**Monday’s menu: Black bean chili (crockpot). Steamed rice.
**Circumstances: I had to skedaddle to Toronto, so this was set on the table at about 4:56pm (it’s already dark anyway). I wasn’t here for the eating, but the leftovers are fabulous.
**Veg quota: No need for a side. There were plenty of veggies in the chili: corn and red peppers frozen this summer, and home-canned tomatoes.
**Tuesday’s menu: Curried lentil soup (crockpot). Leftover rice.
**Circumstances: This was the evening we went Christmas shopping WITH the children. Arrived home and ate supper out of the crockpot. Should have added a vegetable side, but it was too late by then.
**Wednesday’s menu: Pasta with roasted red pepper sauce. Napa cabbage salad with tahini dressing.
**The reviews: It’s a hit! Mama has a hit! This meal debuts at number one on the charts!
**Mini-recipe: Tahini dressing: Whisk the following ingredients together in a bowl. Half a cup of tahini; 1/2 cup of oil (olive or canola, plus a smaller amount of sesame); the juice of one lemon; 1/4 cup of tamari sauce; salt to taste, plus a sprinkling of sugar if that’s your thing (yes, it’s mine).
**Thursday’s menu: Roasted root veggies (pictured above). Roasted breaded fish. Quick cheese bread.
**Chef’s complaint: Those beets were all about two inches in diameter. I had to wash and peel each one by hand. It took me as long to prep a bag of beets as it did for the cheese bread to bake. Forty minutes of my life!
**Caveat: But the veggies were delicious, especially the beets. Worth it?
**Friday’s menu: Black beans. Baked rice. Tortillas.
**Because: In a rush, of course.
**Awesome leftover meal: Tortilla lasagne. Whipped this up on Saturday, with layers of corn tortillas, black beans, feta cheese, shredded mozzarella, and leftover roasted red pepper sauce. YUM.
**Weekend kitchen accomplishments: Ten dozen ginger snaps. Eight dozen cut-out cookies. Two pans of krispie squares. Four loaves of bread.
**Monday morning addendum: Home with sick son, so putting houseound time to good use and making one batch of really good granola and four litres of yogurt.
**Monday’s menu: Split pea soup in the crockpot. Quick beer bread. Baked squash.
**Because: We have a whole lot of yellow split peas. We also had no bread. Quick breads can save a meal.
**Recipe for Beer Bread: Set oven to 400 degrees. Grease a loaf pan. Whisk together 1 cup whole wheat flour, 1 cup white flour, 1/2 cup large flake oats, 2 tbsp sugar, 2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp baking soda, and 1/2 tsp salt. Add in one freshly opened bottle of beer (any kind!). Fold together until just mixed. Scrape into pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Important: Let cool completely in pan before unmolding and serving. (Why I know this: Hungry children + hurrying to get food on the table = somewhat crumbling very hot beer bread. Still good, however. Made good toast the next morning too).
**Tuesday’s menu: Pasta with pesto. Fiery fried cabbage. Broiled tofu.
**Because: Something for everyone. Except there was still a lot of complaining. Why? Oh why?
**Wednesday’s menu: Sweet potato coconut soup in the crockpot (pictured above). Bread from City Cafe. Cheese.
**Because: So good! Visit here for the recipe. Best use of a yam, ever.
**Random kitchen accomplishment: Made yogurt. Kevin’s been eating a lot of it atop the really good granola, as a bedtime snack. He likes that everything in that bowl is made by me. I like that too.
**Thursday’s menu: Black beans. Baked rice. Tortillas. Cut up winter veggies: carrots, rutabaga, daikon radishes.
**Because: Today was a tough day. But this meal is easy. Popular, quick (just takes advance planning), satisfying. Good conversation around the dinner table.
**Friday’s menu: Pizza night at church.
**Confession: We haven’t gone to church all fall, but when info on pizza night arrived in my inbox, packaged with the promise of gingerbread house decoration, we were in.
**Extra confession: I didn’t even go. Pizza night overlapped with AppleApple’s goalie camp, so I dropped everyone else off, drove AppleApple to the sports complex on the other side of town, and went for a run (our Friday night ritual), while Kevin managed the kids, the pizza, and the gingerbread decoration. Bless him.
