Category: Cooking

Tuesday hodgepodge, with a recipe for green tomato relish

So it’s already Tuesday.

I’m visiting a book club this evening to discuss The Juliet Stories. I’ve got beans soaking for supper. And the sky looks white from where I’m sitting. The dogs are sleeping on top of each other on the couch. I searched the attic for winter hats and gloves this morning. And I ran 6.5km in half an hour, but my watch told me I’d run 7.8km, so I was a little disappointed (even though I realized that it had to be off — I’m not an under 4 minute/km runner).

The turkey was fabulous this weekend, but I took no photos. The last-minute prep got a bit hairy, so I forgot to use my camera altogether. But I spent the better part of Saturday in the kitchen, cooking a feast for family, and I can’t think of any other way I’d rather spend my holiday. On the menu this year: turkey, gravy, traditional bread stuffing, garlic mashed potatoes, mashed squash with brown sugar and ginger, brussel sprouts with pecans, and green salad. Pumpkin and apple pie for dessert (not homemade), with freshly whipped cream. I stuck with the basics. What could be better? There were 13 of us around the table, and we ate almost an entire 14 pound turkey; cleaned up the leftovers for lunch the next day: turkey and cranberry sandwiches, with green tomato relish.

Which reminds me, some of you have requested my green tomato relish recipe, which I hesitated to post until ensuring it was good. Well, I’ll be darned, it’s good. We ate almost a pint of the stuff for Sunday’s lunch. Here’s the recipe (and be warned, it involves a lot of weighing — we actually dug out a scale from the basement for the purposes of making this relish; and then we all weighed ourselves too, just for fun.) Also observe: we canned spontaneously and had to make lots of substitutions.

Green Tomato Relish (from Joy of Cooking)

Combine in a large bowl: 8 pounds of green tomatoes, thinly sliced, and 2.5 pounds onions, thinly sliced, sprinkled with 1/2 cup salt. Stir well, cover, refrigerate for 12 hours. (Confession: We were short on time, so ours sat for about 1 hour.) Rinse the tomatoes and onions in cold water, drain.

Now, in a large nonreactive pot, bring to a boil and dissolve 2 pounds of brown sugar in 1 and 1/2 quarts cider vinegar. (Confession: We substituted at least a pound of white sugar, and 1 quart of white vinegar. I added some extra sugar before canning, too, to taste.)

Once sugar is dissolved, stir in the following: 2 pounds green bell peppers, sliced; 1 pound red bell peppers, sliced; 6 cloves garlic, sliced; 1 tablespoon dry mustard; 1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt. (Confession: We didn’t have enough peppers, so I added chopped zucchini and eggplant to make up the difference in weight.)

Add tomatoes and onions and stir together well.

In a moist square of cloth, tie together the following ingredients, and add the cloth to the pot: 1 tablespoon whole cloves; 1 tablespoon ground ginger; 1 and 1/2 teaspoons celery seeds; 1 cinnamon stick broken into pieces. (Confession: We had no celery seeds. We made no substition for that lack.)

Simmer, stirring often, for about an hour, or until tomatoes become translucent. Can while hot in a boiling water canner: 15 minutes per pint or half-pint, 1/2-inch headspace.


I’m putting up a link to the Wild Writers Festival, which is a brand-new literary festival here in Waterloo, coming on November 2 and 3, and bringing to town a really fabulous line-up of writers, including Diane Schoemperlen, Russell Smith, Alexander MacLeod, Helen Humphreys, Alison Pick, Merilyn Simonds, Miranda Hill, Elizabeth Hay … see, I don’t want to stop listing names, they’re all so terrific. Personally, I’m hoping to pop in to Kerry Clare‘s blogging session, which is right before my panel discussion. Spread the word! And come if you can!

(And if you’re in Toronto, please know that Waterloo is closer than you think, and that you’re coming to one of the prettiest parts of the city, which just happens to be my neighbourhood — the festival is being held at the Balsillie School of International Affairs.)

Back on the good old ground

giddy daughter
"are we going to be millionaires?"
happy family
These photos were taken on Tuesday, just after the kids arrived home from school.

I think a person can sustain a high of excitement for about 24 hours, tops. So, yes, I’m right here on the good old ground today, and it’s a fine place to be. I sense that Tuesday’s news has genuinely begun to sink in. That’s almost a little bit sad. I never want it to feel commonplace; when I think about The Juliet Stories, I always want to feel as shocked and astonished and flooded with joy as I did on Tuesday morning.

But then again, those emotions are unsettling and burn a lot of energy. I’ve gotten up early the past two mornings to exercise, and my energy level is feeling on the wane. Wax and wane.

There are stickers. Did you know that? My publisher is going to send me some “GG Finalist” stickers that I can take around to bookshops and stick onto my book. I promise not to let my children stick them onto our sticker table, or their clothing, or their faces, even though that would make for a funny photo.

This morning, I did an interview with a local paper. We met at Words Worth Books in uptown Waterloo, which gave me the opportunity to buy the other four GG finalist’s books. Don’t they all look lovely?

