Sunday, January 25, 2015

Friday Night Dinner Project: Thanksgiving Dinner

Unfortunately the flu continues to ravage our house.  Last night we had to take our son to the ER, and on our way out the door my husband had his feet ripped out from under him by a patch of black ice - while he was carrying our son.  They tumbled down the front steps, but my husband, in a true moment of Daddy Brilliance, somehow managed to not let go of our son until the last possible second.  As a result, my son only has a small bruise on his cheek from when he hit the side of the house.  Also as a result my husband is somewhat immobile today.  And my son is still sick.

I got through most of the menu but I am going to have to post it next weekend.  Do come back - because this one is a good one!!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Money Saving Tip: Reuse, Refurbish, ReStore

Regular readers know that I love Habitat for Humanity's ReStore.  About a month ago I one of those great moments in life where everything just seems to come together, and it happened at the ReStore.

For months we had been looking for a quality glider to replace the rocker recliner in my son's bedroom that had gone completely off the rails.  It was worn out to the point that grease was leaking out of the mechanical parts (no idea what to call them) of the chair and actually ruined the carpet in the nursery.  We desperately needed a replacement.  However, getting a good, quality, new glider can be pricey.  I just didn't want to spend that kind of money at the moment, having just returned to work after a year off.  I actually prayed that I would be able to find some kind of crazy deal on a new chair.  The next morning I went to a Habitat ReStore, not the one I usually go to but in a nearby town, and there sitting in a dusty corner of the store was a Dutailier glider, in almost perfect condition, Made In Canada.  Amazing.  FIFTEEN DOLLARS.  The cushions had some stains on them and there was no ottoman but I did not care.

We washed this beauty down with warm soapy water (as instructed on Dutailier's website) and  the wood is in great condition.  At first I was going to have a local seamstress make reupholster the cushions, but when I realized what a big job this is and how much it would cost (over $200.00 in labour) I decided against it.  As it turns out, the seamstress at our local fabric store (whom I had never met before) has an elderly mother who lives near the town where I grew up, and she is looking into nursing homes for her.  Not being from that area she was thrilled that I was able to give her several recommendations.  Isn't it amazing how life brings people together sometimes?

Anyway, I ended up ordering replacement cushions from Dutailier's website (yes, you can do this!!! and I got ones that were already in stock so the grand total for brand spanking new cushions was $125.00).  They arrived within a few days and.....voilà.....a beautiful new Dutailier glider for the nursery.  Love it.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Friday Night Dinner Project: South African Dinner *updated*

You may have noticed that no menu appeared last week.  Our entire house was sick.  There was not much cooking of any sort getting done.  We are back on track now.  This week’s installment of the Friday Night Dinner Project is the South African Dinner.  It is actually a vegetarian menu, but I use chicken broth where it calls for vegetable broth so….not so vegetarian in our house.

Avocado and Ricotta Spread
This is the starter on the menu, and unfortunately I did not make it.  Despite having avocado on my grocery list, I forgot to pick it up.  I will post an update on this recipe next weekend.
UPDATE: I made the dip.  It is very good.  I would not have thought to pair avocado with ricotta cheese for a dip but I loved it (so did my husband and my son).  I will try to update with a picture once my computer issues are resolved.

Curried Butternut and Peanut Soup

Butternut squash, coconut milk, peanut butter, curry paste….all in one soup?  It is heavenly.  This soup is so creamy and smooth and delicious, without being too rich.  This is one that I will make over and over again.  Truly, this soup is amazing.

Roasted Vegetable and Chickpea Potjie
I had never heard of this dish until I read this recipe.  Bonnie recommends serving it over couscous and that is what we did.  It is a vegetarian entrée and a very delicious one.  The amazing blend of spices – cumin, coriander, paprika, turmeric, cinnamon, brown sugar, chili paste, salt and pepper – makes this a very aromatic dish.  We served it over couscous, drizzled with plain Greek yogurt.  The yogurt really adds something nice to the recipe.  We enjoyed reheated leftovers for several days – my colleagues were all asking me about it because it smells so good.

