Thursday, December 13, 2012

Have I Talked to You About Toaster-Tarts?


Have I talked to you lovely folks about toaster tarts yet?  Specifically, homemade toaster tarts?  They're super easy to make, and really convenient for breakfast or snacks on busy days.

All you need is a good pie/tart crust recipe, some jam, an egg, and some icing sugar & water to make frosting.  When choosing a crust recipe, you want to pick something that will be a little more solid, rather than flaky, since you want the tart to hold up in the toaster.

Roll out your dough into a large retangle about 1/8" thick, and then cut it into as many 3" x 4" rectangles as you can.  Match up pairs of rectangles that are about the same size & shape, brush both with some beaten egg, blob about a tablespoon of jam into the middle of one, and then plop the matching one on top and seal the edges with a fork.  If you've decided to do icing, mix the icing sugar with water until you get the consistency you want, and spoon it over the top of the tarts.
When all your rectangles are done, bake about 10-15 minutes, or until just lightly toasted (the idea is to make sure they're cooked, but to finish the final few minutes in the toaster later - unless, of course, you want to eat them now.  Then bake until fully toasted!).

The best part of making your own toaster tarts is that you can choose whichever flavour you like, especially if you make your own jams & jellies.  Even if you don't, there are a lot of great, good quality jams out there to use for the filling.

Half the batch I made recently (pictured above) were made with the peach-blueberry freezer jam I made earlier this summer.  The other half were made with my dad's homemade red currant jam.  I have one more tart left from the previous batch (made with strawberry-blueberry jam) before I can dig into the new ones.  I'm sure they'll be tasty when I finally do get to enjoy them!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Almost Winter Holiday Madness Extravaganza!

Holy shamoly you guys!  It is December freaking 5th today!  I'm sure I'm not the only one trying to figure out where November went.  It slipped by when we weren't paying attention I think.

I'm both excited about, and dreading, this coming holiday season.  I'm excited as this will be my baby's first Christmas, with all the ridiculousness that entails.  She'll only be 10 months old, so we have only got her two presents, and maybe some stocking stuffers, but I'm pretty sure her grandmas have gone a little crazy.  The potential aftermath is a little bit frightening, especially since we live in a small house.

I'm dreading this coming holiday season as this means I am that much closer to returning to work.  While I am extremely greatful to live in a country like Canada, where we get a paid year of parental leave (assuming you pay into our government employment insurance program and have worked the qualifying hours), I am also sad that I don't live in a country like Norway, where you get 2 years to spend with your baby.

Now that I have a munchkin, holiday presents are now complicated by so many things.  The gender issues I spoke about in my last blog post, along with toys that stifle creative play are my two major concerns.  Susan Linn's books are a great place to start if you want to find out how modern electronic toys and marketing affect children & how they play.  I also don't want to have to buy batteries or listen to the same twinkly song 50 times a day.

If you also have not finished your holiday shopping/baking/other related errands, here's a quick and filling recipe to help your evenings along. 

Lentil Couscous Salad
1 can lentils
1/2 cup couscous
1 medium to large carrot, peeled & sliced
1 stalk celery, sliced
any other veggie you have handy that you want to throw in (eg. broccoli florets, frozen corn, sliced radishes, etc)
1 green onion, diced
olive oil
white wine vinegar or lemon juice
salt & pepper to taste

1. Put the lentils,  and the vegetables that you want cooked (carrots, broccoli) in a pot with just enough water to cover.  Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer and cook until vegetables are al dente.
2. While the lentils & veggies are cooking, prepare the couscous as per package directions (usually, equal parts boiling water to couscous, let sit for a few minutes and then fluff with a fork).
3. When the lentil & veggie mixture is done, drain, and add to the couscous.  Add remaining diced vegetables.
4. For the dressing, you can either pre-mix it in another bowl, or you can just free pour the olive oil and acid of your choice into the salad and then mix everything together and enjoy!

In case I forget to do another blog post before holiday insanity truly hits, have a good holiday season all!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Baby Gender: How Marketing Has Changed

It is hard to believe how much my baby has changed in a few short months.  She used to be a teeny (relatively - partner is tall & kiddo is definitely getting those genes), totally dependant bundle.  Currently, she's crawling and feeling along the coffee table for things to grab and offering me cheeky grins.

There are a lot of things I wish fo her future.  When I look at certain parts of the world, I'm worried that I won't be able to parent through them adequately.

One of the things that really bothers me is the genderization of very small children & babies.  I'm not sure when it started, but it is radically different from when I was small.

If you were born in the 1980s (and possibly the first half of the 1990s), it was relatively easy to find clothes that could fit a child of either gender, making hand-me-downs a little bit easier.  If you wanted a pair of overalls, they were just plain-old denim overalls.

Nowadays, if you want a pair of overalls, you have to choose between girl overalls & boy overalls.  The girl overalls will likely have some pink or purple elements to them, or be embroidered with butterflies/flowers/animal print or have ruffles somewhere.  The boy overalls will likely be embroidered with some sort of sports-related item, vehicles, dogs or fierce animals like crocodiles.
If you do manage to find a pair of plain overalls, it is almost a guarantee that they'll be in the boy section of the store.

There's a similar issue going on with toys.  If you were a small child in the 80s you may remember this guy:
The chatter-phone is still around.  Only now, the above image is the 'boy' phone.  There's now a girl phone, that is, you guessed it, in shades of pink.  Same thing with the awesome popper toy that you may remember.  The traditional version you may remember is now the 'boy' version, and they've done a pink 'girl' version.

