I’ve spent the day in the kitchen. I can’t decide if this is a fine and lovely thing, for which I am appreciative, or if it’s a bit of a waste, and I should have been outside in the sunshine, or off to church this morning, or participating in one of the many community events going on today …
Instead, I woke up, started the laundry, hung a load from last night on the line outside, and turned on the radio, which is my constant companion on kitchen days. Then I began. I started by mixing and kneading a batch of bread and setting it to rise on the counter. I chopped and stewed plums and pears, which had been going to mush on the counter. In another pot, I sauteed onions, garlic, and herbs, and on a baking sheet arranged whole, cored tomatoes. I fired up the BBQ to about 375, and roasted the tomatoes with the sauteed veggies for several hours. I heated milk and washed jars and made yogurt. I mixed up cookie dough and baked the worst cookies ever. (And I followed the recipe. I have no explanation, except that maybe the kitchen is politely telling me to scram).
And I hung a second load of laundry on the line.
Could that be all? I started before 9am, and it is now nearly 4pm. For my efforts, I have arrayed before me: 2 jars of plum-pearsauce; 4 loaves of bread; several litres of roasted tomato sauce; 6 jars of yogurt; and a batch of barely edible cookies. The week ahead, and its necessary meals, remains unplanned. I am, therefore, going to throw on my running gear and go for a looooooooong run in today’s remaining sunshine. Fooey and Kevin are in charge of supper: pita pizzas on the BBQ using that roasted tomato sauce (I scraped the roasted ingredients into a pot and macerated them using a hand blender).
As the school year begins again, my mind returns to the necessity of producing weekday suppers, frequently to be eaten at a ridiculously early hour, or immediately upon arriving home, due to after-school and evening activities. And so this blog will also return to a reprised version of The Week in Suppers. First edition coming tomorrow. Look for (mostly) vegetarian meal ideas, as our family attempts to go vegetarian for a month. Stay tuned.
Problem: six-year-old’s pants no longer fit; discover salient fact at exact moment pantless child needs to be leaving for school; discover half a minute later that box in attic containing six-year-old hand-me-down clothes has next to no pants, oodles of pretty dresses
Solution: six-year-old leaves wearing pants that are slightly too big, but at least not too small; mama makes mental note to buy child more pants, preferably soft; mental note not good enough, should probably go on list; which list?
Problem: ten-year-old’s brand new labelled-as-non-marking shoes leave marks on gym floor, therefore ten-year-old can’t wear them as his indoor shoes (yes, the school requires children to have two pairs of shoes at all times, one for inside, the other for out); too late to go shoe shopping; old shoes wrecked and don’t fit
Solution: ten-year-old’s feet approximately same size as mama’s; ten-year-old agrees to wear mama’s old running shoes to school; but will this work for longer than one day?; mental note to add shoe-shopping to list (maybe); which list?
Problem: late bedtime due to late soccer practice and excursion to get binders that ten-year-old needs for school; three-year-old wakes incapable of speaking to anyone in tone other than grumpy, grouchy, or extremely put out; three-year-old threatens mutiny re attendance at nursery school
Solution: early to bed, early to bed, early to bed (mutters mama, thinking, oh dear, this is all on me tonight, as husband will be working late)
Problem: rising super-early to exercise, mama is Just Plain Tired by the time kids straggle off to school; precious few hours of work-time available; fuzzy-headedness not conducive to deep thought
Solution: one super-short nap; not sure it’s working, as mama is currently blogging and is not, therefore, starting to write her brand-new book, which she’s not scared of starting, really, honestly, okay, she’s pretty nervous about this (file under Things to Get Over; It Will Be Okay, Promise; You Can Do This, Just Take a Few Deep Breaths)
Problem: too much mama multitasking; items slipping through cracks; library books overdue; lists festering; brain overload; can’t read recipe for crockpot while serving porridge and trying to write notes to children’s teachers AND field question from husband about lunches without snapping irritably in reply
Solution: nothing comes to (over-stuffed) mind
Problem: there always seems to be more; it’s not predictable; no amount of list-making can answer the unknowable future
Solution: embrace improvisation; accept failure, reject defeat; welcome to the joy of being alive
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.
