I’ve spent the day in the kitchen. I can’t decide if this is a fine and lovely thing, for which I am appreciative, or if it’s a bit of a waste, and I should have been outside in the sunshine, or off to church this morning, or participating in one of the many community events going on today …
Instead, I woke up, started the laundry, hung a load from last night on the line outside, and turned on the radio, which is my constant companion on kitchen days. Then I began. I started by mixing and kneading a batch of bread and setting it to rise on the counter. I chopped and stewed plums and pears, which had been going to mush on the counter. In another pot, I sauteed onions, garlic, and herbs, and on a baking sheet arranged whole, cored tomatoes. I fired up the BBQ to about 375, and roasted the tomatoes with the sauteed veggies for several hours. I heated milk and washed jars and made yogurt. I mixed up cookie dough and baked the worst cookies ever. (And I followed the recipe. I have no explanation, except that maybe the kitchen is politely telling me to scram).
And I hung a second load of laundry on the line.
Could that be all? I started before 9am, and it is now nearly 4pm. For my efforts, I have arrayed before me: 2 jars of plum-pearsauce; 4 loaves of bread; several litres of roasted tomato sauce; 6 jars of yogurt; and a batch of barely edible cookies. The week ahead, and its necessary meals, remains unplanned. I am, therefore, going to throw on my running gear and go for a looooooooong run in today’s remaining sunshine. Fooey and Kevin are in charge of supper: pita pizzas on the BBQ using that roasted tomato sauce (I scraped the roasted ingredients into a pot and macerated them using a hand blender).
As the school year begins again, my mind returns to the necessity of producing weekday suppers, frequently to be eaten at a ridiculously early hour, or immediately upon arriving home, due to after-school and evening activities. And so this blog will also return to a reprised version of The Week in Suppers. First edition coming tomorrow. Look for (mostly) vegetarian meal ideas, as our family attempts to go vegetarian for a month. Stay tuned.
Yesterday, I got a taste of summer. A whiff. A tingle of this is summer. (See above).
Today, I am getting prepared. There are four more days of school, and then we shall hurtle headlong into the beach, overnight camp, strawberry picking, food preservation, swimming, and a multitude of mini-adventures … such is the hope.
So, I started today in the kitchen (can I return happily to the kitchen after losing all interest this past month? Well, I can try). I baked a batch of bread; didn’t take long, actually. I did dishes. The living-room is moderately tidy. Piles of papers have been sorted and recycled (more remain; and more are on their way home from school, no doubt).
AppleApple helped me make a giant (messy) poster of ideas for summer activities: our categories are Plans (dates for things we’ve already signed up for); Away (ie. zoo, beach, Children’s Museum); and At Home (ie. canning and freezing, making magazines/comics, playing with friends).
Kevin is in the middle of painting us a chalkboard wall: for messages, reminders, planning, and scribbles. Photos to come. (Inspired by this friend).
I am defrosting the freezers. One down, two to go.
And the kids have spent hours together in the backyard, even though it isn’t particularly warm or sunny out. The sidewalk is being chalked. A rung on the climber has been broken. The potatoes are thriving. Wouldn’t it be great to have a treehouse? A trampoline? Another tier of garden beds? Chickens? A dog? I’m looking around and seeing lots of potential.
Monday supper. Bailey’s pick-up, so it’s a smorgasbord of local food. I always order with this supper in mind: bread, buns, pretzels, cheese curds, sandwich meat, greens, and today there were tomatoes, too. For dessert: butter tarts with pecans. Kevin did the pick-up and used the rejigged new/used stroller, which apparently runs quite well now. I took four kids to swim lessons, so we figured it came out even, especially because I’m still getting into the pool with CJ. Here’s hoping he makes the transition (our second attempt at the transition lessons).
Tuesday supper. Black beans, hamburger, rice, taco shells, tortillas, guacamole, green salad, cheese, crema, hot sauce. And of course birthday cake for dessert. All the kids got the day off school, and we had lunch at the gelato shop uptown. I made one of my standard “meals for a crowd”: set up the food buffet-style, with options for everyone. Kevin made the cake, with help from Fooey and Albus.