Amazing South African Seed Bread
If you have any health nuts in your circle of friends then send this bread recipe their way.  It is full of healthy sounding stuff like wheat bran, wheat germ, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, flax seeds, the list goes on.  My husband (who is not a huge fan) calls it bird seed bread.  I actually like this bread with jam or a light white cheese.  The only thing I would say is that I find the molasses flavour quite strong when I follow the recipe exactly, so I usually substitute honey in for the molasses.

Couscous with Nuts and Seeds
Couscous is so quick and easy to make, I love it.  The crunch in this recipe is lovely and it is great with the Roasted Vegetable and Chickpea Potjie.

Lauren’s Brazil Nut Biscotti
I made the biscotti.  I ate the biscotti.  Neither of us (my husband + me) drink coffee so we never eat biscotti.  We decided to try it with hot chocolate.  It was pretty good.  Not being biscotti eaters I have nothing to compare it to, so we are both taking a bunch to work tomorrow for colleagues to try.  I will say that this is an easy recipe to make and quick (if you don’t count the time you let the loaf sit in the fridge before slicing it and the slicing time), and it actually looks quite impressive once done.  It would make a nice gift for the coffee drinker on your list.  Or a nice change from the usual cakes and what not served at coffee hour.
UPDATE:My husband and I both took this to work with us and it turned out to be insanely popular at both of our workplaces.  People kept coming back for more and asking for the recipe!

Pavlova with Passionfruit Cream
Well there was no passionfruit cream due to not being able to find any.  I used lemon curd instead (plus I love lemon and meringue together so…).  Seven years ago we were at a dinner party in South London and I remember how impressed I was when the hostess brought out a beautiful Raspberry Pavlova for dessert.  It was fabulous and looked amazing, I always wanted to try making one after that.  When we lived in the United Kingdom I did not buy any electric appliances (because I knew we would eventually be leaving – I only bought a cheap toaster and a blender) and the idea of making meringue without an electric mixer seemed ridiculous to me.  So here I am, seven years on, making my first pavlova.  It is not going to win any awards for presentation, but it tastes good.  Very sweet but light at the same time.  Hopefully my next one will look a bit prettier!  Here is a link to a different version of pavlova from Bonnie Stern.

That's it for this week's Friday Night Dinner.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Je ne suis pas Charlie.

I have had so much to say about the most recent terrorist attack in Paris, but have had no time to sit down and put my thoughts together.  I am not so into myself that I think anything I write about it will make a difference, but just a few thoughts.

First of all, you are not Charlie so get over yourself.  This is even more pathetic than #bringbackourgirls.  Unless you yourself have the balls to republish drawings of Mohammed on your Facebook page, website, or publication than you most certainly are not Charlie.  #jesuischarlie at best is what naive people are posting in a sad attempt to show solidarity with victims of Islamic terror, but really it is the hashtag behind which everyone who lacks the guts to actually do something to create change can hide behind.  Even worse, #jesuisjuif.  This one is particularly rich. I promise you - if the attack at Marché Casher had not immediately followed and been linked to the massacre at Charlie Hebdo there would be no #jesuisjuif hashtag.  As I tweeted yesterday, where were all you hashtaggers when for Ilan Halimi, or the rabbi and children who were murdered in Toulouse in 2012?  Where were you this summer when Jewish business in France were being attacked and Jews were being forced to hide in a synagogue as it was surrounded and attacked by a mob of Islamists?  If you really want to show that "jesuisjuif" (which you are not) you would be out shopping at Jewish businesses, or you would be standing outside synagogues in a show of support.  Instead, France is shutting synagogues and Jewish businesses down "for their safety."  2015 is starting to feel more and more like 1942.

Jews already know France will, once again, fail to protect them.  This is why they are leaving in droves.
Ilan Halimi, Toulouse, the targeted rape of a Jewish woman: nothing to see here.  Just Jews.  Lone wolf attackers.  Mentally ill. What the ordinary French are failing to recognize is that France will also fail to protect them.  As so many people smarter than myself have said: it always starts with Jews, it never ends with Jews.  France's political class has a history of turning over its Jewish population to the butcher du jour in an effort to get a free pass for the rest of its citizens.   Turns out this is not a winning strategy.

Laura Rosen Cohen pretty much sums it up:
F*ck you France.

