Wow. Serious lack of time and energy has lead to a serious lack of writing or creating. I need a kick in the pants to send me back to the keyboard for some tap tap tapping. I almost feel afraid to start up work again. A sense of temporary paralysis. Deep breath.
This morning I spoke to a creative writing class at a local high school, feeling ever so slightly like an impostor. Or maybe just feeling seriously elderly. When I told the young man who led me to the classroom when I’d graduated, it blew his mind. Yes, it probably was long before he was born. How the heck old am I, again?
My own children were entirely baffled by the invitation to speak. “Why do they want you to talk to them? Maybe you should play some music for them so they won’t get bored.”
I like talking to teenagers. It’s like searching for clues to my near-future (Albus is already almost nine).
And upon reflection, the class’s question and answer session got me thinking about the writing I’ve done during this (almost) decade of declaring myself a writer. It’s been a split identity, with mother coming out on top almost always. When I think of the concentration and focus that writing demands of me, I’m glad I’ve chosen mother more often than writer, or been willing to let writer slip to the margins where I tap tap tap only when the occasion arises (or, more precisely, when I make time for the occasion). Yes, it means forfeiting the bigger projects that require more than three hours at a stretch of devoted focus. But less doesn’t mean nothing. It just means a smaller scale and scaled down expectations. The kids grow. They don’t appear to be slowing down on that front. This season will spin away from me and I won’t forget (I don’t think) how to dream and be brave between now and then. Meantime, tap tap, I’ll try, again, this week. Hopefully back to normal writing hours as of Wednesday.
Food made me happy this weekend. Three bags of spring greens arrived on Friday evening, and I made salad with pecans and apples and maple syrup dressing, and two spinach quiches. Used up the half-bag of mouldering carrots discovered (with some horror) in the cold cellar on Saturday, by making a giant pot of carrot soup of Sunday. I also had fun with phyllo pastry for Saturday’s supper: homemade samosas with dahl, and an apple streudel for dessert. That may not be how one spells streudel. The spellchecker on this computer doesn’t like any permutation my brain suggests.
I am cooking up pasta sauce for supper right this very second (tomatoes frozen last summer; I still have enough to take us through to the coming tomato season). It’s dentist day after school, so supper needs to be ready to set on the table when we arrive home from that outing of fun and joy. This is the all the writing I’m going to get done today.
Tap tap. That’s okay.
Not sitting here with the inspiration to write. But look at these photos. Yesterday, Kevin and Albus cooked the evening meal together: coconut chicken with baked rice, bouillabaisse, and fruit smoothies for dessert. Last Sunday, Fooey and Kevin cooked French onion soup (above, Fooey is monitoring the progress of the toasting bread in the toaster oven). Their other memorable meal item was a cheese and fruit plate for dessert.
I also had to include this photo of AppleApple wearing her Grandma Linda’s jacket–from when Grandma Linda was a little girl. It is hand-sewn, though I’ll have to ask who did the sewing. AppleApple disappeared into her own mysterious world yesterday, dressing up in the jacket, and a white collared shirt, a black bubble skirt, and tights, and pushing her hair off her face with a band. She looked so beautiful. I found her sitting on her fabric box in the girls’ bedroom, serene and lost in thought. I never found out what she was thinking, though it looked like it might have been sad. I sat on the floor, asked my questions, received no answers; and so sat quietly just watching her. I thought about how there will be so many things that she does and thinks that I will never know, and though it was difficult, I understood that I would respect that distance, not scrabble to break it. As long as she knows I’m here if she needs me. (The photo was not taken at that moment, but later in the afternoon when she was busy taking photos of her own. The other day I heard her camera beeping, and realized she was setting it up on the 10-second delay so she could take self-portraits. Um …. And Albus has been taking photos and making movies, too, on his own–very old–digital movie camera. No shortage of documentation at our house. The only trouble will be narrowing our evidence down to a few iconic images, which is all that ever lasts; if even that could be said to last, in a family’s memory, for however long a family remembers).
After the success of last week’s Chocolate Sunflower Granola Bars, which lasted most of the week and worked well for kids’ lunches and take-along snacks, I thought I’d try adapting another cookie recipe to the one-tray bar version (we all need variety, even in cookies). This bar is a little more chewy and cookie-like, and a little less seedy and granola-y. It’s adapted from the chocolate chip cookie recipe found in Mrs. Restino’s Country Kitchen.
Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars
Cream together 1 cup of softened butter with 1 cup of brown sugar, and 1/2 cup white sugar.
Next, add the following ingredients to the creamed mixture, and mix them in with a spoon till incorporated: 1/2 cup vegetable oil (I use canola), 2 eggs, and 2 tsp. vanilla.
In a separate bowl, sift together the following: 2 cups unbleached flour, 2 cups whole wheat flour, 4 tsp. baking powder, and 1 tsp. salt. Add to the wet mixture in two additions, and mix till it comes together.
