Category: Baking

Snow day in Canada

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Yup. It’s a real snow day, school cancelled, library cancelled, extra-curricular activities cancelled, children playing in snow drifts, people walking by in the street because the sidewalks are too messy, snow, snow, snow coming down, down, down.

I’m happy for the kids, who were praying for a snow day, but oh how I really wanted to keep on writing in my new book. Yesterday’s hair-pulling session netted me 1800 new words, bringing the book to 78,000 words, and three new scenes. (Scrivener has handy “project targets” and “project statistics” features to which I am utterly addicted. I do realize that stats mean nothing if those 78,000 words do not work together to move the reader. But it’s comforting to quantify my efforts.) I have about four new scenes to write, plus another six or seven to revise before this draft is complete. I’m not looking for new material, I just need the time/space to write what has already been plotted out in my head. Unfortunately, my current situation is not conducive to scene-writing: two children and two dogs crowded into my office, dogs to sleep, and children to chew gum, sit in dog beds, listen to songs, and generally disrupt the quiet every two seconds with requests, wonderings, and commentary. The smallest is at this very moment stamping his feet for some perceived wrong I’m not entirely clear about. Maybe it’s the typing I’m doing on this here computer.

So … here’s what I plan to do with the rest of our snow day.
* bake cookies
* make yogurt
* make dough for homemade pizza
* shovel the sidewalk since I won’t be running tonight (no soccer skills means that my regularly scheduled Friday run, which I do no matter the weather, is also cancelled)
* pull smallest on sled while we walk second smallest to play date
* put in movie for part of the afternoon and sneak in some writing

For the purposes of reality checking, here’s what I’ve actually accomplished so far.
* chatted with sister-in-law on the phone
* almost finished one cup of coffee (gone cold ages ago)
* fed everyone breakfast, and a few people lunch
* tried to talk husband out of leaving for his boys’ cottage weekend in the middle of this storm (doesn’t seem to be working)
* put in load of laundry
* cleaned up dog poop in upstairs bedroom (c’mon, DJ, if Suzi can go outside, you can go outside!)
* read front section of newspaper
* answered a few work-related emails
* took photographs of snow
* puttered. Really, mostly I’ve puttered.

Personal bests

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Day two of swim meet. Day two of early rising, despite it being the weekend. Day two of coffee cup, snow melting off boots in over-heated environment, crammed-together hard bench seating, trying to read for poetry book club (The Book of Marvels, by Lorna Crozier).

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Day two of trying to get her attention, and waiting for her races.

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Last race of day two. 50m freestyle. Lane 6.

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She doesn’t love the sprints. She thinks she’s more a natural endurance swimmer. She’s behind at the turn.

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But she powers home to win the heat in her best time yet: personal bests in every race this weekend. Swimming is all about personal bests. It’s set up like a race, yet according to my girl you can’t really see the other swimmers around you, and have little sense of where you are positioned. It’s not like running on a track where tactics come into play, along with strength and speed. You’re basically just going as hard as you can in your own lane. It’s a very individual sport.

I can’t say I’m a convert, exactly, after these past two days. It’s a lot of waiting for a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment. I can’t appreciate the technical abilities of the swimmers, having none of those abilities myself, and being unfamiliar with the sport. And I don’t really enjoy the rush of adrenalin that I get when I’m watching her race — it’s very intense, almost embarrassing. I care too much! I am seriously shaking immediately after her races. Do other parents respond like that?

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cinnamon raisin bread

I came home and baked four loaves of regular bread, and four loaves of cinnamon raisin bread. We ate a loaf of fresh bread for supper last night with split pea soup. I baked the cinnamon raisin bread after supper — heavenly smells in the house, and everyone was excited to wake up and eat it for breakfast this morning.

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I also played an indoor soccer game yesterday. But I did not go for a long run. I’m realizing that my weekends are very squeezed as it is … and maybe I’m just too tired by the weekend to add in that extra element. I try to make room for so many different activities, but there are limits, and I’d rather go with the flow and enjoy and appreciate all of the things I’m getting to do, rather than getting down on myself for those additional wish-list activities I just can’t seem to shoehorn in.

A taste of the holidays

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does it ruin the scene to know that this cookie recipe came from the back of a Chipits bag?

My nap-dream this morning: I found a beautiful overnight bag in a child’s closet. It had so many zippered pockets, and every pocket that I opened was full of small items we’d lost over the years. I didn’t want to wake up. It was so satisfying to keep unzipping pockets, reaching in and finding small lost treasures.

In other news, AppleApple has lost her third pair of swim goggles since September.

