Comfort Food

Food is a comfort. In a real, visceral way, when I’m feeding my body, I’m feeding everything I want this body to be and do, I’m embracing life and celebrating the desire to live and breathe … and feed.

Yesterday’s comfort food:

Oatmeal cooked by Kevin, for breakfast. (Local oats, via Nina.). Still need a better topping option, because I find plain sugar, brown or white, does not agree with my teeth. I just don’t like the sensation. So I usually eat it unsweetened with a bit of milk. Bland and solid.

Lunch was a squishy finger-licking panini eaten over top of baby CJ’s head while watching Vicky Christina Barcelona at Movies for Mommies uptown. Talk about a luxurious moment. Roasted eggplant and pepper and melted cheese and fresh basil, a good movie (really? Woody Allen made this?), and alone time for me and my gorgeous babe, a complete rarity. That moment made the mad dash to get there worth every scrap of effort.

For supper I made my ultimate comfort food: black beans and rice. I cooked four cups of dried beans with a handful of whole peeled garlic cloves, a bay leaf, and salt. We eat this over brown rice and a variety of accompaniments, depending on the season. Yesterday we had CSA lettuce salad with sunflower seeds and a honey/balsamic dressing, chopped tomato salad with a very light balsamic dressing (tomatoes are here!), local sheep’s feta from the market, local whole milk yogurt, a few crumbled nacho chips, and hot sauce. “Thanks for making this food,” A said, or something along those lines. This is everyone’s favourite meal, everyone’s comfort food. The kids and Kevin also ate the sweet corn from our CSA box. And then F went to brush her teeth and floss immediately afterward.

Before bedtime: less-stress tea, a mixture grown and composed by Karen Kliewer of Little City Farm. With honey (from Nina). Thank you, food.

Swim and Park

What a great adventure with the kids today. Getting out the door is the main challenge, planning for all the eventualities, and in this case getting together the gear for swim lessons and a picnic in the park afterward, but once that’s conquered, the kids and I work together like a well-trained team. Actually, the kids probably are a well-trained team, and I’m the coach, shouting encouragement and reminders as I push the jogging stroller (F and baby CJ riding) and chase the big kids on their bikes down the sidewalk. Maybe one of the reasons the Olympics are so appealing is because we all know what it’s like to push through and perform our own personal bests, in tasks unrecognized but necessary. So mine today was to chase those kids down the sidewalk while pushing the stroller loaded with children and gear and picnic and water bottles and towels.

After swim lessons, we headed directly to the park where we found some shade and ate happily, though not especially locally. Carrots and cucumber and zucchini slices were local, but the hummus and pita were not, and were bought. I haven’t been successful making my own hummus. Our blender isn’t up to the task (we haven’t found a task our blender actually is up to, come to think of it). But we sat on our blanket and chatted and watched jet planes in the sky, then the big kids ran and played on the playground and F and baby CJ and I read books, and the sky was blue, the air fresh and cool, the sun brilliant. This is the life, I thought. My own personal gold medal, to be-labour the metaphor …

Now it’s heading toward suppertime and I’m wondering what Kevin will be bringing home in our CSA box this evening. Supper will be brown rice (I add a handful of wild rice to the pot, too), and likely some stir-fry of CSA box offerings. And salad with feta and a balsamic/honey dressing, and more driveway tomatoes. I haven’t explained driveway tomatoes, Kevin’s gardening project. We have very little unshaded yard, so a couple of years ago, Kevin started growing tomatoes in containers along the driveway. This year he tilled a patch of front lawn along the driveway and planted more tomatoes and eggplant (we’ve gotten two of those already), and, along the back fence where there is now more sun thanks to those pruned fruit trees, we planted some potatoes that had gone to seed in our cold cellar. The jury’s out on those yet, but the driveway tomatoes are producing brilliantly. Mostly cherry. We may need to re-brand, however. Something about driveway doesn’t conjure up delectable.

Olympic Thrills and Homemade Paste

Another late night. Kevin and I decided to watch the men’s triathalon in full, and were we ever glad we did. Simon Whitfield won gold for Canada in this event in Sidney, but that seems like awhile ago now (I still remember watching the replay of his win, sitting on our tiny green Ikea couch in our miniature cat-hair-infested apartment near the Danforth in Toronto; pre-children). Our commentators had built up Simon as a medal hopeful for these games, but I tend to take these Canadian medal hopeful predictions with a big grain of salt. (“If she performs a personal best here, she’s got an outside chance at a medal, Ron.”)
We saw the race from beginning to end. According to the commentators, Simon has really improved on his swim since winning the gold in 2000; after winning gold, do you really need to improve on anything? In the bike race, there was a huge pack, but fortunately no crashes, and no one really got away. It’s the running race where Simon excels, and every step of the way, he stayed with the leader pack. The male commentator kept counting him out, doubting him: “I don’t like the way Simon’s running right now. His shoulders look stiff. He’s falling behind here. He can’t let these leaders get away from him or his race is over.” Et cetera. And every time Simon would push on and there he’d be–up with the pack again. The pack gradually dropped people till it was only four. “Oh no, not fourth,” Kevin said (we’ve seen a few great performances that ended in Canadian fourths). With a kilometre left, Simon fell off the pace and it looked completely impossible. And then–there he was again, and pushing into his sprint, past all of them and into the lead! Kevin and I were on our feet trying to run the race for him. He was overtaken by a big young German in the last 50 metres, but crossed the line in second, and looked like he couldn’t have taken another step. It was sure hard to get to sleep after that. Midnight, and baby CJ had another rough night. But totally worth it.