I don't see how the above toy is for boys only.  To me, it's just a toy, suitable for a child of any gender.  I don't think it benefits anyone other than manufacturors to encourage the parents babies and small children into buying all pink or blue toys and clothing depending on their genitalia.  Babies don't care about those sort of differences - they're too busy learning how the world works.
Gravity is super-fascinating when you've never seen it before.

I think one of the reasons this bothers me so much is that I was never a girly-girl. I understand that there are girls who love princesses & all the things that go with that, but I never did. I wanted to be an astronaut-ballerina-archaeologist when I was little, so that I could dig up dinosaurs, bring them to space, and then put on a kick-butt dance show when I came back to Earth (somehow, not surprising that I have a BFA in theatre production & design when I think about that . . .). My favourite colour was blue.

I want my baby to feel comfortable choosing any colour she wants to be her favourite.  I want her to be able to play with a toy without someone telling her it is a 'boy' toy.  I want her to wear comfortable clothes (that I can possibly hand down to any future cousins or siblings without issue).  I know there's a chance that she'll go through a girly-girl phase, and I want to encourage her to be herself.  I also want her to understand that princess is not a career choice.

I'm not sure of the best way to wrap this up, since it feels like a bit of a rant now.  I guess my main point is that after all the advances in equality that have been, and that continue to be made in Western society (including womens' rights, gay marriage, etc), the idea that corporations are trying to get us to go back to the gender ideals of the 1950s just to make a few extra dollars, that really riles me up.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Potato-Bean Cakes - Nom!Nom!Nom!

How's everyone's fall going?  It is one of my favourite seasons - we're past the ugly, hot humidity of summer, but not yet in the super-chilly temperatures of winter.  I'm still figuring out how I'm going to carry the baby around when the temperature drops a little more, but she's currently quite content in a baby carrier, dressed in her fleece with my coat as far around us both as it will go. 

Speaking of baby carriers, who knew they could be this addictive?  There's a different kind for practically every need!  Right now, I'm holding tight at our current count of four. We have a stretchy wrap (ours is from a Canadian company called Maman Kangourou), a woven wrap (mine is the Selter pattern from Didymous and it is beautiful), a ring sling (another Canadian company called Chimparoo) and a soft-structured carrier (ours is a Beco Gemini in the limited edition Orion Black print).  The wraps are really nice at this time of year since there's a little more fabric around you both.
I don't feel too bad, since the internet tells me that woven wraps especially are addictive, and some parents own upwards of twenty!

Once again, I neglected to take photos of the food portion.  Sorry folks!  Having a baby is pretty distracting when trying to make some sort of meal. 
 
Anywho, Potato-Bean Cakes are an easy & fairly quick way to get some protein into your system.  They're also a handy condiment conveyance device!

You will need just a handful of ingredients.

1 large potato (baked)
1 can beans (I've done this with cannellini, black eyed peas and a tin of mixed beans, but I find a single kind of bean works best).
1 clove garlic diced (or some diced onion - personally, I prefer the onion)
1 egg
1 tsp dill (or more, if you like)
salt & pepper to taste
oil for frying

That's it!  Short list, right?

To start, drain & rinse the beans.  Then put them in a large bowl and mash them until there's still a few whole beans left.  Dice the baked potato and add it to the beans along with the egg, garlic or onion & spices.  Mash everything together until it is well mixed.
Form the mix into patties, balls or whatever other shape you would like (I find patties works best for frying).  I usually get between 8-12 cakes.  Put them on a plate in the fridge to set for half an hour to an hour.
When the setting time is done, heat some oil in a pan and fry your cakes in batches until golden (be sure to flip them & fry both sides).
Then you can eat them with the condiments of your choice!  I have eaten these with homemade plum sauce, bbq sauce & ketchup.  I've seen similar recipes that call for an accompanying aoili or chipotle mayo sauces.

They make a nice dinner when served with a salad & some steamed veggies.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

S'mores Pie, Guinea Pigs and a Baby Talks to a Chair

I have to confess that I haven't been doing anything special the last few weeks.  Amusing a baby has been pretty high on the list.  She's 8 months old now, and mobile, which is keeping me on my toes! 

I never expected that I would have to fish a tiny human from out beneath my coffee table multiple times a day when I started this adventure.  She's currently at my feet, talking to her bouncy chair.  I don't know why, since the chair doesn't answer - it just sits there, as chairs are wont to do.  Even if the chair did talk, I'm pretty sure it wouldn't understand what "Nabamana!!" means.

That being said, she's now started to communicate to us, which has been lovely.  She can wave hello (amusingly, she'll wave hello to the guinea pigs, who just look at her & wait to see if she'll give them some lettuce), raises her arms to indicate she wants up, and she can do the sign for milk when she wants to nurse.  I'm hoping the next sign she learns is the one for diaper!

Speaking of the guinea pigs, here's a photo of Princess taking a nap on top of her cuddle sack.

When we adopted the girls, they both had a severe guinea pig mite infestation, but Princess had a worse reaction by far.  Half of her hair had fallen out, and she had scratched herself raw.  She now has immune-system based spot baldness but is otherwise healthy.  I think she looks like a little sheep.

This is her cagemate, Rosie.

Rosie is my cuddle-pig.  She's a squishy ball of cuddly fur.  She currently has ovarian cysts, but our vet is doing a bang-up job of treating her.

On the baking end of things, I've been doing more lately.  I'm semi-regularly making bread, and cookies.  This weekend I'm having some people over, and I had a bit of a spree.  The thing I'm most excited about is the S'mores Pie*.  It was super-easy, and should be delicious!