Wednesday supper. Coconut sweet potato soup in the crockpot. Wow, this was good. Well, I thought so, and Kevin did too, and AppleApple heartily agreed, and Albus gave it a ho-hum but edible rating. The two youngest refused. I’d make this again.
Coconut Sweet Potato Soup (crockpot version)
Peel and chop three or four large sweet potatoes and two apples and put into the crockpot. Carrots could be substituted or added (we have an excess of carrots right now). Add 10 cups of chicken stock, or veggie stock, or water. Add one can of coconut milk. In a small amount of olive oil, saute 2 large onions, chopped, and 2 tbsp ginger root, along with 1 tbsp of mild curry powder, 1/2 tsp cumin, and 1/2 tsp salt, and pepper to taste. Scrape into the crockpot. Simmer on low all day. Blend with an immersion blender, adding a couple of stalks of cilantro (I used frozen; optional). The juice of one lemon or lime can be stirred in just before serving (also optional).
Thursday supper. Pasta with red sauce, and salad. This is my quiet day. I had some friends over in the morning and the little kids played and played. Albus went to a friend’s house after school, and AppleApple walked home with a friend. Kevin and I finished off the day with a kundalini yoga class. It’s always stressful getting everything done and peeling off a crying CJ from my leg, but once I’m in that calm, dark studio space, it feels entirely worth it.
Friday supper. A crockpot recipe called “Mexican beans and rice.” It didn’t strike me as being very Mexican, however. “Mexican,” more like it. Basically, it was a black bean vegetarian chili with some leftover rice stirred in. Passable, but forgettable. Skating is now over, so the big kids walked home from school together (well, almost; Albus walked AppleApple most of the way, then ran back to his friends’ house to play, which he hadn’t okayed with me. We’re working on this independence thing. I was happy he was playing with friends, and AppleApple did pass along the plan to me, but the rule is that he needs to call upon arrival anywhere. A rule he has yet to put into practice. “You should just call me,” he says; which, of course, I do.) AppleApple had her last goalie camp of the session, and Albus had his last soccer skills, so we ate early and quickly. I enjoyed reading with the little ones, got them tucked in early, and met the babysitter secretively at the door. With all the peeling off of CJ I’m having to do lately, I wasn’t too keen to leave him with a new sitter; but decided instead, whether or not it was ethical, to let him drift off to sleep believing his mama to be somewhere nearby, ready if he needed me. But in reality, I was headed out for another kundalini class, and then on to a birthday party with Kevin. It all worked out. Home shortly after midnight.
Saturday supper. We ate at a friends’ house, so I did not have to cook even one thing today. Kevin made the birthday cake that we took along. These are banana bran muffins, which I made on Sunday, in a baking binge of epic proportion. Saturday was a wonderful day off. I went for a morning run, and then a yoga class. We had a few drinks with dinner, and then I went out again to meet up with friends after the kids were in bed. I was pretty tired by the end of it all, and was summoned home just after midnight due to an hysterical CJ, who had woken and was not happy to discover it was merely daddy on-call. Glad that happened tonight, and not last night. Yeesh.
Banana Bran Muffins (makes 24)
In a large bowl, soak 2 cups of wheat bran in the following mixture: 2 eggs, beaten, 2 cups of milk, and 1/2 cup of honey. Let sit for 10 minutes. In a separate bowl, sift together 2 cups of flour (whole wheat is fine), 2 tbsp baking powder, and 1 tsp salt. Add 1 cup of mashed banana to the wet mixture (approximately 2 bananas). Gently combine the wet and the dry, stirring just enough to dampen the flour. Muffins do not respond well to over-mixing. Err on the side of under-mixing. Spoon into greased muffin tins, and bake at 375 for 20 minutes.
Sunday supper. Fooey’s meal choice: she wanted to make an “Albus Special,” which is mashed potatoes and gravy and meat all mixed together on a plate. We compromised, not having a hunk of meat on hand, and Fooey made the potatoes, Kevin grilled sausages and a piece of steak, and I made a mushroom gravy that was delectable, if not exactly child-friendly. I spent the day baking. I simply couldn’t help myself. I made waffles (with extras to freeze), baked bread and pitas, and those yummy banana bran muffins, and a batch of chocolate chip cookie bars from my own recipe on this blog, which felt just a little over the top even to me. All good. But not quite a day of rest. Or, I guess, my version thereof.