In other other news, Kevin brushed her hair out this weekend.
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It hadn’t been brushed for ages and was looking a wee bit knotted. Turned out the volume and curls and length had been hiding the severity of the situation. It took Kevin two rounds, adding up to about two hours of careful combing.

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I feel wrong posting about cheerful everyday things. I just need to confess that.

I am heartened by the news that share prices for gun manufacturers have dropped steeply, and that investors, individual and collective, are investigating what they’ve been supporting, perhaps without the conscious knowledge that they were. We should all do that, you know.

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Today is the last day to order The Juliet Stories online and receive it before Christmas. But local bookstores, like Waterloo’s own Words Worth, will be open all weekend and on Christmas eve. If you’re in the neighbourhood and want me to sign a copy especially for somebody, give me a shout. Happy to.

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The house is quiet. Yesterday we had the first taste of Christmas holidays, with the teachers’ one-day-protest keeping the kids home from school. We took in a few extra kids too. Lots of cookies got baked and decorated and eaten. I put the hammer down: no ‘lectronics, period. And look what happened:

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little boys watching big boys play Risk (photo better seen in full on Flickr: just click)

Of course, the house was also rendered a complete disaster zone, the full extent of which was only discovered when I was about to put the kids to bed last night. “I know why you won’t have time to read to us,” said CJ. “Because there are toys all over my bed!” Note to self: organize group cleanup effort before sending friends home. There were bowls of water of one room. Bowls of water, spilling everywhere! This is where creative children will lead you. And I embrace it, if not quite so whole-heartedly at bedtime.

Kevin worked from home yesterday, to help out, but even so, I only managed an hour and a half in front of the computer. But with Scrivener, that hour and a half got used very productively. Why? Because I could pull out an individual scene and work on it. Then I could cross-reference it with another, with ease. I worked on five scenes and finished one. It helps that I have a complete draft in place–not sure how it would feel to start from nothing with this program. Thus endeth today’s Scrivener report.

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Reflecting on my grouchy mood by day’s end yesterday, must find strategies, over the real holidays, to counteract and mitigate. Here are some initial thoughts on the subject: a) find alone time, b) exercise and get outside, and c) can’t think of a c right now. Listen to beautiful music? Play the piano? Relax with the doggies and Kevin in front of the TV? Bake sticky buns? Hot yoga? Read books?

I found it hard to put CJ on the bus this morning. I was struck with sudden terror as he walked up those steps, his little backpack on his back. But then I made myself step away from the fear.

Love, keep pouring out.

Cupcake factory

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Tomorrow (Sunday) my biggest girl turns 10. She’s got swimming practice and a soccer game, back to back, and no desire to skip either. What she wants, instead, is to bring treats for her teammates.

I thought we’d accomodate by picking something up at the grocery store on our way. That’s a lot of kids!

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But she was thinking homemade. She’d even looked up recipes.

Well, it is her birthday. And her birthday list is so humble and dear it includes requests for kiwi, mango, and pomegranate. (Done!) She’d also like books: a thesaurus, horse books, soccer books, fantasy books, and Shakespeare plays.

So we spent the afternoon, with a friend, making a quadruple batch of cupcakes from scratch. Quite the cupcake factory. Recipes posted below.

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Boston Cupcakes (adapted from Fannie Farmer)
makes 50+ large cupcakes

Cream 20 tbsp of butter. Slowly add and beat in 4 cups of white sugar. When it’s nice and fluffy, add in 8 eggs, one at a time, and beat. Add and mix in 3 tsp vanilla.
In a separate bowl, sift together 5 cups of flour, 8 tsp baking powder, and 1 tsp salt.
Add dry mixture by cups to wet, mixing all the while (we used a standing-mixer).
Add and mix in 2 cups of milk.
Line cupcake trays with papers and fill each cup about two-thirds with batter. Bake for 20-25 minutes at 350.

Chocolate Frosting

In a double boiler, melt 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate with 4 tbsp butter and 2/3 of a cup of milk. Cool to lukewarm and add 4 cups of icing sugar (at least) and 2 tsp vanilla. Add icing sugar slowly, beating all the while, until you reach the desired consistency. Makes more than enough.