To make your own S'mores Pie, you need a few simple ingredients.
1 1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup melted butter or margarine
1 packet chocolate pudding mix
milk to make the pudding (usually 2 cups)
1 to 2 cups whipped cream
mini marshmallows

1. Mix the graham cracker crumbs & melted butter together and then press into a 9" pie pan.  Make sure it gets up the sides, as this is your crust.
2.  Make the pudding.  Fold in the whipped cream and then pour into your graham pie crust.
3. Top with mini marshmallows.  Make sure you get a good layer of them on there.
4. Put the pie in the fridge for at least an hour so the chocolate mousse can set.  My pie is currently in the fridge overnight.
5. Once the filling has set, put the pie under the broiler of the oven just long enough for the marshmallows to get nice & toasty.

If you wanted to do something less reliant on already partially processed foods, you could make a chocolate custard or a from-scratch chocolate mousse for the filling.  You could even go so far as to make your own marshmallows, but that becomes a bit of a multi-day project.

I'm tempted to try this pie again, but to coat the bottom of the pie with a layer of dulche de leche or caramel, just to up the ante a little.  What do you think?

* You all know what a s'more is right?  Just in case: you toast a marshmallow over a campfire (hoping that you don't set it on fire accidentally), and then sandwich it with a piece of chocolate between two graham crackers and hope you don't burn your tongue when you take your first gooey bite.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Double Chocolate Mint Brownies

I've been writing about food a lot lately haven't I?  I guess it's because I'm a bit of a domestic nerd - I mean, I make my own pickles and jam, bake things from scratch and get really excited about cheese samples.

It's also a lot easier than writing about other issues that have become important to me, but can easily result in an internet troll or flame war.  Seriously, some people treat parenting like some bizarre competition, and if you are not doing the same things they are, you are, apparently, cheating.  

There are a lot of bloggers who have been at it a lot longer than I have, and seem to have a good handle on the controversial stuff.  I think I'll leave it to them.

Instead, I'd like to talk to you about brownies.  Delicious double chocolate brownies.  With mint.  Delicious minty double chocolate brownies.  My house currently smells of them and it's all I can do to keep from devouring the whole pan.

They are also insanely easy.  Start with the base Baker's Choclate One-Bowl Brownies recipe:

You will need:
4 squares (ounces) of unsweetened chocolate
3/4 cup of butter
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup flour

Instead of the optional nuts in the original recipe, you will need 1 entire bag of chocolate chips (350g bag if you are in a country that uses the metric system).

You will also need 1/4 tsp mint essence

Melt the butter & chocolate squares together.  I usually do this in the microwave - it takes 1-2 minutes.
Once melted, add the sugar and stir until well blended.
Add the vanilla, mint, and eggs.  I usually add the eggs one at a time.  I find it makes things a little airier.
Then, stir in the flour.  Once the flour has been incorporated, add the chocolate chips.
Pour into your greased cake pan,and bake for 30-35 minutes in a 350F oven.

I recommend under-baking them slightly, so that they'll remain more moist.  Theoretically, this makes 24 brownies.  In my house, it usually makes 6-12 depending on how many I eat right out of the pan and how generously I cut them.

Now that my house smells of minty chocolate goodness, this will hopefully be motivation for me to get some more of my preserving done this coming weekend.

If you're sick of food-related posts, maybe next time I'll tell you about the four-legged creatures that live in my house.

* If it's near the holiday season, when they are mostly cooked, but the top hasn't set yet, you can sprinkle them with 1/2 cup to 1 cup of crushed candy canes for extra minty goodness.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Canning Fool

If you were smarter/less busy than I this past spring and planted a garden, you should have been faced with abundance the past month or so.  Since the weather has been so mild here in Southern Ontario, you are probably still in the midst of abundance.

Abundance, to me, also equals preserving some of it for later enjoyment.

Since I was not really in any position to get a garden going this past spring, I'm mostly relying on farmer's market/local produce from the grocery store to get my preserves restocked.  Due to the munchkin, I'm doing it sort of piecemeal, since I need to have someone else on hand to watch her.  I also need to plan it around her feeding schedule since I'm nursing.

Yesterday I managed to get some Red Onion Jelly and some Garlic & Sweet Pepper Jelly made in one afternoon!  This is in addition to the Peach-Blueberry freezer jam, Zesty Dill Pickle Slices and Ginger Carrot & Daikon pickles I've already made.

I don't have any photos of the pickles, but here's some photographic evidence of the jellies!


The Red Onion Jelly comes out in a lovely pink hue. 


You can sort of see the flecks of red pepper of the garlic jelly in the above photo.

My two favourite sources for water-bath canning (the kind for which you don't need any special equipment) are the Bernardin cookbooks and a book I picked up called The Complete Book of Small Batch Preserving

Canning is one of those food-related things where I generally follow a recipe fairly closely, since there is a risk of food poisoning if it goes wrong.

Still on the preserving list for me:
  • Strawberry Jam (from berries I stashed in the freezer last summer during first trimester pregnancy nausea)
  • Salsa (I use a recipe from the Small Batch book for this, but replace parsley with cilantro in my version)
  • Plum sauce (I haven't actually made plum sauce before, so I'm still deciding on a base recipe.  If you have a favourite, please let me know!)
  • Ketchup (maybe.  If tomatoes are a good price, and I don't get distracted)
Have you done any preserving yet this season?  What will you be making?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Glorious Peaches


Peaches are in season here.  I love peaches. They are one of my favourite fruits. I generally only eat them when they are in season - tinned just isn't the same.  My partner doesn't like them, which means that I can buy & devour a whole basket of them without having to share.

That is, I didn't have to share until recently.  It turns out, the kiddo, who is just shy of 6 months as of this writing, really likes peaches.  The other day, I bit into a peach, and she grabbed my arm, yanked it down to her face level and faceplanted onto the fruit.  She then preceded to suck out the juice from where I had just bitten.  She insisted that I share the rest of the peach with her via baby-death-grip on my wrist.

