Category: Baking

Kitchen Day

Carrot Bars (adapted from Simply in Season)

Beat together 1 cup of butter, 1 cup of white sugar, and 1/2 cup of brown sugar. When creamed, add 1 cup of vegetable (canola) oil and beat till combined.

Add 3 cups of shredded carrot (or more), 2 beaten eggs, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Mix well.

Sift together separately: 4 cups of flour (I used all white, but my guess is that you could substitute some whole wheat); 4 teaspoons baking powder; 1 teaspoon salt. Stir into wet mixture.

Spread on a greased cookie sheet, and bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes (in my oven, it took 23 minutes to reach buttery soft goodness). Remove from oven, cut into squares while still in the pan and hot, and let cool on the tray before removing to storage containers. In keeping with my no-pre-packaged snack plan, I’ve made up three containers with eight bars in each in preparation for piano and swimming outings (those have gone into the freezer). I also have a full container for eating and lunch boxes sitting on the counter.

This was a good use for those extra carrots languishing in the bottom of our veggie drawer; AppleApple took the last and rubberiest to her horse camp this afternoon.

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Today, I woke up early to go for a run with a friend. We got soaked and the rain was cold, so we did not go quite as far as usual. When I returned, I fed the kids “dessert as breakfast”: leftover rhubarb crisp, served with milk over top. Kevin informed me that my clock was off due to waking so early, and all day I’ve tuned in to CBC Radio in the Maritimes, because it runs an hour ahead of CBC Radio here.
It has been a wonderfully productive kitchen day. Started by making 1. the above carrot bars (with help from AppleApple on the carrot-peeling-and-grating, and CJ on the sifter; whenever we start to bake together, he runs to wash his hands, and then shouts: “Where my napkin, Mama? I want my napkin!” Translation: apron). Then, helpers bored and dispersing, I whipped together 2. Really Good Granola, which, judging by anecdotal feedback, just might be the most popular recipe on this blog. While that was baking, I made 3. my traditional Sunday waffles, with three bags of leftovers frozen for breakfasts this week. Because making waffles is a brainless activity involving time rather than focus, I took the opportunity to attempt 4. yogurt. By this point in the morning, let it be known that I was a touch irritable. Do not interrupt your loving mother while she is trying to do something finicky and brand-new! (It is safe to report that my children rarely–perhaps even never–take note of such advice).
To make the yogurt, I used this recipe, and this one, too, kinda. If it works, I’ll detail my method in another post. The jars are currently sitting in a cooler (in this case, it’s a heater, with boiling water in a container to keep it warmish). I will let you know. Between snapping at children who wandered between me and stove, I had to remind myself that I will make mistakes and operate less-efficiently the first time around, and that it will get easier as it becomes more familiar (like bread-baking, something I can do with my eyes closed; almost).
I still haven’t solved how to make yogurt without creating plastic bag waste (in Canada, our milk is sold in 4 litre quantities divided between three thick plastic bags, which completely amazed and baffled me at age ten when my family moved back to Canada–milk in bags? This is definitely less wasteful than milk in solid plastic containers. But where can I buy milk in returnable glass jars? Without, as mentioned in an earlier post, having to forgo sending my children to university?). That was a long aside. I’ve totally lost all track of where this began. Oh, the final cooking venture of the day is 5. tomato sauce for supper tonight, made up fresh using tomatoes frozen last summer; a batch big enough to put some away for another meal this week or next.

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Fooey spent all morning outside with Kevin, working on her own garden patch. Today is cold. That was some hard work. She came inside for some waffles and playtime, and is back outdoors again. “What would you like to do today?” I asked her this morning. “Look for Pooh Bear, and play.” “Anything else?” “Nope. I guess playing is what I do.”

AppleApple spent all morning working on a magazine she plans to produce, inspired by the “newspapers” that I made many years ago, and which one of my brothers printed and bound in hard cover for posterity, as Christmas gifts, a couple of years ago. AppleApple found the “book” on our shelf and was entranced. We are still working out what computer program she could use to most easily produce the magazine (ie. with the least assistance from her parents). Today, she took a number of photographs for the first edition, brainstormed story ideas, and interviewed every family member on subjects such as: “What is your favourite toy?” (Published interviews will not include CJ, who was taking too long to reply, and being too silly). If you live in the neighbourhood, you might just receive a hand-delivered copy of her first edition sometime in the next several weeks. If you live far away and would like a copy mailed to you, please drop me a line. This is assuming her project comes to fruition … but the child is very determined …

Albus has had a friend day; in fact, he’s had a friend weekend. He was also treated to a 3-D movie last night (the latest Shrek), and returned home with these glasses, of which he is very proud. (I will not post the photo of Kevin in the same glasses, shirtless and wearing his pants like a hip-hopping teenager, which was what he was wearing–minus the glasses–when Albus arrived home and Kevin went outside to chat with the mother who was dropping him off. Now you want to see the photo. But I’m keeping it for future blackmailing purposes).