Superior firepower, superior intelligence, having no fear, and nothing less than a complete commitment to the preservation of Western, Judeo-Christian civilization and democracy are the only things that will save us from ourselves at this point.

Look around you: all over the "free" world, people are not even brave enough to draw or publish a cartoon to save their civilization-they think that will save their sorry, dhimmi asses.

My recommendation is to stick with superior firepower and a commitment to freedom. 

This week's events will not be a tipping point in policy.  Most likely, they are just another example of a sustained series of guerrilla style terrorist attacks (see Canada, Australia).

France, like many European countries, said hey #illridewithyou to radical Islamists.  This policy is suicidal.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Working Mom (of baby) Survival Guide

Here is the guide:  Do whatever you have to do to survive the day and enjoy every moment with your child.

That's a wrap.

Everything appearing below is just my own musings, but it can all be summed up in the above.

Over the holidays I had a few conversations with friends (also moms with children 2 or under who work full time and whose spouses work full time) about silly comments people made to us about parenting or life in general.  People who don't have a clue about our lives but who, in most cases, have the best intentions.  Now, I can write about it all I want, but people will continue to make silly comments and you just have to figure out how to let them go.  Sometimes I think I have this totally down, other times not so much.  I am writing about it today because if you are in the same boat as me and a few of my girlfriends, I want you to know that you are not alone.  There are lots of us just like you.  Lots.  And by "just like you" I mean a mom with a demanding job, a husband who works very long hours, a young baby at home who is still breastfeeding and not sleeping through the night, and little to no help coming from outside of whatever you can pay other people to do.

Let me just take a moment to say something to my stay at home mom readers - this is in no way meant to put you down or devalue what you do.  I completely and totally admire stay at home moms.  I think you are smart, capable, strong women who are blessed to be able to be with your children full time.  If I could figure out a way to stay at home with my son that did not involve wracking up a whole bunch of debt I would do it.  Having said that, when stay at home moms (the majority of my friends with kids) make comments to me about how to do a load of laundry every day, force my son to stop breastfeeding, alphabetize my canned goods, etc. I do my best to let all advice go in one ear and out the other.  Because they don't get it.  They just don't.  Friends, you might think you get it, but unless you have actually gone back to work full time with a young baby, sorry - you don't.  Yes, you know all about the midnight wakeups, the diapers, the cooking, the cleaning, the exhaustion.  But you do not know what it is like to get up at 4:30am so you can spend 30 minutes with your son before you drop him off at daycare, then rush to work where you sometimes literally run around all day like a crazy person, leave work to go to daycare, pick up your son and then spend 25 minutes sitting in the back of your car so he can breastfeed and cuddle because he needs that from you at this point in his life, drive home and quickly eat dinner, and then immediately get your son ready for bed.   Repeat x 5 and then spend your weekend racing around running errands, cooking food for the week, doing life, going to church.  I love you stay at home moms, but you have no idea what this is like so please think twice before you make comments like "I can't believe you lay down with him to go to sleep" or "you never call me to talk anymore" or "what do you mean you don't have time."  Actually, just think twice and keep the comments to yourself.  Please.

I digress.

When you have little to no time you are very much forced to figure out what your priorities are.  What works in our house is we have a "Must Do" list posted on our fridge.  This is the list of tasks that absolutely must get done every night no matter what or the next day we will not be able to function.  Every weekend I spend a fair amount of time cooking large meals that can get us at least until Wednesday night or Thursday for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Everything else becomes a juggle.  The decision making process usually goes along the lines of, "Do I want to spend 15 minutes with my son before he goes to bed or do I want to fold laundry before the weekend?"  or "If I call person A right now will it mean giving up the only 10 minutes I have to organize my to do list for work tomorrow?"  Things always get pushed aside and you know what - that is alright.  Are we functioning?  Yes.  The house is not dirty (although it isn't always super tidy which is not the same thing), we are eating homemade food and taking our lunches to work, we are not collapsing from complete exhaustion.  This works.  What is important to us is that the little time we do have to spend with our son during the week is actually spent with him.  Not on the phone or checking emails while we try to make sure he doesn't hurt himself playing in our living room.