Just as I was writing this, I got to watch Alexandre Despatie win silver in diving. AND a daring 21-year-old Canadian trampolinist win silver. AND an unknown, unexpected Canadian hurdler win bronze: Priscilla Lopes-Schliep (sp?). Okay, so the medals are exciting. I’ll admit it. But why? And why claim these athletes as my own? Somebody’s done a thesis on this, I expect.

Yesterday I made paste for an art project. Thought I’d include the recipe here. I haven’t let the kids use glue for ages because inevitably the bottle gets emptied in one crazy “project,” like “Glue Lake on Blue Construction Paper.” This homemade paste is supposed to last forever. I’m keeping it in the fridge. I didn’t have the oil of cloves (what is that??) the original recipe called for.

Paste for Children’s Play (from MCC’s More-With-Less Cookbook):
Combine in a double boiler: 1 cup flour, 1 cup sugar, 4 cups water. That’s it. Stir and cook till thickened, then stir in 1 tbs alum to preserve.
Mine came out lumpy, but there were some distractions while preparing it, the main one being I was trying to make paste for an art project that was already in full swing, so impatience was a factor. It worked, though. Things got stuck together.

Pear Cake and Sick Baby

So Kevin found more pears and apples on our trees yesterday. The pears are particularly beautiful, and the apples, though bumpy and small, have a tart old-fashioned flavour. With help from F and AB, I used them in a recipe for apple cake from MCC’s Simply in Season. It calls for 5 cups of chopped, unpeeled apples and turns out very dark and moist, almost too moist unless eaten immediately, and I’ve had success cutting it into squares and re-baking it at 300 or so, turning the squares, until the crust becomes crispy and the sugars carmelize.

I peeled the fruit, and substituted pears for most of the apples. The very first apple I chopped open, out leapt a large bug! AB thought it was an earwig. It crawled across the cutting board as I ran madly for something to squash it with (too squeamish to do it bare-handed). “Now that’s an adventure in local eating,” I said. AB wondered what an adventure was, and I said it was something unexpected and exciting. AB said, “I think you did scream, Mommy.” Oddly, that apple had no visible holes, though others did, and none of the rest had bugs or worms.

What with F snacking, all the chopped pears and apples added up to 4 cups, not 5, but the cake can be made with less fruit, though the 5 cup version is superior.

Here’s my modified recipe for Apple (Pear) Cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.
Combine 5 cups apples (pears) with 1 cup sugar (1/3 to 1/2 cup more, if you’ve got a sweet tooth) in a large bowl. Let stand.
In a separate bowl, combine 1/2 cup oil, 2 lightly beaten eggs, and 2 tsp vanilla.
In a third bowl, combine 1 cup whole wheat flour, 1 cup flour, 2 tsp baking soda, 2 tsp ground cinnamon, 1 tsp salt. You can sift this together if you want (I didn’t).
Stir flour mixture into fruit alternately with egg mixture. Spread in pan. Bake 50-60 mins. (In my oven, it’s 50 mins.), or till toothpick comes out clean.

The Simply in Season recipe includes nuts and a sugary-cream glaze, but for my taste, this is just right as is. If you find it almost too moist, as I did, cut into squares, and rebake as suggested above. I haven’t done that step with this version yet because the peeled pears were not as juicy as the apples. But I might, just to see how it does; if I do, I’ll report back later.

In other news, baby CJ has a nasty cold and stuffed nose, and could not settle last night. So after our usual Olympic gorge, Kevin and I went to bed with this fussy little guy. I thought we might be awake all night, and around 12:30AM almost went downstairs with baby to watch more Olympics. I wanted to see the finish of the triathalon. But with lots of nursing, baby was able to sleep, off and on, and miraculously, so was I. Non-stop breastfeeding seemed to be the best medicine. (I did not regret that cheese and tomato sandwich scarfed right before bed). So I don’t know what happened in triathalon. But this morning, I watched Karen Cockburn win silver in the trampoline, a sport that brings back memories of jumping most unspectacularly in a friend’s backyard many many years ago. And I just watched our equestrian team clinch silver in show jumping. As AB says, “I really really want to be a horse rider in the Olympics.” Yah, I hear ya, kid. She also wants to keep a horse in our backyard. It’s like listening to myself, oh, twenty-odd years ago.