New Routine

A new Monday, a new routine. I got up early and went to a yoga class, and was home in time to pluck CJ out of his crib. Which was fortunate timing because he’d just started to howl (and to refuse everyone else’s offer of help) upon being informed by a friendly sister that I was at “hot yoga.”

“Mama, no go a hot yoga!” he yelled at me.
“I’m already back!” I said, not quite believing it myself. Starting today, I shall attempt for two weeks to get up early. Two weeks seems a reasonably ambitious goal for a woman who has been a night owl for the better part of two decades. Even infants and toddlers could not make me like getting up early (though I did what I had to do). Maybe getting up early without infants and toddlers will do the trick.
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The oven was on all weekend. Four loaves of ordinary sandwich bread thrown together on Saturday; plus one secret chocolate cake for my mom’s birthday party yesterday (using up the last of the beets, which imparted to the cake a rootier flavour than usual; not actually that sad to see the last of them after a winter of seasonal eating). Sunday, I whipped up four quiches (with spring asparagus and spinach!) for the birthday lunch; and in a late afternoon session, made granola, then chocolate chip cookie bars. My weekend discovery: baking and cooking have become second nature, and no longer require the thinking and planning they once did. I bake bread like I’m reciting the times tables. I peel potatoes and measure spices and gauge what’s lacking in the soup instinctively, which allows me to do it even when I’m exhausted, or less than inspired, or distracted, or engrossed in a radio show. Thank goodness for the radio. CBC radio one, to be specific. My beloved kitchen companion.
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A new week, new routine. CJ will attend an extra morning at nursery school. Our new babysitter will fetch the kids from school on Friday afternoons. I will yoga in the early morning. And soccer will dominate our evenings, and Saturday mornings. I am brainstorming picnic food, consume-in-transit food, make-in-advance food. Tonight’s menu: Wendy’s BIG pasta salad; and roll-up sandwiches on tortillas which the kids will customize to their liking, and bring along to AppleApple’s first soccer practice. (Planned toppings: egg salad, tuna salad, spinach, cheese, peppers and cukes).
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One last tidbit: Soccer in the park started on Saturday, and despite the rain–and, worse, the ominous rumblings of thunder in the distance–we had a good turn-out, and a great practice and game. Most fun–and unexpected–was seeing Fooey participate, fling herself into the gang, elbow her way out of a crowd, and kick the ball all the way down the field to the net. Next up, sending CJ out on the field, too. Hey, he’s got a good solid boot on him.
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P.S. Photos added after text. The first was taken in our backyard, which is beyond paradise right now. This is its peak flowering season. Be alert for fairies. The second photo is from the party, taken by AppleApple (she took a ton of photos, and many of them were strikingly composed). This is her gift for her grandma: a doll that she sewed herself, inside a bag that she also sewed herself. These projects are entirely of her doing, from inspiration to completion. I don’t even help her thread the needle.

Jump!

