For the record, I get this grim feeling every January. I'm in need of some naturally sourced vitamin D. Or some exercise-induced endorphins. Our bodies crave nutrients. But I'm starting to think--or to be reminded, more accurately--that my fingers crave these keys, and my mind craves a quiet space carved out of the day's responsible hours.

And, no, CJ is not in my arms anymore. He jumped down and went off to chew on a few crayons, accompanied by the companionable noises of Albus, home from school for one final recuperative day, exploding imaginary ships, and Fooey munching crackers and chatting to herself.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Abbreviated Local Food Round-Up

Yup. I got sick too. So did Fooey.

So yesterday I wasn't thinking much about meal planning for the week. Frankly, I wasn't thinking much about food, period. But here's my plan ...

Meat item thawing in fridge: a five-pound whole chicken. I plan to cut it up, marinate it, and bake it. Serve it with baked rice and a sauce made with one of my cans of tomatoes. If it turns out well, I'll post the recipe. Discovered when digging out the chicken that there are no roasts left in the freezer. Also, I think I'm giving up on the frozen homemade ketchup. I'm going to chuck it all. Must face reality: the kids don't like it. Silver lining: having it around has cut down on our ketchup consumption. 

My base meal for the week is black beans and rice. Must remember to get beans soaking after this blip of a writing morning expires. I'm writing right now (no really, I am; I should get a clone or two to live out some parallel lives beside me). Kev's home this morning. But no extra babysitting because Fooey's sick. Maybe by Wednesday we'll get back to some kind of regular schedule.

Question: Is there such a thing as a regular schedule?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Saturday Sick Day

This was not part of the plan ...

It's funny how suddenly we can be thrown off track by unexpected events, even not particularly serious ones. Like, for example, a violent stomach bug. That strikes one's husband at 3 in the morning. This is a man who rarely gets sick, and even when sick seems to soldier on relentlessly. Not so today. The dad's in bed, and he's joined by his sick daughter (Apple-Apple). The rest of us have spent the day quietly if not contemplatively. CJ is currently wiping the cupboards and back door window with mashed homemade dairy-free/wheat-free/egg-free teething biscuit. Mix that stuff with saliva and you could use it to grout tile. The baby monitor is on so I can keep an ear on my patients upstairs; they are chatting companionably and looked very cozy tucked in together. The remaining two household participants are seated at the counter. Albus is reading and eating popcorn, and Fooey is playing with matchbox cars and eating popcorn. She's made the cars into characters.

Earlier in the afternoon, we went outside and played heartily in the snow in our front yard. There are pictures posted from that event on the parallel photo blog; link at right.

I am boiling water for pasta to go with (or not) the turkey broth that's been brewing all day, laced with loads of garlic, pepper, and lime. CJ's cookie has disappeared. I'm feeling vaguely nauseous myself and hoping for the best.

If all goes well, I'll stick with my Sunday local food round-up; if not, you'll know why.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Sleeping Babes, Three

Well, that was short-lived. CJ spent at least half the night in our bed. I'm not sure whether this was because I was too tired to move him out, or because everytime I did move him out he seemed to reappear again. I went to bed at the same time he did last night. 9:30. I'm pretty sure Apple-Apple was still awake (she has these torturous prolonged bedtimes, seemingly endless cries for water bottle or kleenex or jammies are too itchy or she's too hot or too cold or she just can't fall asleep.) Lucky for us all, once asleep she's as sound as they come.

In any case, I was grouchy. Bed seemed the best option. The serenity following our holiday, which I'd optimistically planned to keep, uh, forever, has dissipated ever so fractionally amidst the hairiness of schedule, of having to be somewhere at a particular time. Mostly, it's dragging children to events in which they have no stake that's hardest. Fooey and CJ bundled up and tossed in the stroller to take the big kids to school. I'd complain too. CJ woken out of a nap and dragged along to Fooey's music class, where for entertainment he has his mother, a banana, and an empty hallway. Et cetera. No matter how organized, how much time I've left, there comes a moment when I'm shouting, "Put on your snowpants, now!" and then regretting it instantly (Fooey hates shouting). Or worse, "We're leaving without you!" Never true, and rarely motivating, as the kid has no interest in coming anyway. But I've been doing some deep breathing and back-tracking and attempting to focus on the larger picture: does it matter if we're five minutes late for Fooey's music class? Or for anything? I don't want to become cavalier about responsibility, just realize that rushing accomplishes little except to put everyone in a lousy mood.