Mushroom Gravy (makes a little over a cup; double the recipe if you want more)
Saute in 4 tbsp of butter, one chopped onion, one clove of garlic, and several chopped celery stalks. Add and saute 3-4 cups of chopped mushrooms, and 1/4 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp thyme, pepper to taste. When the veggies are soft, add 4 tbsp flour and cook, stirring often, for 2-3 minutes, until the raw taste is gone. Add 1 tsp tamari sauce (optional), and 3 tbsp white wine (highly recommended). Cook off the alcohol, then add 1 cup of milk, and simmer gently, stirring often, as the sauce thickens. More milk could be added in 1/4 cup amounts if the sauce is too thick.
Best thing about stepping away from writing week was coming downstairs and appreciating the simple pleasure of doing the dishes. That’s a hard thing to appreciate most of the time, but it’s such a satisfying task: the kitchen is messy, you do some work, and it’s clean again. I like that kind of reward: immediate, requiring only elbow-grease.
My happy place is the kitchen. To relax, I bake. So, this weekend, I baked hermit squares, and homemade breakfast pitas. The breakfast pitas were an exciting discovery. The recipe is insanely simple (yeast, flour, water, salt, honey, and BUTTER). Since this was a first try, I made them without any additions, but may try adding some dried fruit and sweet spices, to amp up the breakfasting pleasure. They freeze easily, and can be popped into the toaster and topped with honey and peanut butter. And since breakfast pitas happen to be one of the last must-buy non-local prepared foods in our cupboards (along with rice crackers, almond milk, and some pasta), I’m pleased to find such an easy and tasty replacement. We’re trying them out with hamburgers for tonight’s Albus-designed supper of hamburgers and homemade french fries. (Albus-designed and Kevin-executed, it must be said).
Our family is edging toward food-weirdness, I realize. Or let’s call it eccentricity. We no longer buy cereal except for special occasions (I make big batches of granola instead). I bake almost all of our bread. I’m adding breakfast pitas to that, starting now. We have glass jars of homemade yogurt lining the fridge. I freeze huge batches of chicken stock for future soups. After-school treats are homemade bars or cookies or popcorn. My favourite snack, currently, is pickled beets and turnips–also homemade (my other favourite snack, kim chi, I’ve not been able to replicate to satisfaction).
Well, we don’t make cheese or butter, but then again we don’t have a cow. Don’t worry by-law officers, no plans for a backyard dairy.
Often, I open the fridge and it looks kinda bare. But the emptiness is deceiving. It’s just that the raw ingredients are stored elsewhere, waiting to be made into meal. I like the way we eat. I love the way it tastes, and, the preparation is my favourite part. A good weekend afternoon, at least in part, is spent with the radio on, measuring and pouring and kneading and filling the house with good smells, while putting away food to feed my family for the coming week.
Writing week. This is the official week of writing, planned many moons ago. Last week, I started the new year with an extra day and a half of writing, and a brand-new story, and inspired energy and spirit; which was quickly subtracted by losing a day and a half of writing at the end of the week due to a mild stomach virus. Thankfully, only the youngest succumbed, and it was never terrible (and when it comes to stomach viruses, I know from terrible, let me tell you; or, rather, I’d best not tell you).
Where was I?
Up and down, that was last week. I ended the week feeling low indeed, struggling with a story that has plagued me since its conception back in June. I’ve been telling myself (very helpfully) that the story is more ambitious than my talents. And it may be, that. Or, it may be that I’ve been shovelling into this one story far too much; stories can only hold what they can hold. I spent the weekend in a grumpy panicky state, distracted, anxious, wondering whether I’d lost my nerve here at the last minute; because the damn book is so close to done. This story is the last major story that needs to be written. After this, it’s tinkering and chink-filling and trim.