I’ve had several requests for this recipe (not pictured), which is adapted from one of my favourite cookbooks of all time, More with Less. (I love that title. It encapsulates such a solid, and Mennonite, philosophy, and one I hope to live out most of the time, though it’s hard to claim to be living more-with-less when one is adding a new room onto one’s already ample home.) In any case, herewith, the recipe:
**Honey-baked lentils (feeds eight)
Simmer the following ingredients in a covered pot on the stove for 30 minutes: 3 cups of rinsed lentils (green or French hold their shape best), 1 bay leaf, 6-7 cups of water, and 1.5-2 tsp salt (to taste).
In a separate oven-safe casserole dish with a tight lid, add the following ingredients: 1 tsp dry mustard, 1/2 to 1 tsp ground ginger, 1.5 tbsp tamari sauce, one chopped onion, and 1 cup of water.
When the lentils have simmered for half an hour, remove the bay leaf, and pour everything else (liquid, too) into the prepared casserole dish (my dish is round stoneware, a wedding gift.) Drizzle up to 1/2 cup of honey over top, cover tightly, and bake for an hour at 350. You can bake rice in the oven at the same time. Because lentils and rice go together perfectly.
**note: I’ve given a few of the seasonings a range of amounts because your family may not like ginger quite as much as ours, and because saltiness levels are also pretty personal, and I tend to err on the side of under-salting and over-gingering. You may wish to tone down the sweetness, too, by using somewhat less honey. But overall, I find this to be a very forgiving dish. Not to mention incredibly easy. You could adapt it for the crockpot quite easily, too, just toss all ingredients in first thing in the morning, and cook on low for 8 hours or so.
This week started with a few necessary errands: paint for baseboards, woodwork, and walls; tile for the heated floor; and a light fixture. I went alone, revisiting a trifecta of stores that became familiar several years ago when we were renovating our kitchen. While necessary, nothing about these errands felt burdensome or difficult, though I was initially nervous to be making such permanent decisions alone. But anxiety quickly turned to excitement. This room is just for me! I haven’t had a room just for me since I was a student. (Do you remember how thrilling it was to paint your new room in your new student dive, even if you got the colours all wrong? I sure do. And boy was that one room ever yellow. Yikes. Live and learn.)
On Monday morning, I discovered that much of my excitement was tactile. Touching the grooves on the tile. Comparing colours. This room is still basically an act of imagination; in my fiction, I almost always write characters into backgrounds that actually exist, almost as if I’m incapable of fully imagining a brand-new place, and need to use physical ingredients that my senses have experienced. (The same is not true for characters, who seem to arrive and stake out their personalities in ways that remain mysterious to me.)
In any case, there was something about touching cool tile and considering the light illuminating opaque glass that brought this new room to life in my imagination. The addition of details makes shape of an empty space. These details will surround my every day.
How much do the details matter? Sometimes, I think not at all. Kids can play anywhere. Kevin and I have lived along many busy streets over the years, and I used to imagine that the passing traffic sounded like a river or an ocean. Disruption is everywhere, daily, hourly. Serenity comes from within. But beauty … beauty can be created and invited, too. And what I see through this window is one tiny, beautiful, and serene room in our busy and often untidy house.
For that room, I chose dark floor tile that is grained like wood. I chose a light fixture with three separate rectangular glass pendants that reminded me of books. I chose pale yellow for the woodwork, and basic white for the walls, in flat paint rather than gloss.
I see no toys on the floor. I see artwork of my own choice on the walls. I see books. I see an old rocking chair that belonged to my great-aunt in one corner, in which a guest could sit. I see light.
We had a lot of these.
And so I made this.
It very nearly turned into a pearsauce fail, as I overfilled a gigantic pot with pared pears and then discovered that even my presumably strong triathlon arms could not stir effectively all the way to the bottom and the smell of scorching alerted the nose to Trouble. At which point, sweating and fighting with the mountain of pears, I very nearly gave up and abandoned ship (er, kitchen). The weather had gotten cool just before school started, but this past weekend was hot and humid, and being stuck inside in a fog of steam is not the best way to celebrate a sticky late-summer day. But I persevered. And learned my lesson: haste makes waste. Transferred fruit to smaller pot. Cooked up smaller batches of sauce, and eventually canned what you see above: two canners full of tasty sauce. Add in the two canners of grape juice put up the previous evening, and count me totally done for the season.