I think she's ready to start solids.

In an attempt to preserve some of the delicious peachiness for myself, I made some peach-blueberry freezer jam.  Freezer jam is the best!  All you need is mashed fruit, sugar and freezer jam pectin.  No stove required - which is fantastic on hot days.  The downside is that you can't store the jars on a shelf - as the name implies, it is best stored in the freezer.  It also tends to be a little bit runnier than other jams, but depending on how you are planning on using the jam, I find that's generally not an issue.

I've already eaten half a jar, stirred into my morning oatmeal.  I wouldn't be surprised if I turn into a peach before the summer is out!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Bread Heels & Baby Feeding

I've never understood why small children & babies dislike having their faces wiped so much. 
I can understand why they don't want you messing with their nose - after all, how would you feel if someone tried to pick your nose?
But on the faces front, I don't get it.  I would feel better after having sticky crud removed from my chin.
I've been ruminating on this topic lately as we will soon be faced with introducing solids to the munchkin.  This, of course, will necessitate much face wiping.
We've purchased a high chair, and have been sitting her in it with a spoon & some toys at meal times.  So far, she seems to like it.


As for the idea of actually getting food into her face, well, frankly, I'm a bit frightened.  I also don't want to have to spend ages every week making purees. 
This has brought me to research baby-led weaning (ie. minimizing the purees and just giving your kid actual food).  You can see how this approach is appealing from a time saving standpoint.  Just make sure there's some veggies/meat/etc appropriately cooked through, and in a form easy for the kid to grasp, and let them have at it (with supervision of course).
Anecdotally, babies fed this way seem to be less likely to become picky eaters.  Since my partner & I enjoy trying different cuisines, this also seems awesome to us.  I like the idea of being able to cook whatever & have her eat at least part of it.

Speaking of cooking whatever, last night I made a Greek-inspired strata.  I don't like eating the heels of bread loaves, but I also dislike wasting food.  So, I usually put them in the freezer until I have a bunch, and then I make a strata.  It is a convenient way to use up stale or leftover bread.
You will need:
a 2 quart casserole dish (greased)
5-6 cups diced, stale or toasted bread (about 10 pieces of a standard store-bought loaf)
2 cups milk
4 eggs
veggies, cheese, spices, etc to throw in.  The version I did last night had:
1/2 one large cooking onion, diced
8 quartered cherry tomatoes
1/2 packet of frozen spinach, thawed & squeezed to get rid of the extra liquid
lots of feta cheese
some sliced mushrooms because they needed to be used up
oregano, thyme & pepper

Toss the onion, tomatoes, mushrooms & spices in your casserole (Hey! I remembered to take pictures!).

Add your spinach and cheese

Then add your bread cubes.  Beat your eggs & the milk together, and pour over top.

Then, stir everything up in the dish so it is well mixed.  Put it in the oven, uncovered, at about 325-350F and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

The bread will soak up the egg & milk mixture, and everything will get all puffy & chewy & wonderful.  If you like, before you put it into the oven, you can sprinkle the top with breadcrumbs or Parmesan.  Then the top will come out all crunchy & delicious.

The best thing about strata is that you can adapt it to any flavour profile you like.  Having people over for brunch?  Fill it with cheddar, diced bell pepper, onion and diced potatoes (and if you like meatiness, you could also add bacon or breakfast sausages).  Fancy dinner?  Fill it with Gruyere & asparagus & mushrooms.

Hopefully, baby will be able & willing to enjoy strata when I make it next.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Take One Banana . . .



Human beings love to give advice.  It seems to be an innate trait in our species.  It really comes out when people see you with a new baby.  In this situation it is also 95% unsolicited, often from complete strangers.

Here's the thing, the science & knowledge behind child development is constantly evolving.  What was recommended when I was a baby is vastly different from what is now often recommended. 

It used to be commonly recommended that babies be put to sleep on their tummies.  We now know that this increases the risk of SIDS, so babies should be put to sleep on their backs.

There are also about a million ways to raise children.  This is important because babies/children are individuals.  They have their own quirks and needs, that may be different from another babies quirks and needs.  In other words, what works for one family, may not work for another family.

I admit that I've gone a little granola in my parenting choices so far.  I'm exclusively breastfeeding on demand.  We co-sleep.  I wear my baby in a wrap or sling when we go out most of the time.  We're using cloth diapers (and holy shamoly are modern cloth diapers freaking adorable! Look at this! ). I'm researching baby-led weaning.

You may think I'm turning into a cuckoo-hippy-crazy-lady.  However, my child is happy, growing well, and meeting her developmental milestones.  In other words, this is clearly working for our family (for now at least - babies are tricky creatures and will change it up on you without a moment's notice!).

When I'm out & about with my kid, and she's smiling and enjoying the world, don't tell me what a 'good baby' she is, and then proceed to tell me everything I'm doing wrong.  Same when she's tired & cranky.  Maybe she's been cranky all day due to teething, and I'm taking us both for a walk in order to maintain my sanity.

In any event, after unsolicited advice has hit me in my confidence as a parent, here's a little treat that I make for myself.  It has fruit and protein and chocolate, so I can also pretend there's some healthiness in there.

Take one banana. 
Peel the banana, and break it in half (or thirds, or quarters) and put the pieces in a bowl.
Spread the top of the banana pieces with peanut butter (or whatever nut butter you have in the house - I've also used almond butter to great success).
Cover with chocolate sauce (I usually use the kind you use to make chocolate milk).
Eat.