The Headmaster’s Wager by Vincent Lam, The Purchase by Linda Spalding, Siege 13 by Tamas Dobozy, and Dr. Brinkley’s Tower by Robert Hough

But ’tis time to return to regularly scheduled activities. I have deadlines to meet, and this weekend I’ve also got a turkey to bake and family to host. (I’ll be sure to host the family and bake the turkey, not the other way round.)

And now, a few links, if you’re not saturated already.

* Please go on and listen to a few songs from Danny Michel’s new album, Black Birds are Dancing Over Me, which is so very joyful. “Go on and let someone love you,” has been the line running through my head these past few days.

CBC Hamilton’s piece on me (I was born in Hamilton, Ontario, and I’m happy to be claimed by any place I’ve lived that would like to claim me!).

Me and the kids on local TV (Kevin walks into the background of the opening shot, too).

On sharing the household labour

still lots of time for play

The house smells wonderful right now, and the cause is not my cooking — it’s AppleApple’s! She is making Italian-style tomato sauce to serve over pasta for supper tonight. Why? I think there are a few factors at play here.

1.  I’m giving the kids more room to experiment, and more responsibility with chores around the house. I have a controlling type-A personality. I like my laundry hung just so. I like my cooking done just so. And my kitchen has been my kitchen up til now. You know what I mean. But the kids are getting plenty old enough to learn how to cook for themselves, and care for themselves. I need to let them do that.

2. The kids are at home for the summer. They are on hand. They are looking for things to do. And when they’re asking can I make lunch? I’m saying, yes, please go ahead. Yesterday, Fooey made mini-pizzas for everyone. She looked up a recipe, she grated cheese, sliced tomatoes and green peppers, she worked super-hard, and the only part I had to do was supervise the oven. AppleApple is a few years older and knows how to use the gas stove. She’s being supervised, at some distance, by today’s babysitter. And by my nose.

3. I’m in my office not having to see what’s going on, and therefore not getting fussed about the potential mess. I’m prioritizing career work over domestic work. I’m seeing that the kids can genuinely help out — and they’re seeing that too. I’m starting to believe that a household shouldn’t be one person’s responsibility, but the entire family’s. Yes, someone needs to be organizing everyone to make sure everything’s getting done that needs doing. But everyone is capable of pitching in and keeping the enterprise going. It’s not always my job. In fact, we’re all going to learn from letting each other help out.

4. I’m prioritizing working together. I’ve started to see our family differently since I added earning money to my priority list. Before, it was nice to earn a bit extra; now, as we’ve started budgeting more consciously, we realize that to do everything we want to do, our family actually needs that extra. That is a relatively recent development — really just a few months old. It’s shifting the way I see our household working, and the way I view domestic labour. Domestic labour is every bit as important and valuable as paid employment, but that doesn’t mean only one of us has to do it. We’re not boxed into either/or categories.

5. Further to that thought: I’m coming around to the (perhaps painfully obvious) belief that parents aren’t supposed to be slaves or servants. It’s not good for the parents, and it’s not good for the kids either. Obviously, very young children can’t be expected to do major chores, but children the ages of mine are capable of being genuinely helpful. They need to know that too! They need to know they can contribute to the family’s welfare and sustainability. Their work and effort and ideas are valued too. We’re in this together. Chores aren’t really fun. But when we’re all working together, there are excellent and immediate rewards — more time to spend doing something fun together (for us, this summer, that’s watching a few episodes of Modern Family before bed). It also teaches the kids the value of time — their time, and ours. And they’re gaining a more sophisticated understanding of household economics.

There’s a p.s. to this post.

That wonderful smell in the house? About mid-way through writing this, I realized it had gone from wonderful to slightly burnt. Sure enough, when I checked, some of the sauce had started sticking to the bottom of the pot. She was following the recipe to the word, but was using a timer rather than checking to see how things were progressing. Live and learn, we agreed, and were happy to see that the rest of the sauce was still salvageable. And next time, she’ll know to peek and stir more frequently! I’d put this experiment in the win column. (I’d probably have put it in the win column even if the sauce had been inedible, frankly. Because it’s only by experience that we learn how to do things independently.)

On being a freelancer, in earnest

cupcake smile
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).


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?

The week in suppers

trampoline kids at dusk; not food-related …

**Monday’s menu** Noodles in broth. Spinach salad with strawberries and sunflower seeds.
**Last-minute** I was doing a writing week, of sorts, so our babysitter stayed until late, and I had little time to throw something on the table before the girls’ dance class at 6. Leftover noodles went into homemade stock. Admittedly unexciting, even jazzed up with Chinese five-spice. But the salad was a hit.

**Tuesday’s menu** Black bean chili with steamed rice.
**Oops** Again, it was a writing afternoon, and I was late letting our babysitter go (she actually had to knock on the office door because her husband was here to pick her up!). And then I realized supper had to be whipped up from scratch in about twenty minutes. Which is exactly how much time it takes to steam white rice on the stove-top. Leftover black beans were quickly turned into chili, thanks to my home-canned tomatoes, and a bag of last-summer’s frozen corn. This was the evening that we realized we have only one car. Which we do know, but somehow temporarily forgot. That meant six people gobbling supper and racing out the door en masse. AppleApple and I were dropped at the field forty-five minutes before warm-up officially started. But we made lemonade out of these lemons, and had a blast practicing together in the warm sunshine.
**Post-soccer-tableau** Arriving home at nearly 9pm, with tired children in tow, it is not the most thrilling sight to view upon the table: the abandoned meal and accompanying dirty dishes. Sigh.

