Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Local Food Rounder-Upper

A new discovery: soup on Wednesdays, with fresh bread and cheese, has been a big hit these past couple of weeks. Wednesdays we need a fast meal, on the table by 5pm, in order to get the big kids to their music class after supper. Cream of cauliflower, made with frozen veggies, last week; black bean and hamburger, the one before. This week I'm planning to try a grain & bean recipe that sounds easy, nutritious, and will make use of some frozen beans.

This week theme is: Dig in the Freezer. Honestly, frozen apricots? Suggestions? I froze a couple of bags last summer, lovely and organic, and have no idea what to do with them now.

Yesterday it was a big red sauce from the freezer tomatoes, with basil shrimp (both basil and shrimp from the freezer), over pasta. The leftover tomato sauce will be sent back to the freezer, in easy-to-use format. Always handy to have tomato sauce prepared and ready to heat and serve.

Tonight, it's turkey sausage with chickpeas (both from the freezer), and cabbage. I'm winging the recipe with flavours leaning toward curry. Over rice. Wednesday, soup, as mentioned above. Thursday will be baked potatoes with leftovers on the side. Friday, I'm boiling up a big frozen chicken for broth and stock and meat. I'll make some of it into a comforting illness-fighting noodle soup.

This week, thus far, has felt a bit scrabbling-about-ish ... I have to remind myself to focus and remember to set priorities and stick with them, to keep the planning very basic and simple. Can I continue to blame the weather? I have felt overwhelmed at moments this week, incapable of figuring out what needs to be done most urgently. Partly, it's due to Kevin working this past weekend. That removes my day of cleaning and organizing, otherwise known as Saturday, and it means the floor is still covered, in parts, in last week's crumbs, and last week's scattering of toys hasn't been gathered and sorted and returned to order. I really like when all the toys are in the baskets and drawers and containers to which they belong: craft items in the craft cupboard; doll clothes in the orange bin the girls' room; books on shelves; baby blocks and puzzles in the baby blocks and puzzles bin (okay, honestly, I'm the only person in the whole house to whom this really seems to matter, so it is a losing battle, but nevertheless one I intend to keep on fighting).

Priority at this exact moment: wake baby from nap, change diaper, load handful of children and off to music class. Like, now.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Literacy Rocks

Reading has transformed our mornings and evenings. The two eldest children have graduated to chapter books, and are utterly drawn to the written word. Apple-Apple and Albus both read in bed, and it's meant we can tuck them in earlier, while letting them stay up a bit later. And in the morning, Albus gets up early and snuggles in a blanket on the kitchen floor ... with a book. (I should add that the kitchen floor is heated, and it's his favourite place to read). The difference between an hour spent devouring a book, and an hour spent sedated before the television is quite remarkable. Television, while temporarily diverting, inevitably leads to "TV Brain," as we call it: you know what I mean--that irritable, bored, restless state of mind and being. The kids raise their eyes from a book wanting to talk and share and describe.
That said, Fooey does watch television most every day, because I rely on that "quiet time." But both Albus and Apple-Apple seem bored by it, and it is never be their first choice for an activity.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Grandma's Sugar Cookies

My Grandma King turns 90 on March 1, and in her honour I'm posting her Sugar Cookie recipe. She was a wonderful baker, and baked many of my birthday cakes growing up--always angel food with strawberry or chocolate frosting. We never lived near her, but when we visited we must have baked together often, because those memories have remained most clear.

Since I grew up eating these sugar cookies, I didn't realize until adulthood that they are quite unique. I've never found a similar recipe in a standard cookbook. I was once told that Grandma managed a restaurant before her marriage, and that these were the cookies served there: in Archbold, Ohio.

About five years ago, I telephoned to request the recipe, so this comes directly from her. As she now suffers from Alzheimers, this recipe, and its provenance, is especially precious. I used to make these cookies for playgroup, where they became known as "muffin-top cookies" because that's exactly what they taste like. In fact, I was inspired to make them today on request from a little playgroup fellow who might be visiting this afternoon; considering I haven't made them for a year or so, it was the first thing he asked when he saw me last time: "Do you have any of those sugar cookies?" I think that's a pretty good endorsement.

The cookies are delicate and cakey and crumbly and must be watched closely in the oven, lest the bottoms burn. They are also difficult to replicate, and I've had the occasional flop, without being able to pinpoint why. I'm pretty sure Grandma's never flopped. The ones I baked today with Fooey turned out very well indeed, though they still aren't exactly like Grandma's. The recipe below is half the size she gave me, and enough for our family (she estimated half would make about 3 dozen cookies). I don't find these cookies keep well, so eat them up while they're fresh.

Grandma King's Sugar Cookies

Beat together 1 1/2 cups white sugar, 2 eggs, and 1 cup of canola oil. Add 1 cup of buttermilk, or substitute 1 cup of milk soured with 1 tbsp white vinegar (let the mixture sit for 10-15 mins. before adding). Beat together well with 1 1/2 tsp vanilla. In a separate bowl, sift together 3 cups flour, 3 tsp baking powder, and 1/2 tsp salt. (Optional: add 2 tsp baker's unsweetened cocoa powder). Add dry to wet, and beat together till smooth.

