Category: Baking

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.

*

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.

*

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?

Weekend happenings

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The girls made cupcakes.

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We used my Grandma’s mixmaster.

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This was the hardest part …

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… filling the cupcake papers as evenly as possible.

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Waiting for the buzzer.

No photos of the decorating and sprinkle and icing-sugar frenzy that followed. And actually, I lied. The hardest part was getting the two girls to agree on a baking project they could do together. I did not chronicle the frustration, the multiple cookbooks consulted, the wishing we had special ingredients, the frustration, the accusations, the tears, or the way we’d almost given up on the idea when suddenly I came across a cake mix in the cupboard. Yes, these are cupcakes made from a mix. But who cares. We did it. They did it. And that made my heart glad.

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Playing wii at Grandma’s.

My heart got even gladder when I dropped the kids off at Grandma’s house for an overnight extravaganza. Unexpectedly, plans shifted, and I suddenly had 21 consecutive hours completely to myself with nothing particular to do. Nowhere particular to be. No one else’s interests or needs to consider. Can you imagine? What would you do?

Here’s what I did.

I went to yoga and laid in shavasana for as long as I wanted. I took food to some sick friends. I ran in the park. I played the piano and sang. I went out for sushi and to a silly movie with a friend. I invited my siblings over for a drink on a whim (an after-midnight whim, no less). I slept in. And then I got up and behaved responsibly and cleaned up the sprinkle/icing-sugar frenzy, vacuumed, washed dishes, and listened to the radio without interruption, enjoying particularly the conversation on The Sunday Edition about the Canadian publishing industry. And then time was up. And that was just fine. Because I felt so much better.

The week in suppers: family time

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“Roman feast”

**Monday’s menu** Corn and white bean chili (crockpot). Fried kale. Leftover rice and quinoa.
**Thanks to** the LCBO magazine for the chili recipe. Kale was supposed to be included, but I cooked it separately. It was delicious (the kale, I mean).

**Tuesday’s menu** Beans and rice and tortillas.
**Swim lessons + soccer** This has become my go-to meal for our tripleheader evening of swim lessons, Soccer Girl’s practice, and Coach Kevin and son’s soccer game. Throw in some salsa and cheese and wrap it up, and everyone’s happy. Well, as happy as everyone can be when everyone is being rushed about mercilessly.

**Wednesday’s menu** Leftover soups (miso, chili, and harira). Toasted pita chips (homemade). Crackers and cheese. Green salad with mustard dressing.
**Family time** We always relax on Wednesday evenings. We have time. The pita chips were a hit: made by brushing stale pitas with oil and sprinkling with salt and paprika and cumin and baking at 400 until crispy. Good conversation.

**Thursday’s menu** Pasta with pesto. Hummus, falafel, kim chi.
**Chef Kevin in charge** I took AppleApple to her goalie practice, which happens over the supper hour, so Kevin made supper using pesto frozen last fall. He kept it hot for us, and for me added a little side plate of kim chi, hummus, and falafel, which was crazy delicious. The kim chi is made by a waiter at our favourite restaurant — he knows I love kim chi, so he gave me a jar the last time we were there. It is so good, I don’t know what I’ll do when I’m through.

**Friday’s menu** Mashed potato soup. Roasted squash. Bread and cheese.
**Injury** I gouged myself whilst peeling the squash and cutting it into chunks. Just what I need, a cooking-related injury. However, the roasted squash with garlic was beyond delicious. Wish there was an easy route to peeling and cutting squash.
**Family time** Another memorable meal, with great conversation. It was fun to have Albus’s friend join us, giving us insight into the social life of the grade five boy.

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**Weekend cooking accomplishments** Four loaves of bread. Potato tortilla (Spanish omelet) for brunch on Sunday.

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AppleApple in her Roman toga (as made by AppleApple)

**Cooking with kids** AppleApple’s menu. A Roman feast! Spiced grape juice. Cabbage salad. Barbequed chicken served on a platter with rice and cumin-spiced sauce. Grilled eggplant. Honey-soaked dates stuffed with walnuts for dessert. (Nobody else was required to wear a toga; and my God isn’t she gorgeous?)

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