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?”).
Do you have favourite Christmas/holiday cookie recipes? If so, please tell me! This year, I want to move beyond my usual roll-out sugar cookie recipe. Thank you. I will post photos if they turn out.
My office has been touched-up, tidied, desk debris cleared (dusty three-year-old “must-do” piles purged into the recycling bin); we purchased a proper adjustable chair (and removed the folding chair which had replaced the exercise ball both of which had rendered me nearly lame on writing week; seriously, I temporarily lost all feeling down one leg), and Kevin used the skill-saw to customize the tiny computer desk I’ve been using since 1998 (now there was a worthwhile $99.00 investment in pressed-fibre technology). And suddenly, I am sitting in well-organized comfort before my computer screen, in a sunny room that is, yes, still a playroom; but the toys are easily hidden in cupboards and closet, and the bookshelf holds kids’ books on the lower shelves and my books on the upper shelves. I’m ready for the new year.
Because of course this is the real new year. Forget January 1st. I am filled with excitement and energy and ideas and plots and schemes and plans and routines, and my calendar is chock-a-block from one end to the other with everything we’re going to do.
I have spent today baking in preparation for school lunches and after-school snacks: chocolate sunflower granola bars; granola; banana muffins; bread. I didn’t feel much like baking all day, but put my head down and gutted through it–not unlike my run this morning–and it’s done, and I feel ready. The school bags are filled with supplies and new shoes. The lunches have yet to be made, but as part of our re-division of household labour, Kevin has offered to take over the packing of the lunches (YESSSSSS!!!!), as well as breakfasts, and Sunday evening supper–aka cooking with the kids. He’s also been noticing and doing dishes more frequently. I can’t express to you the difference this makes, but if you are the regular dish-doer at your house, then you will appreciate the change, too. The kids will pack their snacks on pizza day and sub day; I’m not sure whether we’ll also work to transition them into packing their own lunches more often. Baby steps. If I could get them to throw their dirty laundry into the basket, or down the basement steps in the direction of the washing machine, and to put away their individual piles of carefully folded clothes each evening … well, those seem do-able goals for the near future.