One of my closest girlfriends told me a few things her and her husband have resorted to in order to make sure they can get some decent sleep.  Nothing they are doing is dangerous.  Nothing they are doing would hurt their child emotionally or physically, in fact quite the opposite.  And yet she is getting criticism and what I call not so silent judgement from family members.  While discussing this, she concurred that in order to make their household "work" she does what is needed to get them through one day at a time.  And this sums up our life - taking things one day at a time.  I do not want to be so stressed out trying to (insert parenting "milestones" here - sleep train, wean, make scrapbook, cut off night feeding, etc. etc.) that I cannot enjoy the time that I have to spend with my child.  (Note:  this is not the same as not disciplining your child, which is an entirely different issue.)

And so, to my fellow working moms I say this: there is no secret.  There is no formula.  No patented schedule that will make your life a breeze.  Being a parent is hard (whether you work or stay at home).  It demands your all.  You have to be selfless with your child and strong enough to put your foot down when others are overstepping boundaries.  You can do it.  We all do it and millions of mothers did it before us.  One diaper, one nap, one MumMum, one bath, one sleepless night, one tooth, one snuggle at a time.

Friday Night Dinner Project: Dinner with the kids *UPDATED*

UPDATE:  I was finally able to make the bread from this recipe thanks to my new Le Creuset French Oven.  Read about it here.

This week's menu, Dinner with the kids, turned into a complete gong show, through no fault of the cookbook, only the cook and life circumstances.  But there are still good things to report.  Time is short at the moment, so let's dive in.

This menu is simple and plain - which are meant to be very good things.  If you have kids, you know why this is important.

Mini Gougères with Creamy Scrambled Eggs
I've never made these types of little puff pastries before.  Thank you Bonnie!!!  It is so easy and the instructions are crystal clear, right down to the part about the dough becoming goopy and then magically going back together every time you beat in an egg.  I have to say that I was not a huge fan of these (because it called for 1 tbsp of pepper, which I should have just left out because I loathe it, but I added it anyway).  It was the pepper.  Having said that I am totally pumped to make them again sans pepper because the puffs looked amazing and tasted otherwise great (my husband and son had no problem eating them, and the texture was spot on).  I made two different fillings, the scrambled eggs as well as caramelized onions and combozola cheese I had leftover from the Standing Up Dinner.  It would be great to serve these at a party with goat cheese or smoked salmon as Bonnie suggests in the recipe's intro notes.
Butter and water in pot

The dough begins

Apart, together, egg, apart, together, egg, apart, you get the idea

Dough balls

Mini Gougère with Creamy Scrambled Egg
Chicken Skewers Glazed with Pomegranate Molasses
This was the other appetizer option, in lieu of the gougères, but I made both.  This is a simple, straightforward chicken recipe.  I did not put it on skewers but used it as an entree instead.  Bonnie recommends serving it with rice, but we had some naan bread we needed to use up so I served it with grilled naan bread, za'atar and hummus.

SIDEBAR: Do you see my yummy looking drink?  Did you know that you can buy pineapple juice at Costco in jugs?  I certainly did not until a few days ago when I was doing a big shop and found it.  Try this: pour some pineapple juice and orange juice over 3-4 ice cubes.  Add soda water.  Just simple and refreshing.  The ratio is about 50% pineapple juice, 30% orange juice, 20% soda water.  Anyhoo...

Breaded Chicken Cutlets
This is where things really started to go hairy.  My husband got the flu, I am trying to get organized for work tomorrow.  The kitchen is a mess.  For various reasons I couldn't fry them on the stove, could not cook them in the oven (we'll get to that in a minute), so I had to grill them in my griddler.  Not quite the same.  Also could not make the side dishes (getting to that too).  But here they are in their unsliced glory, just waiting to be served up with my favourite dipping sauce: honey.
This is not the recipe that appears in the book, but it's very similar.

Roasted Asparagus, Roasted Root Vegetable "Fries"
Well these recipes are very straightforward and simple.  I could not make them.  Asparagus is hard to come by in the dead of winter.  As for the roasted vegetables, I started to make them.  The oven was on, the vegetables were being peeled, when a horrible smell and smoke started wafting through our kitchen.  At this point I realized something my husband cooked last night had spilled over in the oven and no further cooking can be done until the oven is thoroughly cleaned.  No time to do that before bedtime today Roasted Root Vegetable Fries for me.