I did what I could. I tried to remember what works. I did not curl up in bed under the covers (though it was awfully tempting). I prepared for this upcoming writing week the only way I know how: in the kitchen. I baked a batch of granola, filled a container with oatmeal cookies, converted four litres of milk into fresh yogurt, cookied up a batch of tomato sauce for quick meals this week, and finished my Sunday evening by baking four loaves of wholesome bread. I also ran errands, restocked the pantry, went for two long runs, to church, and to a kundalini yoga class. But “class” isn’t the right word for this semi-regular event, led by a friend and shared with other friends; it’s more like a religious experience. It’s pretty much impossible to put into words. I just tried, and erased my attempt. But I think the feeling that is shared in that warm dimly lit studio room is of collective joy: individual effort that somehow becomes shared effort, appreciation, compassion.
I left that beautiful room believing myself capable of finishing the book. I also left knowing I’d scrap the story and start from scratch. I trust yoga to open me to big/simple ideas: that was my big/simple idea. I also understood the image this new story will revolve around.
I think this weekend was good for me. It was unpleasant in a lot of ways: hard not to be writing, hard to bide my time, hard to live with such uncomfortable anxiety and to be around others; but I’m proud of myself for slogging onward. It’s really all that can be done when staring down doubt. In the past, I might have holed up and gone even more interior. It’s difficult to talk to friends, to reach out, or even just to be out and about when in a state of anxious distraction; but that’s exactly when it’s so important to keep on keeping on. It’s not about faking it. It’s about continuing to feed yourself even when you don’t feel hungry.
My writing week started yesterday, with a bang: a brand-new story to fill another chink (though not the major story). Today, I attempt it. The big one. It’s going to be a whole lot smaller. Maybe it will be small enough to fit into a dimly lit warm room crowded with friends. Who are chanting. We’re all chanting.
As we exit another Christmas season, I want to take time to note down, quickly, and for future reference, what worked for me this year: the rituals that held meaning, and why, and the little things that drew me into the magic of the holiday.
1. Cooking and baking. Yes, it’s a lot of work to make sticky buns fresh-baked for Christmas morning. And turkey dinner, and cookies, and treats, and all the rest of it. And I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing as my offering for the holiday.
2. Christmas eve service. This year, we attended an informal children’s service on Christmas eve. I’d been so busy all day with last-minute preparations that it was tempting to drop one thing off the list–and the service jumped to mind right away. No, I thought one beat later. And we went. And it was so lovely, and such a reminder of what Christmas celebrates, for many of us.
3. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. I read this to the kids all in one gulp one evening leading up to Christmas. Everyone loved it. Of course, I cried at the end, and Fooey, perturbed, comforted me. This could be the beginning of an annual ritual.
4. The Christmas Story. Could it be Christmas without a viewing of that classic movie?
5. Songs. Getting to sing while my sister played piano, and one of my brothers played bass … for hours. Couldn’t be better. Even though it was nearly midnight, I wished we weren’t at the end of the songbook.
6. Music. The CBC played wonderful Christmas music all of Christmas day. I ate my first sticky bun to the Messiah. And I was peeling potatoes during the reading of the birth story, and found myself filling up with mystery and joy at the words of Luke 2:19: “And Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.”
7. Ebb and flow. The best family events have a slowness to them, time to come together and drift and come back together again.
8. Gifts. I don’t know. It’s so much work. But I do love choosing gifts for family, and giving them. I prefer that the gifts aren’t the main focus of the event, but I do appreciate giving and receiving. I like making gifts, too. (And since my speciality is page design, photography, and writing, my children gave homemade gifts in that vein this year too: Albus made everyone a poster with a photo of one of his Star Wars Lego ships on it; and AppleApple wrote and touch-typed a new version of Noah’s Ark, and took photos to illustrate it using Playmobil figures; and then I laid them out, and my brother printed them at his press).
9. Not drinking too much. I didn’t. And I felt better for it.
10. Exercise. I managed to squeeze in the occasional run or yoga class, and always felt better for it.
11. Decorating the tree early! A month of Christmas.
12. Baking and delivering treats for neighbourhood friends.
Things we didn’t do, that I would like to do next year: daily advent calendar activities; a night lantern walk on solstice; decorating a tree outside for the birds; Christmas cards for family and friends (sorry, family and friends, it somehow did not happen this year!).
I also have a list of things that didn’t work … but that sounds like grousing. Now, today is my birthday, and I am celebrating by heading out for a few hours on my own. I look forward to a little time of uninterrupted reflection (she says, as her youngest climbs the stairs yelling, “Mommy where are you?”).