It's like taking a homemade peanut butter cup and making it even better.  An added bonus for the summer months is that it requires zero use of any heat generating appliances.
I hope it makes you feel better too.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Vegetable Stroganoff

How are enjoying your summer so far?  Despite the heat, ours is going pretty well.  Turns out the kiddo loves water!  Thank goodness my mom bought us a kiddie pool! 


Last night, the baby was being cooperative, so I made dinner before my partner came home (she's usually hungry/needy around the time I would normally need to start dinner in order to have it ready for my partner's usual arrival time).

We had Vegetable Stroganoff.  I don't think I make this often enough.  Here's how you can make it for yourself (sans pictures, sorry).

Ingredients:
Noodles (egg noodles are traditional, but I find any noodle will do.  Last night I used bowtie pasta)
1 cube of vegetable or mushroom bouillion
1 heaping tbsp flour
sour cream
water
butter or margarine
1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
an assortment of veggies, that in my opinion must include mushrooms.  Last night, I used about 7 button mushrooms, a carrot, broccoli and frozen green beans.

Put a pot of water on for the noodles.  At the same time, melt the butter in a frying pan and toss in the onions. 
When the onion has softened, add the garlic to the pan.  When the onion & garlic has started to caramelize, you can begin adding your other veggies, starting with those that will take longest to cook.
In the meantime, mix together your bouillion cube, the flour and at least a half cup of sour cream.  Add pepper to taste, and then thin it out with a quarter to a half cup of water and make sure it is well mixed.
If your veggies are mostly cooked, add the sauce to the frying pan, stirring well and being sure to scrape the delicious caramelized goodness from the bottom of the pan.  The sauce will thicken and reduce fairly quickly.  Add water if you want it runnier. 
Add the noodles and toss everything together and then enjoy! 

I hope you like it!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Figs and Goat Cheese and Goat Cheese and Figs

Since I am on maternity leave, I'm finding that while every day is a new adventure in baby-town, there's also a fair amount of sameness to it.

  • Diapers (the adventure the last little while is the switch from disposables to cloth.  I think we've finally found a style/brand that we like!)
  • baby bodily fluids (seriously, how are babies able to expel this much liquid in various forms in a day?? Where do they keep it all?)
  • multiple outfit changes due to the above (sometimes for both of us)
  • the daily walk (ie. let's get out of the house for a bit before mommy loses her sanity)
Babies are lucky they are so gosh darned adorable sometimes.  Other times, they're so cute and sweet and ideal babies you just want to kiss their feet until they fall off.  Or maybe that's just me.

In any event, I'm really loving staying home with our little one.  Look! Here's a photo of how cute she is in her summer gear for you!


Baby sunglasses may be the greatest thing ever, both for their practicality (yay UV protection!), and for how freaking adorable they are.  I'm also trying out our new ring sling - so far, she seems to like it, but I think I need a little more practice.

Now that I'm done mommy-jacking my own blog (I hope you didn't mind!), on to today's lunch.
I've been eating a lot of peanut butter & jam sandwiches and cheese sandwiches lately.  They're quick, easy and I can usually eat them with one hand while juggling baby things with the other.

Today, I felt like trying something a little different, and I remembered a visit to MontrĂ©al I took for work once, where I had a fig, caramelized onion and goat cheese panini that was so good, I ordered a second one before I finished the first. Note: one of my coworkers also ordered a second sandwich.  They were that amaze-balls.

With a small child on hand, and an innate laziness, I wasn't about to caramelize onions for my lunch.  I did, however, have goat cheese & homemade fig jam in the fridge.

So, I took some whole wheat wraps, spread them with a generous blob of fig jam, goat cheese, sliced radish, sliced baby cucumber and romaine lettuce.

Pre-lettuce wrap.  Look at the fig jam oozing out!

Amazing!  I wish I had remembered about the fig jam sooner.  As it is, I know I have a second jar, and now I'm torn as to whether or not to use it to make some more homemade fig newton cookies, or delicious grilled cheese sandwiches.

In conclusion: sweet, delicious figs + soft, salty goat cheese = delicious combination!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Tag!

So Skwishee over at Just a Mum? has gotten involved in a game of tag and she's told me I can play along too!

She's posed 11 random questions that I have to answer:

1. Name a book that somehow changed you. How?
This is a hard question since I read a LOT of books.  Seriously, our house is practically a library.
I'm going to name 2 books from my earlier years.  Anna to the Infinite Power and Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls were both among the first science fiction/fantasy books that I read that had female protagonists who weren't simpering princesses awaiting rescue.  It showed me that the sci-fi/fantasy genres could be more than 'boy smash', and that female characters could be represented in a more rounded manner.

2. If someone were to cook you the perfect meal, what would it be?
Spaghetti, with homemade tomato sauce, vegetarian 'meatballs', a nice salad with a variety of greens and boccini, garlic fried mushrooms, beer, tea, water and a super-chocolately cake (with the inner layers having chocolate mousse instead of icing between them) for dessert.  At least, that's what it would be at the moment.  I'm notoriously fickle when it comes to food, aside from the 'no things that had faces' rule.

3. Who do you want to be when you grow up?
Me, or possibly a muppet version of me.

4. You find a wallet containing $20,000 on the ground, containing no identification. What do you do?
Hem & haw for a good 15 minutes.  Then I'd probably take it to the nearest police station and hope they say that I can have it if no one claims it. Boring and staid, right?

5. Name one completely irrational fear that you've got.
That zombies will break into my house when I'm sleeping and attack.  When I was younger, it used to be 'generic bad guys', but pop culture has morphed it into something more specific.