No Knead Artisanal Bread
Well, even if our oven was good to go this bread could not have been made.  It requires a medium sized heavy cast iron pot with lid.  I do not have one.  Add it to my wish list.  I MADE IT, I made it!  Read about it here!

Cherry Berry Lattice Pie
Back to the good stuff!  This pie is great.  I used raspberries (about 5 cups) and blueberries (1 cup) because cherries are not available right now where we live.  Also, I did not put in the recommended 8 cups of fruit because I do not have a deep dish pie plate.  It was still good.  This pie is slightly tart as it only requires 1/2 cup of sugar.

I had my first piece for breakfast this morning at 5am.  I convinced myself it was a healthy breakfast because..fruit.

Aunt Reba's Oatmeal Cookies
These cookies are great.  I make them often and included the recipe in the Santa SixPack I made my sister in law for Christmas.
You must drink them with a cold glass of milk.

That's a wrap for this week.

Friday, January 2, 2015

3 DIY Gift Ideas

It would have been nice to get this post up before Christmas, but what if the recipients of these gifts mysteriously found their way to my blog?  That just wouldn't do.  Now that the gifts have been given, the giver would like to share some gift ideas with you.  These gifts are certainly not limited to Christmas, and could be used for a variety of special occasions.

Gift from a child: Painted Canvas
Seriously, you cannot find a gift much easier or more unique than this.  I picked up some 4x4 inch Artist's Loft canvases on sale at Michael's during the Black Friday Week sales.  My son made his first paintings on these which were given to grandparents and great-grandparents.  Each canvas cost about $2.50.  The trick was getting him to put the brush on the canvas and not in his mouth!

DIY Tea Tray
Remember the old buffet we picked up at the Habitat Restore and transformed into an entertainment unit?  I still have the two doors that we removed from it and I used one of the doors to make a tea tray gift set.  It is a straightforward and fun project.  First, we removed all the hardware and filled in any scrapes, holes, as well as the holes left from the door handle removal.  Next up, we sanded everything down.  Repeat.  We had to do this a few times as the holes from where the hinges had been were fairly deep.  Once this was all done we primed the door.  Then the door, soon to be tray, was painted in St. Boniface (love this colour!) by Para Paints.  Finally, the handles were added (purchased on clearance at Home Depot for $3.00 each).
UPDATE: I forgot to add one very important note - after we painted the tray we also coated it in Verathane.  This is key to prevent stuff from sticking to it (especially in humidity) and to protect the surface.

I included both photos because in the first picture the lighting makes the tray look almost blue - but the second picture is truer to the actual colour (St. Boniface) which is a beautiful, dark grey.
This just looks like a totally relaxing afternoon in bed or lounging on the couch to me.  I gave the tray with 3 boxes of tea (Peppermint Tea from Higgins & Burke, and two variety boxes of Twinings Tea), two vintage teacups and saucers (the second teacup is not shown in the picture), and the current issues of Better Homes and Gardens, Canadian Living, and InStyle.

In case you are wondering - I do have a project planned for that second leftover door.  Once it is complete I will share.

The Santa SixPack
I call this gift the Santa SixPack, but truly this is a gift that can be altered to match any occasion.  It is also a gift that you can make for next to nothing, or for quite a bit depending on which elements you choose to include.  I picked six of my all time favourite cookie recipes and put the dry ingredients into Mason jars (several of which I topped with the green vintage lids) and then grouped them together in baskets.  I printed the recipes and glued them onto red cardstock.  Also included in the baskets were a cookie scoop and a "Cookies for Santa" spatula, both of which I purchased at Target.  The thing I love about this gift is that it is very versatile - you could give the recipes and the Mason jars full of ingredients on their own, or you could add many extras such as spatulas, cookie scoops, measuring cups, even cookie sheets.  In case your wondering, yes, there is a jar of peanut butter in one of the baskets (for Old Fashioned Peanut Butter Cookies).  The recipient of this gift was very happy to get it and has been baking and eating them with her children over the past week.  Of course, it also made me want to bake some cookies...which I did.
Cookie scoop, Cookies for Santa spatula from Target.  Basket from Bulk Barn.

Basket from Real Canadian Superstore

Ribbon from Costco, cardstock from Michael's