It's interesting how my mood really affects the mood of the household.

It's also interesting, if unrelated, that our family ate an entire loaf of homemade bread for breakfast yesterday morning--and CJ and I ate oatmeal instead. That's slightly alarming when contemplating future appetites, and my own plans to bake all of our bread from scratch. Because I'd gone to bed early last night, I woke up early and started a fresh batch of bread. My life revolves around food.

So far, so good, in the eating out of our stores experiment. I'm planning to do a regular Sunday update and round-up on food.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Sleeping Babes, Two

Apparently CJ did wake and squawk briefly several times last night; Kevin said these episodes lasted mere moments, but because he was in another room, and we're running two humidifiers now (so much for cutting down on energy consumption), I didn't hear the babe and instantly leap to grab him up and feed him back to sleep. He is now 20 pounds, 6 ounces. Weighed today. I'm noting that here because I seem incapable of noting it anywhere else.

I'm only a tiny bit torn about moving him out of our room. Mostly I'm looking forward to reading before bed (while lying in bed), and to resting more consistently, ie. more than an hour or so consecutively. And I'll still get to bring him into bed for snuggly night feedings, just fewer and further between. It always seems to come to "it's time." This may be the case for every transition. Something just tells me when it's time.

To speak of a more fundamental transition, I'm finding myself in this New Year thinking often about life beyond primarily childcare. Researching possibilities. Feeling excitement, even impatience.


Kevin stayed home Monday morning so I could write, and he reflected afterward how these moments will never come again. You either decide to spend this time with your growing children, or you don't, but you can't have it both ways. You can't spend this same time with them later. They will be grown. You can't sit on the kitchen floor while CJ practices standing and taking a step, and Fooey gobbles handfuls of peanuts perched on a stool, talking utterly non-stop. Sometimes it feels too slow, too boring, too quiet. Sometimes it feels like you need some positive feedback, some notice, some worldly recognition. That feels vain to admit, but there must be something in human nature that craves recognition, recompense, for work done. But this isn't regular work. You might even argue that it's not work. It's living, life. It's experience. It's definitive.

And I'm trusting that I'll know when it's time to shift my focus, that I'll know when my time has come to get up off the floor. Maybe it will be when CJ can run away from me, or when Fooey has her nose buried in a book, or when Apple-Apple can cook supper, or Albus can walk to school by himself. I'm just guessing. I never know it's time ... till I know.

Sleeping Babes

He did it! He slept through the night! Well, mostly, and enough. I sense that he's actually more comfortable sleeping by himself. Less restless. I fed him at around 5 this morning, in our bed, and within an hour he was wriggling and sweaty; so I carried him back to his own crib.

He's still sleeping now and it's time to put the porridge on. These mornings are so very dark. Snow this morning, too.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Local Food Round-Up

January. Time to start eating out of our stores, in earnest. Don't want to come to spring and discover some cache of forgotten and uneaten beets. Here's what's in our black freezer: a few roasts and steaks, hamburger, pork and turkey sausage, a whole chicken, turkey parts, and a lot of chopped red peppers. In the white freezer: big bags of tomatoes, strawberry jam, strawberries, frozen pear and applesauce cubes for school lunches, homemade ketchup, raspberries. In the fridge freezer: dill, parsley, basil cubes, more pearsauce cubes, poultry gizzards and livers, cookie dough, peas, bread. In the cold cellar: two butternut squash, loads of potatoes (storing well in their paper sacs), garlic (also storing well, loose on wire shelves), one pumpkin, four cabbages, a handful of yams. In another cupboard upstairs: what's left of the onions (note: my pantyhose storage method in our over-warm basement was a recipe for rotting onions suspended in nylon. Not pretty. A few survived to tell the tale and be made into onion soup). In jars: grape juice, pearsauce, grape jelly, and tomatoes. Plus we've got lots of local oats, flour, cornmeal, honey, maple syrup, and vinegar. We also have lots of local canola oil, but I find the taste too strong, overwhelming even in baking, and am unlikely to use it up.