6. Give me three songs that you're embarrassed to admit you like.
Arms Wide Open by Creed
Barbie Girl by Aqua (what can I say? It's catchy!)
I Wish by Skee-Lo

7. What is one thing you absolutely love about yourself?
It's cliche, but I really do love being a mom (most days anyway).

8. If you could be doing ANYTHING right now, what would it be?
Finishing "A Dance with Dragons" while simultaneously having a good, solid nap AND enjoying both.

9. What's the best thing that happened to you this week?
Well, it's only Tuesday, so there hasn't been much of a week yet, but I would say tiramisu gelato was one of the highlights so far.

10. If you could perfect one skill overnight, what would it be?
My knife skills - it would lead to so much more baking and cooking!

11. Tea or coffee?
Definitely tea.  Coffee hurts my insides.

Okay, on to part two!  Eleven random facts about myself.

1. I love salt & vinegar chips. 
2. I hate toe socks and flip flops.  It really skeeves me out to have things between my toes.
3. I probably watch waaaayyyy too much of the Food network.
4. The Food Network & Discovery Channel are the main reasons I do not want to give up cable.
5. I really am not looking forward to leaving my little girl when I go back to work next winter.  I will miss her so.
6. Sometimes, I eat cream cheese with a spoon.
7. I prefer Miracle Whip to plain mayo.  That being said, I've never had homemade mayo, which may change my opinion.
8. I strongly dislike small, round, explody foods.  Ie. I hate peas, tapioca, olives and rice pudding.  For everything except the olives, it is mostly a textural thing.  With olives, it is also flavour.
9. I start a lot of knitting projects, but I often get bored, disinterested or distracted partway through, and it takes me forever to finish them.  Example: I've been working on the same sweater, for me, for 3 years now.  I'm nowhere close to finished.
10. My favourite beverage is water.
11. I'm a huge nerd and I am okay with that.  If anyone wants to give me lightsaber chopsticks for my next birthday, I won't complain. Really, anything from ThinkGeek would probably work out fine :)

Now, in theory I should be tagging some others, but I don't follow too many blogs, and most of the ones I do follow have already been tagged.

Hrm.

I know, you should go and read
Swiskee's blog over at Just a Mum? because she is lovely and smart and funny
Jen's blog at My Adorable Smalltown Life because she really is adorable, and Gary the girl cat is a fluffy love-bug
Julie's blog at Feeding the Cat because she's funny and naughty and always interesting

If anyone would like to be tagged (Marilyn at Shumpgullion maybe?), let me know and I'll make up 11 questions for you :)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Babies and Bread Machines

I'm a few days away from my daughter hitting the three month mark and I still can't shake the "I have a baby! Holy crap!" feeling.

(Photo care of the lovely Danielle)

It is all those stereotypical crazy/awesome/wonderful things and also, occasionally, really, really gross.  Really. 

You learn all sorts of new skills when you have a baby, and one of the top ones is redefining time management.  Babies have no sense of urgency.  They don't care that you have an appointment in an hour - they want what they want right now.

This means that I've come to appreciate my 'new to me' bread machine on a whole new level.  I can just throw in the ingredients, hit the start button, and 3-4 hours later, I have delicious bread!  If I can't get to the machine, it has an automatic keep warm feature, which shuts itself off after an hour.  It is freaking amazing.

So far, I've made one loaf of each of the following kinds of bread:
whole wheat
oatmeal
cinnamon
4 cheese

Totally worth it.  The cinnamon bread was fantastic toasted with butter, although if we had maple spread in the house, I'm sure it would have been great with that too.

The four cheese bread (ricotta, swiss, old cheddar and parmesan mixed right into the bread dough) is also lovely.  So far I've mostly eaten it plain with butter, but I've also turned it into fantastic garlic toast.  I'm thinking it'll make interesting sandwiches as well since it is so flavourful.

Do you enjoy making bread?  Do you use a bread machine?  Got any good bread recipes?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Tofu Fingers: A Condiment Conveyance Device


Tofu, to many people, conjures up images of hippy-dippy crap from the 60s and 70s.  I don't know why, since many people I know who get these images weren't on the planet during that time period.
It is one of those foods, in Western culture, that seems to automatically be an item of derision.  Many people don't like black licorice, but people who enjoy black licorice generally aren't the butt of jokes either.

If you've been following my blog, you've probably come to the realization that I don't eat things that have or had faces (ie. I am a vegetarian who will eat eggs & dairy).  In order to make sure I'm eating a healthy diet, and to keep my diet more varied, I do eat, and generally enjoy eating, tofu.

I also enjoy condiments.  I love condiments.  I sometimes will purposely make a food, for the express purpose of being able to eat the condiment that goes along with it (ie. I will sometimes make french fries, not because I want the fries, but because I want to have ketchup.  I'm weird, I know).
So, what is a condiment-loving fiend such as myself to do when a condiment craving hits?  Well, we make tofu fingers/sticks.

Here's what you need:
1 package of firm or extra-firm tofu
stuff to marinade it in (soy sauce, hoisin, worchestershire, various herbs & spices - or you can use a store bought marinade, or your favourite meat marinade.  Totally your call).
For the dredge: dijon mustard, mayonaise & thyme
For the final coating: bread crumbs & grated parmesan cheese

The recipe works best, I find, if you press the tofu for a little bit first, to get some of the liquid out, but you don't have to.  I often don't, because I don't feel like it at the time.

Cut the tofu into sticks. You can poke some fine holes into them with a toothpick if you want to give it extra spots to soak the marinade up, but you don't have to.

Put your tofu sticks into your marinade.  You ideally want to marinate the tofu overnight in the fridge, but it works if you let it soak for at least an hour if you're short on time.