Place rack in middle of oven. Heat to 450 degrees. Spoon one tablespoon of batter per cookie onto lightly greased tray. Leave room because they spread a bit. Bake for FOUR minutes. Watch closely. Cool briefly on tray, scrape off with a sharp spatula, cool additionally on racks.

Note: Today, we added the unsweetened cocoa powder, partly because Fooey wanted a chocolate cookie, and this is not a batter to which you can successfully add chocolate chips, and partly because I used a part-whole-wheat flour and wanted to hide the graininess. Grandma only ever used pure-white flour, which makes a pure-white cookie with a golden bottom. But the chocolate proved to be a nice addition.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Hi 5

Not writing much in Blogland, just noticed. Not sure why. I'm writing more in fictional world, so perhaps that's draining off all the words.

Heartwarming thing my baby did yesterday: toddled up to me, grabbed my hand, opened it, and placed into my palm a toy he'd been playing with. I almost cried.

He also heard me say "hi" this morning, and instantly grabbed my hand and tried to give me a high five. This is a new trick he learned this week, and it made me think we should teach him more. He's so eager to communicate and connect and participate. There are times when he walks through the house laughing and laughing--joining in with whatever fun and jokes are going on.

Just repaired son Albus's totally shredded snow pants, and though the kids were impressed ("you know how to knit, Mommy?") .... sewing, not my thing.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


Update on the intention to make cupboard-items from scratch, such as: crackers. Made them for book club and they were a) labour intensive, b) set off our smoke alarm at 10pm, and, most egregiously, c) tasted ordinary. Homemade food generally tastes superior, so much so that preparing and eating homemade meals from scratch essentially ruin the ability to eat and enjoy a prepackaged, grocery store frozen, or fast food meal ever again. Sadly, these crackers inspired one to reach for a box of factory-fresh.

Will I try again? The other cracker issue was that every recipe I read made use of a vastly different method; and none sounded easy. Strike one on the pantry plan.

Fooey has been riding her bicycle everywhere, despite frigid temperatures. We had a thaw that cleared the sidewalks. I've perfected the technique of pulling the bicycle over the bumps while pushing the stroller. This reminded me fondly of the days when Fooey was the baby in the stroller, and I'd use it to push Apple-Apple on her tricycle, and could still pull Albus's bicycle behind.

Okay, time to start cooking for tonight's Valentine's potluck at a friend's house: potato, sauerkraut, and sausage bake. All local. May throw in some yams, too. The house is temporarily peaceful, as Kevin has taken the three larger children out on their bicycles, and CJ is napping. Must get scrubbing and paring whilst the quiet holds.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Tripping over Life's Little Lessons

Random thoughts kicking around ...

1. My friend Katie's Facebook status recently read (to paraphrase): "Katie is grateful for all of the reasons she is tired." I'd like to borrow and adopt that as my own default tagline. There's nothing wrong with complaining and worrying sometimes, but I'm a big believer in attitude making a genuine difference in how our lives proceed. Not that daily gratitude will prevent disaster and sadness, but that disaster and sadness will be made easier to bear. I am thankful not to have to test this theory, except in small ways, at present.

2. Experience = wisdom. Right? Somehow I've always accepted as fact that layers of experience, age, will gradually result in wisdom gained. Except I've had the revelation that it's possible to keep discovering the same things over and over again, in slightly mutated form, such that it would seem all that marvelous experience hasn't been exceptionally integrated into a grand interior mural of cohesive wisdom, but is hanging about in separate clumsy segments waiting for me to trip over it again. Partly, this is to do with age itself, and the feeling that time continues to speed up, and the fact that my brain is actually about two seasons behind, right now. It's so hard to maintain a focus, to remember the resolutions, to stick with the plan (while trying to remain flexible) and ultimately better oneself. The previous sentence would be a terrible mantra.

3. Speaking of mantras, my siblings, when confronted with the above rambling non-mantra, suggested I should keep a "Life's Little Lessons" kind of diary. A list somewhere with those nuggets of wisdom recorded.

4. Just had another thought: maybe it's not that important to remember these lessons. Maybe experience simply kicks in during a regular day as situations arise, everything from walking to the library in the rain pushings a stroller and pulling a three-year-old on her bicycle (and enjoying it, as experience tells me such moments are fleeting), to rewriting a story a million times over, because there is always something more to learn.

5. Little Life Lessons have a tendency to sound bland, trite, and obvious written down.

6. Still, it might be nice to return to thoughts like: I like baking bread! Or, I'm glad for everything that makes me tired! Or, three-year-olds need to feel like they're independent sometimes! Or, you can always say your sorry, even if it was an accident! Et cetera. Yup, that could become addictive. (Why each life lesson cries out for an exclamation point, I cannot say. But it does!)