As soon as the lids started popping, I banished the canner back to the basement. There’s still a touch of room in one freezer for small batches of preserves should inspiration strike.
Funny thing is, at the end of the day, I still had two baskets of not-quite-ripe pears sitting on the counter. And so yesterday I made something different for the kids’ school lunches this week.
Here’s the recipe for Fruit Custard Bars (adapted from Simply in Season):
Grease a 9×13-inch baking dish. Cream together 2/3 cup softened butter and 2/3 cup sugar. Add 1 and 1/2 cups whole wheat flour and 1/2 tsp vanilla, and continue to beat until combined. Then stir in 1 and 1/3 cups whole oats. Press into pan, and bake at 350 for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, mix together 2 cups of plain whole-fat yogurt, 1 cup of sugar, 2 eggs, and 1 tsp vanilla. Pour over baked crust (I didn’t bother to let the crust cool, just pulled it out of the oven after 20 minutes, and poured the custard over top).
On top of the custard, arrange 6 cups of fruit. I used thinly sliced pears, and stewed some plums that were going soft in the fridge, and added those, too. Sprinkle the fruit with sugar and cinnamon, and pop the pan back in the oven, still at 350, for 45-50 minutes, or until the custard is relatively firm. It won’t be as firm in the middle, but should get firmer upon cooling.
Cool on rack, then transfer, covered, to fridge, and cool for another 45 minutes before cutting into bars. Keep the bars stored in the fridge (mine are still in the pan, in fact). It makes a big pan of bars that taste much like a fruit custard pie. The kids were excited to take something other than a cookie to school, though this treat is a bit messier and requires a fork. Here’s hoping the forks return.
While in food-mode, I must pass on this recipe for Quinoa-Bulgar-Spelt Salad, also adapted from Simply in Season. I ate the leftovers for breakfast yesterday, after my long run, and it felt like I was fully nourishing my body. On a side note, our family has decided to “go vegetarian” for a month, so I am on the look-out for more recipes like this (not that the kids ate a bite, I must confess; we took it to our neighbourhood street party, where they downed hot dogs and hamburgers and desserts, and guzzled pop! Odd that none of them tried mom’s quinoa salad offering …).
I plan to blog more about “going vegetarian” soon. Your recipe suggestions are welcome!
Meanwhile, here’s how to make Quinoa Salad:
Start with 3 cups of uncooked grains/legumes in any combination. I used 1 cup of quinoa, 1 cup of bulgar, and one cup of spelt. (I plan to try the recipe with lentils or black beans or even leftover brown rice, too).
Cook the grains/legumes according to package directions.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl combine a variety of chopped seasonal veggies and herbs, in the amount of roughly 4-5 cups. I used thinly sliced red onion, chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, red pepper, zucchini, and carrots, along with a bunch of stemmed and chopped fresh cilantro and fresh basil.
Combine cooked grains/legumes with veggies, and pour over top a dressing made with the juice of 1 lemon + 2 limes, plus 1/4 cup of olive oil, plus salt and pepper to taste. I also added 1 tbsp of cider vinegar. You could use all vinegar and no lemon/lime juice. Or just lemons, or just limes. Or throw in some feta–that would be grand! Whatever you’ve got on hand. Because that’s the kind of salad this is. Expansive. Accepting.
I bought a half-bushel of zucchini from Bailey’s Local Foods. I happen to love zucchini, though apparently I’m alone, in the family, in this regard, though everyone else will eat it disguised in muffins and zucchini bread without objection. (Odd side note: Kevin can’t tell cucumbers from zucchinis; he really can’t, on visual inspection. Neither can several of his children. This has made for some sandwich-related disappointment over the years).
All of which is to say that the zucchini bruschetta, pictured above, was enjoyed only by me. But let me tell you, it’s such an excellent lunch.
To make it yourself: Slice one or two zucchinis length-wise into two to four pieces, and brush lightly with olive oil (sprinkle of salt optional). On a tray, bake or broil the slices for a few minutes, until somewhat softened. Remove from oven and top with red sauce (in the photo above, that’s actually a leftover sauce made with chopped zucchini and eggplant, so basically I was eating zucchini garnished with zucchini). Sprinkle on some feta. Broil on high until bubbly.
Eat. Feed to children at your own risk.
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