When the tofu is almost done marinating, make your dredge & bread coating.  If you like a slightly sharper taste, use more dijon in your dredge.  We generally use a ratio of 3 or 4 parts mayo to 1 part dijon.  The bread coating should be a 1 to 1 ratio of bread crumbs to grated parmesan.

Once your tofu is done marinating, dredge and then bread it, and then bake it in the oven for about 40 minutes at 375 F.  If it looks a little soggy when it comes out, stick it back in for a few more minutes.

Then comes my favourite part.  Take your favourite dipping sauce (tonight, I couldn't decide, so I had sweet & sour sauce and BBQ sauce on my sticks).

I hope you give them a shot, since they are so easy-peasy to do, even if you are generally a meatytarian as opposed to a vegetarian.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Quick & Easy Noodle Soup

Today's food related part of the post is all about ramen/instant noodles!

In North America, they are known as a quick & cheap instant lunch/dinner - mostly enjoyed by college & university students. 
When I'm feeling lazy, or tired (which is a lot lately), I use them as a basis for a quick & easy veggie noodle soup.

Step one is to throw out the MSG laden bouillon packet that comes in the package.  That stuff is nasty.

Fill up a pot with water, and then dump in any/all of the following to form your broth base:
soy sauce
worchestershire sauce
hoisin
lemon or lime juice
prepared ginger
prepared garlic
prepared horseradish
hot sauce

Put the pot on the stove on high.  Then, depending on what veggies you have in your fridge & freezer, start chopping and adding, starting with the ones that will take the longest to cook. 
I usually start with sliced onion, frozen green beans and frozen corn.  Last time I made this, I also added carrots, broccoli, mushrooms & radishes. 
For a bit of protein, you can throw in some red lentils at the beginning, or cubed tofu (new or leftover), or crack an egg into the soup near the end (which is what I usually do). 
For the egg option, you can either beat it in a bowl first, to get more of an 'egg drop soup' effect, or crack it straight into a pot for more of a hard-poached egg.
When the water boils, add your noodles, and then turn the heat down so it doesn't boil over.  Then keep adding any veggies/egg/etc that you haven't added yet, and keep on the heat until the noodles are cooked and your veggies are heated.
Then slurp away!

On the note of the bread machine, today I made oatmeal bread.  It is delicious.  Once again, I have failed to take pictures.  Sorry.

Oh, and the baby is doing pretty awesome.  I think she's going to be tall like her daddy - she's already lengthy enough that the doctor called her a long noodle!

Friday, March 16, 2012

On the Subject of Yeast

On a visit with her new grandchild, my MIL brought their breadmaker.  They hadn't used it in more than a year, so they gave it to us!  She also brought a bag of whole grain wheat, an unopened jar of yeast and cooking oil (ie. all the leftover breadmaking ingredients they had). 

I'm very excited!  I have made bread before, but I've always had to do it the long way by hand.  Now that I have a little one, I think it'll be nice to make bread by dumping ingredients in the machine & forgetting about it for a few hours.  I've already made a loaf of whole wheat bread (which is pretty much gone except for one heel, so there's no photos).

If anyone has any good recipes that can be adapted to a bread machine, let me know!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

It's Official - I'm a Parent!

February 18, 2012 was a pretty monumental day in our household - our new daughter Esmeralda Marie arrived.

My cousin-in-law, who is a pretty awesome photographer, came by about 6 days later and took some photos.  You can see a few of them on her blog.

It's all crazy and new and I'm really glad that I stocked the freezer with muffins, cookies, lasagna, chili and other meals before she decided to show up.  It's made things a lot easier.

 Speaking of chili, here's a way to use up leftover chili (since I always make too much chili, I use this a lot).

Chili Lasagna (or Chili Lasagna Casserole, depending on how you want to play this out).

Aside from a bunch of leftover chili, you'll need the following.
One package of oven-ready lasagna noodles (or the regular kind of you're up to boiling them first, but I'm lazy)
A bunch of shredded cheese - whatever kind floats your boat.  I like a lot of cheese, so I use at least half a package of the pre-shredded stuff.
Any additional veggies you want to throw in.  Since I'm vegetarian, my chili is already pretty full of vegetables and I don't usually bother adding more.
Any or all of the following to garnish: sour cream, guacamole, tortilla chips, diced green onion

If you're doing this like a proper lasagna, layer everything in your baking dish like you would for a regular lasagna, using the chili in place of tomato sauce.  If you're doing it like a casserole, break up your noodles into chunks, and mix them with the chili and cheese in your casserole dish, making sure to leave enough cheese to do a layer on top.

Bake in the oven at about 350F for about an hour (or follow the package directions for the noodles).  Make sure to remove the lid/foil and bake for an extra 15 minutes so the top layer of cheese gets all melty and awesome.

When it's done, serve it up and garnish it with your choice of toppings. 

Now I'm going to run, as I have a wee baby who'll be waking up soon expecting her next meal.  I hope you enjoy!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Pumpkin Bread/Muffins

I know! Posts two days in a row!  This whole being on leave while waiting for my baby to show up thing has given me some more time than I thought (at least for now).

As part of this whole process, I've been trying to stockpile the freezer with some meals and snacks.  Today, I made pumpkin muffins.  My house smells amazing!