**Wednesday’s menu** Salmon roasted on the bbq, baked potatoes, steamed broccoli.
**Last-minute, again** I invited my former boss, Noah Richler, to come for supper before his reading in Waterloo, and he accepted, and was kind enough to remind me, when I worried, that he comes from a family of five children and is familiar with kid-induced chaos. It was another writing day, and I decided to ignore the messy state of the house. Before dashing off to the girls’ piano lessons, I scrubbed a bunch of potatoes and put them in the oven. When Albus called my cell to say he and friends were home from school, I instructed him to turn on the oven. This works really well, actually. On the way home from piano, I swung by our local fishmonger and bought 3 pounds of beautiful salmon. Kevin cooked it perfectly. We were again racing against the clock as I’d discovered at around 4pm that CJ had his “congraduation” from nursery school starting at 6pm — and that he really wanted to go (cake and juice had been promised!). But with some good team-work, supper was on the table and we dined with enough time.
**Passable** I would categorize this meal as bland, but fine. The salmon was tasty. Everything else was terribly plain. I put salt and pepper on the table.

**Thursday’s menu** Leftovers: baked potatoes warmed up, with chili and rice.
**Uninspired** But it saved me time.

**Friday’s menu** Hot dogs and buns from Bailey’s pickup. Plus roasted asparagus, and cherry tomatoes.
**Easy-peasy** No rush, no hurry. A late meal, because we had swim lessons first, and then Bailey’s pickup (Bailey’s is our go-to source for much wonderful local food), but the kids snacked on cheese sticks and pretzels and we enjoyed relaxing around the table together. And then we watched Modern Family! A perfect end to a busy week.

**Saturday’s menu** Pad thai with shrimp and tofu; hot and sour soup.
**Because** We had all the ingredients on hand, and I received a burst of energy at the end of the day, when Kevin arrived home from his training class. It cheered me up to cook and feel productive after a lazy, rainy, blustery, quiet, indoors day.
**Leftovers** We ate the leftovers for Sunday’s supper, along with carrots. And that’s the week!

Now, what’s on the menu for this week ….?

The week in suppers

bread dough rising

**Monday’s menu** Sweet potato coconut soup (crockpot). Bread. Cheese.
**Veggies** I think there are enough veggies in the soup to skip the side. This recipe is a winner every time.

**Tuesday’s menu** Chili in the crockpot (with hamburger and spinach). Baked rice. Tortilla chips.
**Rush, rush, rush** Eaten in the half-hour turnaround between swim lessons and soccer. I love the crockpot for it’s ability to turn out hot meals on days when I’m out of the house from 9-5.
**re hamburger** I’ve been buying one package of local, organic, drug-free hamburger on occasion. I have no explanation/excuse. Clearly we are not vegetarian, at least not entirely. But we do continue to eat meat sparingly. She says, and then remembers Thursday’s menu. Ahem.

**Wednesday’s menu** Red sauce with basil and tofu. Spaghetti.
**Easy-peasy** Whipped this up after piano lessons. Thank you, home-canned tomatoes and frozen basil.

**Thursday’s menu** Baked beans in the crockpot. Hot dogs. Store-bought buns. Confetti kale (fried kale with grated carrots).
**I know, I know** This is weird meal for us. We rarely eat hot dogs and when we do it’s summertime and they’re on the grill and they’re local and nitrate-free. These were yer basic tube o’ sodium & fat. Here’s the story: AppleApple went to an outdoor education centre on Thursday, and the children were invited to bring hot dogs to roast over the fire. We bought last-minute grocery store dogs. She took two. Which left us with a package of hot dogs minus two. Just enough for supper, so I made a theme meal of it. I personally skipped the dog and ate beans on a bun with toppings. A couple of the kids tried that out for their third helpings, with ketchup, mustard, relish, etc. It was okay. But the confetti kale was fantabulous.

**Friday’s menu** Church supper. Spaghetti with meat sauce. Green salad. Cookies and squares.
**No dishes** ‘Nuff said.


**Weekend kitchen accomplishments** Four loaves of bread. Batch of middling carrot muffins. Vat of turkey stock to freeze.

Fooey with her orange tea

**Cooking with kids** Fooey’s menu for Saturday’s supper: Chinese theme. Cod fish cakes (these were really good!). Orange tea. Miso soup (technically Japanese; but an easy favourite). Ginger and snowpea noodles. Ginger chicken. Fruit with chocolate sauce.

**Please help!** We have an excess of carrots in the crisper! In fact, carrots have entirely taken over the crisper. What’s the solution? My carrot muffins were an utter failure (my muffins always are; maybe I’m over-mixing?). Carrot soup? Carrot cake? Tossing grated carrot into absolutely every dish? What’s your favourite carrot recipe?

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