The challenge: To eat as exclusively as possible from these stores till it's all gone.

The method: Thaw at least one big meat item per week and plan at least one meal around that. Remind myself about the potatoes ... to that end, look up some hearty winter recipes. Sunday evening advance planning.

Today's Recipe of the Week: Tomato Sauce. Saute chopped onions and garlic in olive oil till soft, add some chopped red peppers if desired (frozen fine). Toss in a bag of frozen tomatoes (3.7 litre capacity). Add a can of tomato paste. Season with frozen basil cubes, parsley, 1 to 2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon each of thyme and oregano. Pepper to taste. When cooked down to desired consistency, stir in a dollop of vinegar.

Suggested uses: We ate this for supper, as is, over spaghetti with parmesan and feta, and a cabbage salad on the side. Tomorrow it might be resurrected with fried hamburger and some cumin and ground coriander over brown rice. Leftovers might also find their way on to homemade pizzas later in the week.

This week's meat: smoked turkey sausage, currently thawing in our fridge. I'd planned to use it in a split pea soup, but just noticed there are no potatoes on this week's menu, which makes me think ... smoked sausage baked over potatoes and yams? Suddenly, I'm yearning for a little after-dinner nap. Full disclosure: I prefer vegetarian fare, but beans and legumes are hard to come by, locally. Meat, however, is everywhere.

Most surprising storage discovery: The red peppers are amazing. I'd run out patience by the time I put them up, so literally chopped and seeded them and chucked them into yogurt containers. But they're easy to remove piece by piece, the flavour is amazing, and the kids eat them like popsicles.

One last note: For anyone missing Nina's buying club, I've tried out and can recommend Oakridge Acres (, a farm family from near Ayr who raise Black Angus cattle, and also source and sell a variety of local products, including cheeses, and who deliver to the Waterloo region.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Ahh, The Warm Glow of Self-Improvement

Haven't stopped thinking about the New Year, and inevitably that means self-improvement. Right? It's funny how at the stroke of midnight on the 365th day of the year, we pretend collectively that the slate has been wiped clean and we can Be Better. Except we're just ourselves. Except that shouldn't be an except or a just, because we've earned all of that grime and all of those scratches, and who would want to be wiped clean, really? That would be a recipe for unchecked narcisism.

Some thoughts on our family's carbon footprint. Last year we went down to one vehicle, I started hanging laundry even off-season, did some canning, and attempted to source and eat local food. We also managed to lower our water consumption, but that was probably the new efficient toilets. Our electricity bill continues to climb; we moved in five and a half years ago, and every year we've consumed more electricity, not less. We have added family members during that time, but it's no excuse. So this year, I'd like to do an energy audit, figure out where we're leaking electricity and staunch the flow, train the kids to turn out the lights every time they leave a room, and continue to do many of the things we've started: walk as much as possible; hang the laundry; do more canning and preserving this coming summer; continue to buy local and cook from scratch. There must be other actions we could take, too, that I'm not thinking of right this second.

To add to that, here is a fantasy goal: I'd love to rid my cupboards of any prepared food that I could actually make myself. ie. no more boxed cereal, only homemade granola. Crackers? Bread, of course. Cookies, yes. Butter? Not unless we source our milk off-grid. Will it happen? Unlikely. But it's a dream.

Some other random things I've been contemplating doing ...

Smugness, begone! (Have I become a "Smug Married"? This thought has plagued me, slightly, over the holidays. All the things we consume, how full our house is of comfortable objects, how satiated we are. How much I don't want to give up these comfortable things ...).

Childcare ... I've been thinking that I might enjoy caring for other people's children during the day, or exchanging childcare. This is less fully-formed-thought than persistent notion. It would also be a good goal to have one day per week with nothing extra in it, one day just to hang out at home, read, play, nap, bake (with children, I mean). On the other hand, accepting that there is no Normal, that the day is bound to be broken in many ways by many unexpected occurrences, is really good for the sanity. You can't have a household of six people and expect even one day to run according to Plan. So--flexibility. Going with the flow.

Embracing cliches.

Continuing to write. Think about how to get back to Nicaragua again--and for how long? Maintain and nurture the good things we've got going, but stay critical. Not complacent.

And next post, tell a good story rather than preach.