The jump! This is how I’m feeling today. I haven’t even had a cup of coffee, but it’s 10 o’clock in the morning, and the house is emptied of its usual noise. The oven is on, baking up two pans of sticky buns, and I’ve just jumped on my bed, and recorded it for posterity. Looking at that image, I think, not grown woman with four children and major life responsibilities, but girl. Sometimes it seems to me that I’m too in touch with my inner child: silly, goofy, self-involved, jumping on the bed.
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Last night, I walked out of our family meeting. I was appalled afterward to think of the poor conflict resolution skills that action demonstrated. Fight or flight? I’m flight.
Oddly, the results of me saying, “That’s it, I’m done with this meeting, and I’m going to do the dishes,” turned out to have a positive effect on what had degenerated into an argument over the Talking Stick and its underling, the Second Talking Stick: which had more power? (CJ had been monopolizing the original talking stick for his own purposes, so Albus had introduced a second). No one could hear anyone talking over the talking stick debate, so when I walked off to do the dishes, everyone else cleared off too, and the kids went to play in the living room. They played together for the next HOUR. All of them. Huh? So, let’s summarize. Family meeting = children arguing so loudly that no one can hear each other. Mama walking out on family meeting = children playing happily together.
A couple of positives that I took from the family meeting: 1. Albus explained to Fooey what family meetings are supposed to be about: “It’s not about the ice cream! It’s about us being together and talking as a family!” 2. We actually did discuss one important topic, though found no resolution. Topic? Extra-curricular activities.
This week, Albus has been particularly unhappy, crying, sad, angry, refusing to get out of the car, etc., at both piano lessons and swim lessons. I just sit quietly and gently and wait for him to change his mind and come with us. But it sort of depresses me, wears me down, makes me sad, too; that I can’t find a way to make him happier in the situation.
Music isn’t an option; to me, it’s a skill as important to learn as reading, but it doesn’t matter what instrument is involved. Albus has expressed interest in guitar, so why not? But he still has to finish this year’s piano lessons. And both AppleApple and Albus were upset about taking the same swim class over and over again (they are on their fourth or fifth round of Swim Kids Five; perhaps a rec centre record?). I get it. It sucks. But only with practice will they get better and better till they pass. They are both close to passing in terms of the skills they’ve acquired. But I watched them yesterday and suspect they have another round of swim kids five before them this summer. (Though CJ did a whole lesson on his own, while I stood at the edge of the pool in my swimsuit prepared to leap in and rescue him, lest he step off into the abyss whilst his sweet swim teacher was otherwise occupied with another toddler in her care. Yikes. I’m not sure I’ll be able to relax in the stands after all, even if he makes the transition to solo lessons.)
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Buzzer just went. Sticky buns done! I cannot help myself. I must take a photo and post it right now. They smell THAT GOOD.
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Back to the family meeting. How did we resolve the anger and frustration over children not wanting to learn skills that we parents consider to be important? Short answer: we didn’t. But at least we tried to talk about it. We can try again next week. Till I storm off. Joking. That was a joke.
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This week’s yoga revelation: sometimes 100% effort yields less than, say, 80% effort. Sometimes the best things are created when we’re not trying quite so hard, when we’re loose, when we let go. You measure what you’ve got, and you give just a little bit less. (This, as a concept, is almost impossible for me to put into action; honestly, I have to grate against my instincts; it’s painful). It’s partly about setting priorities, saving something of yourself for everything that needs doing. And it’s also about letting go of the idea of perfection. Maybe my inner child gets it better than I do. Maybe I should let her jump on the bed more often.