Monday night. Twice-stuffed potatoes, sausages, red cabbage salad. Potatoes leftover from Apple-Apple’s supper the night before. Excellent re-use of leftover baked potatoes, sliced in half, emptied out, insides mixed with cheese, crema, and mashed up brocolli and cauliflower. Red cabbage salad recipe from a friend (onion, mayonnaise, vinegar, and maple syrup). We cut each sausage in half, because there were only five. Kevin and I got one half each and the kids divvied up the rest.
Tuesday night. I ate alone. The kids went to a pancake supper at their grandma’s church, with Kevin, while I went to a yoga class. I made a house-favourite, mashed-potato soup, to be served as supper the next day. This “mashed-potato” soup contained quantities of squash. Basically anything goes into this soup, which does contain potatoes, too (though not mashed). Once it’s cooked, I zap it with a submersible hand-held blender, and hurray, instant happiness around the table. But I ate a bowl alone, tonight, and stored the rest in the fridge.
Wednesday night. Wednesday is always a crockpot supper. I tried out a new recipe with underwhelming results: a lentil and rice pilaf, which would have been far superior cooked on the stove. It was mushy, though smelled pretty good while cooking (cinnamon stick). Luckily, there was also mashed potato soup to warm up and serve. We ate together, between music class and Apple-Apple’s soccer.
Thursday night. I ate alone. The family ate pasta with red sauce. Kevin forgot to put out the greens. I cooked up the red sauce from scratch earlier in the day, and Kevin cooked up the noodles. It’s a good meal for the evenings when I’m out at yoga class. Which is where I was. I came home, and devoured a couple of bowls of pasta, along with the greens. That night, our youngest got sick, so we cancelled our babysitter and I missed kundalini yoga.
Friday night. I ate alone. This is starting to look like I eat alone a lot, but I feel like this week had to have been an anomoly. Kevin took the two girls to a pizza supper at one of our churches, Albus was at a friend’s house for pizza followed by the boys’ soccer (lovely parents feed our boy pretty much every Friday), and CJ was home with me, sick. I fried up a package of frozen spinach with cumin and garlic and onions, and ate it over leftover quinoa. Then I ate two pieces of pizza, which Kevin brought home for me. Kevin dropped off Fooey, and immediately left to take Apple-Apple to her goalie practice (soccer, again). Did I mention the pre-supper skating? The kids were all worn out. But also excited, because it was the start of their March break holiday.
Saturday night. Supper out! We went for all-you-can-eat sushi, and ate our money’s worth. Even CJ, who was still sick, discovered a fondness for cucumber maki, and ate at least six. This was such a treat, and it felt like we were on holiday, for real. We pretended we were at Disney (a place I fully intend never to go). I don’t know why, but it really felt like we were in Florida. We stayed for almost the full time limit, and everyone was beautifully behaved, not greedy, and shared the food. When we went home, we had a family drawing time at the dining-room table, and then a short dance party in the living-room. Considering the still-sick child, and the interrupted nights, and the 16km run that took up a large part of my afternoon, it felt like a real holiday.
Sunday night. All I wanted was not to have to cook supper. Yay! Kevin did it. CJ and I took a nap in the late afternoon, tucked up together in a chair. Kevin made tacos with black beans (which I’d cooked earlier in the day), and hamburger, and lots of fixings. It was an excellent meal, but with the time change, we realized it was nearly 7pm by the time we’d finished, and therefore too late for our planned family movie night. The kids were disappointed, but we let them watch part of a Harry Potter movie, while I did the dishes and the laundry. Everyone got to bed late, but slept soundly. I woke up feeling much more like myself again.
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.
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?”).