How to bake really good bread

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A friend just emailed for my bread recipe. Her daughter comes over after school, sometimes, to play with AppleApple, and they always make themselves peanut butter and jam sandwiches with big slices of my homemade bread. And the child always asks, “Is this your homemade bread, Carrie?” I gather she’s a fan.
Anyway, I wrote out the recipe for her mom. And then I thought, hey, why not post it here. I do have a “Bread Baking Tutorial” over in the recipe section, but below you’ll find the messy real-life version I make almost every weekend. It’s extremely flexible, with room for all kinds of extra ingredients, and the only time it ever flopped was when I used 100% whole wheat bread flour (we were all out of white; the resulting loaves resembled building material). So don’t do that.
Carrie’s Every Day Bread
I don’t follow a recipe, so there are no precise measurements. I make this bread so often that it’s second nature. But I’ll try to write it out for you. This makes four loaves.
4-5 tsp yeast (use the higher amount if you’re using a lot of whole wheat flour)
temper with 1/2 cup warmish water (ie. let sit for about 5 minutes)
Add 2 tbsp salt, 4 tbsp honey or maple syrup, 4 tbsp oil, 4 cups warmish water
Also add (and here is where it gets imprecise!) any or all of the following: ground or whole flax seeds, sesame seeds, ground pumpkin seeds, ground sunflower seeds (I usually add all four, in about a 1/4 cup amount each); 1/2 cup wheat germ; 1 cup of oats (optional); 1/2 cup ground lentils or ground quinoa or ground millet (optional, though I always add at least one of those ingredients for extra protein); (you can also add leftover cooked breakfast cereal)
Stir (as often as you’d like, at any point in the above process).
Add 6 cups of flour, stir. I use a mixture of whole wheat and white bread flour, probably about 1/4 ww to 3/4 white. Then start adding by 1 cup measurements. Eventually you’re going to add about 12 cups of flour total, more or less, but honestly, this is entirely by feel. When it gets too thick to stir, start kneading the flour in. Knead until you’ve got the right consistency and it feels ready (you’ll know what I mean!).
Oil and let rise for an hour or two. Punch down and cut into four sections, shape into loaves, and let rise again in greased loaf pans. Heat oven to 450, bake for ten minutes, then turn down to 350 without opening oven and bake for another thirty. Cool on rack. Done!
Also note: I have a coffee grinder that I only use to grind seeds/grains. It’s very handy, very inexpensive. I think it grinds about a 1/4 cup at a time, but it might be slightly more — that’s how I measure the seeds/grains that I add in — whatever fits in the grinder.

On being a freelancer, in earnest

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photo shoot out-take

I’ve been writing non-stop, for pay, for the past week and a half. This week’s assignments have focused on Canada Day. Several stories involved interviewing new and relatively new Canadians, which was a wonderful experience. Everyone has a story, and everyone’s story has some kernal that is poignant or humbling or moving; and I love listening.

A new and exciting development is that I’ve also been assigned to take some of the photographs to accompany the stories.

Let me tell you about yesterday, which was particularly manic and fun.

I started the morning with spin/weight class. Took a quick nap after seeing kids off to school. Biked to an interview. Raced home in order to prepare and test a variety of recipes — food for an imaginary Canada Day party. “I love my job,” I thought, dashing around my kitchen in the middle of the afternoon, delicious smells wafting. With help from Zoe, party-planning friend extraordinaire, we decorated and styled a small area of the back porch as if for a “party,” arranged the food, and I took photos. We worked at a crazy pace. I was trying to get everything done before children arrived home from school. And food is tricky to photograph, as anyone who follows my blog knows. I was thankful for great natural lighting, borrowed glassware and linens, and for the daughter who arrived home early and agreed to be photographed eating a cupcake while smiling non-stop (as directed!).

“Even fake smiles look real in photos,” I assured her. And, as you can see from the evidence above, they do.

It was a crazy fun afternoon.

I’ve made a discovery: all those shameful wasted years of reading cheesy women’s magazines has finally paid off. “Service-oriented copy,” as it’s known, simply flows from my fingertips.

Meanwhile, pleasurable discoveries and cupcakes aside, yesterday rolled on at its manic pace. For supper, we ate the food I’d photographed (bonus!). I processed and sent photos to my editor. I biked with soccer girl to the park. I ran 12km in just over an hour (I can’t do my long run this weekend — too busy with soccer tournament and dance recital — which is why I added mileage). We biked home. Put children to bed. Folded laundry. Worked on stories some more. Briefly spent time talking to husband on couch. Dropped plan to meet up with sibs to celebrate birthdays (something had to give).

Crashed.

Slept like a rock. I love sleeping like a rock.

On another note, let me share with you a pang. Sometimes I look at my children and wonder whether I’m keeping close enough track of their individual needs. In my busyness, in this great whirl, am I overlooking something important? Will each feel cherished and treasured by their mother? When problems arise, and heartache, as inevitably happens, do I spare enough time and attention to help them?

As my working life expands, as I prioritize earning a greater share of our family’s income, what falls through the cracks? What gets minimized or ignored or even lost?

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