Eggs, Chard and Olympic Addiction

Yesterday evening’s adventure in local food did not start out well, but all adventures need their downs as well as their ups. Kevin had gotten three dozen eggs from our favourite egg farmer at the Kitchener market. Lately, Kevin’s been running down to the market by himself, which ends up being a much more efficient use of our Saturday time; though in the past we have enjoyed going with the kids and staying for lunch. I’d also gotten a HUGE bunch of chard in our CSA box, and remembered that my friend Heather has spoken fondly about chard in the past, so I figured she must know something I don’t, and she kindly sent a recipe called “trouchia” from a cookbook called Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. In addition to the chard, it involves eight eggs. I hardly ever (no, never) cook with eggs. This may change. Eggs make secret appearances in my baking, but otherwise eggs are breakfast food at our house, and Kevin does breakfast.

So I was cracking farm-fresh eggs into a big bowl, when the seventh one whooshed into the bowl in a darkish, completely liquid mass. A rotten egg! I’ve never seen a rotten egg before, whole in its shell. I tried rescuing the other eggs, but couldn’t completely save them from the encroaching cloud. I must have Depression-era blood in my veins, because pouring out those seven eggs felt insanely wasteful. It almost seemed preferable to risk food poisoning. But not quite. The second go-around I cracked each egg into a small bowl, then poured it into the big one. No more rotten eggs.

Here’s Heather’s recipe for trouchia, only slightly modified:

Heat 2 tbs olive oil in a pan you can also use in the oven. Saute 1 onion, chopped, 1 clove of garlic, minced, and cook slowly, about 10 mins, then add your chopped chard leaves (I did not use the entire massive bunch, because I was planning on feeding it to the kids; I also used chard I’d previously blanched). Season with salt and pepper as desired.
Meanwhile, whisk together 8 eggs, add 2 tbs chopped fresh parsley or other herb of choice, 1 cup grated cheese (I used Nina’s cheddar), 1 tbs parmesan, and a pinch of salt. When the chard is cooked, scrape the contents of the pan into the egg bowl, stir.
Preheat oven broiler.
Reheat the pan with 1 tbs olive oil, then pour in the egg/chard mixture, give a stir, let it cook on medium-high for about a minute, then turn it down to low. I covered the pan with a lid at this point. It took longer to set than I’d expected, perhaps 10 mins, or even more. Cook till set, but still liquidy on top. Then remove lid, sprinkle on 1 tbs parmesan and perhaps some extra cheese, and set under broiler. Watch closely. Broil just till set and browned.
Serve in wedges from the pan.

The kids LOVED it. (Usually we have at least one nay-sayer; not this time). Adult family members loved it too, plus it presented very attractively, which my food generally does not. I tend toward hearty two-pot meals, stews, beans, rice, pasta. A ate three pieces of the trouchia, or approximately one-third of the total. We ate it with buttered bread (Nina’s), and a pot of Leftover Surprise: brown rice, hamburger and zucchini stir-fry, and black beans heated up together into an utterly delicious stew. (An example of my usual style of food; good and tasty, but not exactly pretty). No dessert. We rarely do dessert.

Kevin and I popped a bottle of bubbly wine (it was the only kind we had on hand), and enjoyed a leisurely dinner. AB said, “We don’t have to hurry tonight, do we?” After reading from The Long Winter, our bedtime book of the moment, and flossing and et cetera, Kevin and I sat down to watch more Olympics, which are always on in the background these days. I said earlier that it’s exciting to watch our Canadian athletes performing personal bests, and that’s true, but watching a Canadian athlete perform a personal best AND win a medal LIVE really gets me off the couch. Yes, Canada has finally medalled at the Games, thank you women wrestlers, rowers, and a fine young swimmer. Last night, we got to watch a 19-year-old Canadian man from B.C. come third by a hair in the 1500 metre freestyle, an event he wasn’t predicted to medal in. We were on our feet with a whoop at the end, feeling the joyful buzz of a tribal win that must be bred in the bone. We might imagine ourselves sophisticated and civilized, but what are the Olympics but a giant celebration of some basic human tribal impulse? That was my Big Thought of the evening, perhaps assisted by the bubbly.

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My name is Carrie Snyder. I'm mother of four, writer of fiction and non-, dreamer, planner, mid-life runner, soccer coach, teacher, taking time for a cup of coffee in front of this computer screen. My days are full, yet I keep asking: how can I fill them just a little bit more, with depth, with care, with light.

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