7. Writing. I want to blog about the writing, but nothing coheres into firm thought, just the usual angst-ridden blether. I'm finishing a poetry collection right now, mostly on young motherhood, and memory. And I'm continually writing and rewriting these stories in the Nicaragua book, and wondering how many more years will be wasted/usefully applied in pursuit of that book, and whether perhaps the subject is just too loaded and therefore doomed. Perhaps I will understand more clearly when this draft is done, but if experience has taught me anything ... no, I won't.

8. What was that about daily gratitude? Here's a little life lesson: it is infinitely easier to be grateful for and to love my children than to be grateful for and to love my other creative outlet of writing. I have such a simple relationship with my children, despite the minute complexities. I just love them. I trust my instincts about them, and have never questioned this journey we're on together. But the writing ... I love it and crave it and need it; and hate it and resent it and agonize over it. I haven't yet discovered the antidote.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Local Food Round-Up

Is there a plan? Here's an amusing detail about this past week's local food plan: the best meal of the week was the one I threw together on the fly, zero advance plotting. Ugh. Or fab. Except that such results do not inspire continued Planning.

Nevertheless, despite, because, as if, et cetera ...

I'm planning to cook a pot of black beans for one main meal this week. In the fridge, I still have a few red beans from the chili meal, so for a second meal this week, I'll toss those together and make a two-bean soup, or another chili. Meal number three may involve yet more of those beans (I always make lots), and some red sauce I froze from Friday's successful meal--spiced up with cumin and coriander and baked in layers with tortillas and cheese. I'm also glad to have a winter squash to pop in the oven for colour and variety, and some cabbage to chop into a salad.

So the theme appears to be, by default: beans. I'm off meat at present, so I'll stick with some local hamburger as an add-in, if desired.

Have to add as a note that I originally typed: "I'm planning to cook a plot of black beans ..." Sounds like a spicy short story set in the tropics. I was going to riff on that theme for a few glorious moments of fantasy here, but have been advanced upon by a weary husband holding a newly bathed and howling baby who looks darned adorable in his ducky towel and, though said babe is pre-verbal, he seems to be calling my name rather effectively.

Well, then .... Shabaddy-woo (as I like to say, heaven knows why, to my baby).

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Children Who Blog

This blog, and my frequent typing spells herein, have attracted the attention of the children, who wish to join in the fun. I indulged Apple-Apple yesterday, and the result, creative spelling and all, appears below; but when she and her brother began frothing at the keyboard this morning, I decided to create another parallel blog to send their missives into thin air, and the link appears at right. We launch with a brief reflective piece by Apple-Apple on Mom's book club. Worth noting, though not mentioned, was her observation this morning that just when she thought she was falling asleep last night, she heard "another shriek of laughing." This was spoken in world-weary tones. "What was so funny?" Albus wanted to know, geniunely perplexed. You know, moms--not the funniest people on the planet, according to that population of critics known as offspring.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Big Walk

Written and Typed by Apple-Apple

cj is woking to me and giving me hugs and then he wates for me to cariy him back to wher he was.i like to tele the storea of the big wack when cj tok the long whay that was the longist wack he did and he stel hasint wacked any farser.


At ten months ... he's walking, but can't stand from a sitting position, so chooses to crawl more often; plus he's super-crazy-fast on hands and knees. He's scared of heights. He can climb stairs, but as soon as he gets about four or five up, he freezes. He has no teeth. He's a natural drummer. He loves to hear singing, and tries to join in. He initiates chasing and peekaboo games which make him laugh hysterically (us too). Makes noises like an engine while pushing cars or trucks. Plays well on his own. Adores his sisters and brother, but likes his own space, and has a special grunting protest noise he makes when one of them is picking him up against his will. Has separate protest noises for: I'm stuck; put me down; I'm mad; someone's stolen a toy from me. Loves to be outside, even in the snow.

Is crawling down the hallway away from me right now ...

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Local Food Round-Up: Suggestions Welcome

Hmm. Haven't been keeping up with the local food round-up plan. I've been doing it in my head, just not getting to here, lately. I'm blaming my dwindling determination and lack of follow-through on winter. Honestly, it's minus 19 out there today. The chill is seeping through the walls. My fantasies about spring are growing more vivid by the hour.

My local food theme of the week is: Suggestions Welcome. We kicked off this theme on Super Bowl Sunday, when Kevin requested chili. I served it with cornbread on Sunday, then reheated it for Monday with rice. Tuesday I took a friend's Facebook suggestion and made the garlic-heavy Ethiopian Lentil Bowl from Simply in Season, with homemade naan bread; this required frying it up with CJ in a backpack to keep him out of harm's way. Last night it was leftover surprise, plus fried potatoes. Should have taken suggestions, because no one liked it (except, maybe, me). Complaints Welcome became the unintentional theme. Tonight I'm planning to roast a nicely-thawed chicken, as suggested by Kevin, with root veggies.

Okay, Fooey is screaming "Read me a book, Mom!" over and over again from the couch, and CJ is dozily destroying a cookie, and I need to snap out of the computer zone. Snap!