Mending

How I can tell I’m on the mend: 1. I wanted to drink a cup of coffee this morning. 2. I’m spending my Sunday baking!
In honour of that, a few recipes …
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Nath’s Bread
(From Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day; this cookbook is on loan from Nath)
Nath brought us supper last night, and she brought a loaf of this bread. Though I wasn’t feeling well enough to partake, Kevin mentioned that it was terrific. I don’t have the interest in baking a fresh batch of conventional bread today, so I thought instead I’d whip up a giant batch of dough to keep in the fridge, enough to make eight small loaves, which I can bake up at my convenience during the next two weeks. I’d already bought a giant plastic container in which to keep the dough, but hadn’t gotten around to making it since borrowing the cookbook, oh, way too long ago. Here’s the simple mnemonic: 6-3-3-13. That’s six cups of lukewarm water, 3 tbsp salt, 2 tbsp yeast, and 13 cups of flour. I must ask Nath whether she uses that much salt; it looked like a lot to me. [NOTE: When consulted, Nath confirms that is too much salt. She uses half that, and she also uses coarse salt, to in future, I plan to put in approximately 1 tbsp, or even slightly less]. I’ve mixed up the lot and it is now sitting on my counter to rise for two or so hours. After which, I will pop it in the fridge and pull sections off whenever I feel the urge to add fresh bread to our supper meal.
To bake: cut a grapefruit-sized ball out of the dough, and shape it into a load. Let it rest, uncovered, for 40 minutes. Twenty minutes before baking, turn on the oven at 450 (if you’re using a baking stone, pop it in at this time; if you’re using a covered pot, like I plan to, also pop it in). Just before baking, dust the load with cornmeal or bran, and slash the top of the dough several times to make it look pretty (this step is not mandatory, especially if you’re baking in a pot, in which case, you’re going to be dumping it in anyway). Bake the loaf for 30 minutes, approximately. If you’re using a baking stone, slip a pan of hot water into your oven on a lower rack; that will add some steam and improve the texture of the crust. If you’re using a covered pot, the dough will steam itself. If you’re using the pot, you can remove the lid for five to ten minutes of the baking time, to brown the crust.
Note: this makes a smallish loaf. If your family is large, or if you just love bread, double the size of the loaf; I can vouch for this working in the pot, but have never tried it on the stone. In the pot, the baking time for this size is approximately 30 minutes covered, and an additional 10 minutes uncovered. Let cool on a rack. Devour!
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Old-Fashioned Cookie Bars
(adapted from Hollyhocks and Radishes; thanks to Bobbie Chappell for introducing our family to this cookbook, which hails from Northern Michigan)
Cream together 1 cup of softened butter, 1 cup of brown sugar, and 1/2 cup of white sugar. Beat in three eggs. Beat in 1 tbsp of vanilla, and another tbsp or two or three of maple syrup (optional). In a separate bowl, mash one banana, and add it to the wet mixture. In a third bowl, sift together 2 cups of whole wheat flour, 2 cups of white flour, 2 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp baking soda, and 1 tsp salt. Add the sifted dry mixture to the wet mixture in about three batches. As it gets more difficult to incorporate, add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of milk. Stir in 1 cup of oats, 1 cup of sunflower seeds, and 1 cup of chocolate chips.
Spread on a buttered cookie sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes at 350, or until browned around the edges, and not as well-done in the middle. While still hot, cut into squares, and allow the cookie sheet to rest on a rack till completely cooled. Remove from the tray and store.
Note: Baking times vary. When baking bars, be sure to check early rather than late, and don’t wait to remove the tray till everything is toasty brown, or you may find the bottom is burnt: get it out while the middle is still a bit underdone. The bars will firm up while cooling.
Also note: This is a very flexible recipe. My first attempt, today, made a crumblier, cakier bar than my previous two bar recipes. Next time, my plan is to eliminate the milk altogether. While I can’t recommend this version for lunch-boxes, due to the crumbly/cakey consistency, it is awesomely delicious. Kevin agrees re the taste, and after a quick brainstorm on how to make these bars transportable to school, Kevin is going to try wrapping them individually and freezing them. (Have I mentioned how much I love that he is making the kids’ school lunches? He’s been doing this for the past couple of weeks while I wash the supper dishes; a companionable time for chatting, too, while the kids tear apart the house post-supper).
Note#2, edited in several days post-posting: Kevin would like the world to know that the frozen bars taste delicious–he ate two when he was home for lunch today, straight out of the freezer. Apparently, they don’t freeze into a solid block, but take on a texture much like convenience store freezer treats (in a good way). Frozen into convenient two-piece bundles, they’ve been excellent additions to the lunch boxes (the few that have gone out the door this week). Maybe I’ll make a pan for playgroup this coming week.
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I’d post the Sunday waffle recipe, but my guess is most people already have a favourite waffle recipe in their roster. Mine comes from the Simply In Season cookbook: Whole Wheat Waffles, which I double, and make with a combination of yogurt, and milk soured with vinegar (never having buttermilk on hand, more’s the pity).
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It’s such a beautiful day. The children have been playing together–all four of them!–virtually non-stop since daybreak. Kevin is playing guitar right now in the living-room, and got out for a jog around the neighbourhood in the brilliant sunshine. I got to listen to CBC Radio One while baking, and was treated to the Sunday Edition‘s three-hour special honouring International Women’s Day, AND THEN, to Tapestry‘s illumination of the Celtic goddess/saint Brigid (if you’re interested, both shows have podcasts). And now I’m blogging. And I can eat again. Have I mentioned that coffee tastes good, too? It’s such a perfect day.

Christmas Morning

Our morning, so far: stockings opened and sticky rolls and homemade grape juice and sugar overload, and Christmas pajamas, and music on the radio, and a turkey in the oven, and sleepy parents, and a recycled train from the attic with new batteries that makes the most thrilling noises (if you’re 2o months-old), and a bean bag chair, and enough books to fill a new shelf. Naptime, anyone? Anyone?
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Wishing you a merry and peaceful Christmas day!

Quiet

On the afternoon of the day called Christmas eve … downtime on the couch watching: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, and Mary Poppins. Kev and I are recovering to the point of functionality following a brief but unhappy and ill-timed bout of the stomach flu, the misery also shared by several of our children. Yesterday was a yuck day all around, and included some swearing (both Kevin and I, on entirely separate occasions, used a particular word we’d taken care never to expose the children to before … which Albus today looked up in the dictionary. Sheesh). Around twilight, I became overcome with self-pity, which sits well on no one, especially on grown adults, I find. Yuck, yuck, yuck. But it all seemed a bit too unfair: to have finished writing the exam, all systems go for delicious holiday cooking and baking and sharing with family … and then woken at dawn to the sound of …
Well, perhaps we have this out of our systems. And though my appetite hasn’t returned, I nevertheless had the energy, today, to start a double batch of sweet rolls for tomorrow’s breakfast.

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