The basis of this recipe was a pumpkin bread recipe I got from my MIL.  I've altered it to try & make it a little healthier (and to use up what I have in the house).  I also add more spices than the original, since I like my pumpkin with a lot of different spices.  I do the same thing to pumpkin pie.  You can use it to make either a loaf, or a dozen large muffins.  Here's what you'll need:

1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp cloves
1 cup mashed, cooked pumpkin (or a 28 ounce can of pumpkin)
1 cup of oil (I usually use canola)
3 eggs

Optional 3/4 cup of any of the following: raisins, chocolate chips, nuts (walnuts are nice), pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds - it's what I used today.  They're high in iron!), unsalted sunflower seeds or dried cranberries.  Traditionally this is made with 3/4 cup of raisins AND 3/4 cup of nuts, but I personally hate raisins in my baked goods.

Preheat your oven to 350 F and prepare your muffin tin or loaf pan.

Mix all your dry ingredients together (you can see the eggs and my ziplock of defrosted pumpkin behind the bowl.  Kindly ignore the mug of hot chocolate).

You could mix the wet ingredients in a separate bowl, but I usually just dump them all in the dry and then stir everything together. 

You'll end up with a nice, thick batter.  At this point, you should add in your optional ingredients, if you are using them.  Hey look, pepitas!

Once your optional ingredients are all stirred in, you can pour the batter into your loaf pan, or spoon it into your muffin cups.  Then, put it in the oven!
If you are making a loaf, bake for 60 minutes (1 hour).  If you are making muffins, halve the time (ie. bake for 30 minutes).  I like to rotate my pans halfway through the cooking time, in case there are any uneven spots in the oven.
Here's the finished muffins I made today:

I've already eaten one, and I'm hoping that I can get the rest into the freezer before I eat them too!


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Award Season

In addition to the Oscars, the Emmys, the Junos and all the other awards which are part of the rapidly approaching award season, there's apparently this thing called an MOV award for blogging.

Both the lovely Julie over at Feeding the Cat & the equally lovely Skwishee at Just a Mom? gave one to me.
They're both pretty rockin' so go read their stuff if you haven't already.
Also, Skwishee, you really should give quick pickles a shot! They're easy, fun, cheap and delicious.  As an added bonus, extra jars make handy gifts.

I don't know who to give an award to in return, since I don't read a ton of blogs (and will likely be reading fewer in the coming weeks after our new human arrives).

However, I'm apparently supposed to post why I started writing.  While I really like my job, it doesn't use my degree or creative muscles (for the record, I have a B. of Fine Arts in Theatre Production and Design - specifically lighting design, costume design and stage management).  It also lets me avoid driving my loved ones crazy from talking their ears off about the latest recipe I've tried/thing I've done in the garden/etc.

So there ya go.  Thanks for the appreciation :)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Garlic Breath Salad Dressing

Here's my problem with posting recipes that are 'mine' as it were.  I'm not a measuring kind of person.  I tend to just blob stuff in until it looks about right (unless I'm baking, because the basics in baking are SCIENCE!).

Onto the salad dressing.  This is base of this recipe started life as a free recipe included with my Jamie Oliver Flavour Shaker.  Then I messed around with it.  It's delicious on both green & potato salads - just don't expect to be able to talk to anyone without having them recoil in garlicky horror until after you've brushed your teeth a few times.

You will need:
1-2 large cloves of garlic
white wine vinegar
dijon mustard
olive oil
sour cream
salt & pepper

Peel the garlic.  If you have a Flavour Shaker, bash the living jahosiphats out of the garlic in there.  If you don't have a flavour shaker, you can use a mortar & pestle to turn it into garlic mush.  Failing that, dicing it super-insanely-fine will also be adequate.
Put your mushed up garlic in a bowl (or leave it in your shaker and just pour the remaining ingredients in there). 
Add about 3 kitchen teaspoons (not measuring spoons) of olive oil, 2 of white wine vinegar, about 1 of dijon mustard and a giant heaping kitchen tablespoon of sour cream.  Beat all the ingredients together (I usually just use a fork) until well combined. 
Add salt & pepper to taste.
Pour it over your salad and enjoy your newfound ability to repel vampires simply by opening your mouth!

Remember that all the measurements above are approximate and feel free to make substitutions!  I've used yogurt or mayo when I was out of sour cream (or if you were fancy-pants, you could use creme fraiche).  Cider vinegar & red wine vinegar are ok too (slightly different flavours and colours, but no harm done).  I've even added a giant blob of honey to make creamy honey-garlic dressing.

I hope you like it!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Random Pregnancy Facts I've Learned So Far

This baby's due date is rapidly approaching.  It is both exciting and terrifying to think about how much life is going to change when they finally decide to show up.

Here's some random things about pregnancy that I've learned so far, that aren't common knowledge.

1) Morning sickness is a misnomer.  It's more like random-anytime-throughout-the-day-nausea-and-throwing-up.  Not nearly as cute sounding as 'morning sickness'.

2) Morning sickness affects everyone differently, and can be different from pregnancy to pregnancy.  Some people don't get it at all (lucky ducks!).  Other women are so sick they end up in hospital for the entire pregnancy.  I just felt like I was seasick 24 hours a day for the first 3 and a bit months.

3) As your stomach gets larger, you may experience localized belly button pain or itching.

4) Your ankles, like the shallowest of friends, are very likely to abandon you before the end of the pregnancy.

5) Yes, it's really, really weird to feel the baby move, especially at first.

6) Depending on where the placenta attaches, it can affect how soon you feel the baby move.  If it attaches anteriorly (the side where your stomach is), it'll likely be much later, since the baby will be facing toward your spine and internal organs, where there aren't as many nerve endings.

7) Your feet may permanently change shoe size.  On the upside, if this happens to you, it means that you'll get to buy new shoes!

8) You may or may not experience food cravings (weird or otherwise) but most women definitely experience strong smell and food aversions.  Cooking meat is apparently a very common aversion for many women.

And my brain has now tapped out.  Goodnight!