As usual, I kept my recipe nut-free (otherwise, I can’t send the end results in the kids’ school lunches, which totally defeats the purpose). In place of nuts, I substituted: 1 cup of oats. Stir those in, along with 1/2 cup of wheat germ, and 1 cup of chocolate chips.
Spread the dough on a greased cookie sheet, and bake in a preheated oven at 350 for 25 minutes. Cut into squares as soon as the giant cookie comes out of the oven. Let the tray rest, with the cut squares, on a rack till cool.
Kevin thought he liked last week’s squares best (more roughage to chew on), and Fooey thought these were the best. I give a gold medal to the baking method. I’ve been avoiding cookie-baking for awhile due to how time-consuming it is to drop the dough onto the tray in individual lumps, and then hang around the kitchen while baking tray after tray after tray. Both of these recipes make a substantial amount of bars that last the better part of the week. Bulk baking, baby.
Yoga day was wonderful. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. I am finding in this seemingly individual physical experience a collective joy that it wouldn’t be possible to find alone. I continue to reflect on the nature of awe, wonder, the body, and the spirit. I am glad. Plus, I baked four loaves of bread before leaving the house yesterday, so added to these cookie bars, and the waffles made fresh this morning and frozen for three breakfasts this coming week, it was a productive kitchen weekend. Kevin and Albus are working on supper together, while we are all glued to the hockey game. Albus’s menu: caesar salad with homemade dressing and homemade croutons, pasta with homemade pesto, and devilled eggs–for protein. Tonight we’ll be enjoying dessert, too: ice cream. Or, possibly, banana splits.
And Canada just scored the first goal of the game. I’m going to miss the Olympics.
Here’s a new twist: Kevin cooking with the kids. Today, it was Fooey’s turn and I needed a break. So the two of them thought up the menu and made: wonton soup, and shrimp crepes with mint, lettuce and bean sprouts (from Vietnam in the global food cookbook). For dessert, which we’re eating right now: bananas fried in butter and brown sugar with mango sorbet. Good, good, and good!
Next week’s menu is already being discussed. It will be Albus’s turn. Kevin is pleased to participate in the cooking, and I am happy to pass the torch.
With my spare cooking time this weekend, I made a chicken stock to freeze (and to use as a base for the wonton soup). I’ve been doing this regularly, every few weekends, making enough to freeze for adding to soups and other recipes during the week. Here’s my extremely basic recipe for chicken stock: I use the bones, skin, and gizzardy bits leftover from roasting a scrumptious Nina chicken, adding whole onions, garlic, carrots, celery, sometimes a potato or turnip, salt, pepper, thyme, bay leaves, and a few tbsp of apple cider vinegar; and of course litres of water, often coming close to filling my gigantic stock pot. After simmering for an hour or two, I let it cool, then strain everything out. The taste of this stock cannot be beat; except perhaps by the smell while it’s cooking. Which is why I keep making it.
I also made whole wheat waffles, doubling the batch, and making enough to store several breakfasts’ worth for later in the week. Weekend waffle-making has become an excellent habit this winter.
My final recipe success today: Chocolate Sunflower Granola Bars. This is adapted from Simply In Season’s Oatmeal Fruit Cookies, and was inspired by two different friends describing how they make cookie baking faster: by spreading the dough onto a sheet and cutting it into squares after baking. I had about 45 minutes in which to make these bars if we were going to make it to the planned afternoon family yoga outing. Plenty of time! Here’s my recipe:
Chocolate Sunflower Granola Bars
Cream together 1/2 cup butter, 1/2 cup oil, 1 cup sugar, and 2 tbsp honey. Scrape the bowl and beat till light and fluffy. Beat in 1 egg and 2 tsp vanilla.
In a separate bowl, combine 3 and 1/2 cups of oats, 2 cups of whole wheat flour, 1 and 1/2 cups chocolate chips, 1 cup sunflower seeds, and 1 teaspoon baking soda.
Add the dry to the wet, stirring just till mixed. You can add another sprinkling of flour if the mixture seems wet.
Spread the dough on a greased cookie sheet.
Bake at 350 for 25 minutes.
Cut into squares while the giant cookie is still hot.
(I left the cut, hot squares untouched in the cookie sheet and resting on the cooling rack for a couple of hours while Albus and Fooey and I went on a family yoga outing together, and the squares were lovely and cool and transferred nicely to the cookie container upon return. Not even crumbly!).
It was AppleApple’s turn to plan and help make supper this weekend. I suggested she look through Passport on a Plate, a cookbook for children that is underused in our house because it has no pretty pictures or photographs. But it does have menus from a variety of countries around the world. She listened as I read out country names (and in the case of Africa, an entire continent), and as soon as I read Japan, she said, Japan!
She chose miso soup, sushi rolls, and I added in vegetable rice because I thought the menu looked too slight (it turned out I was wrong, and we’ll be eating the completely untouched pot of vegetable rice for our supper tomorrow). I also suggested green tea ice cream for dessert (she wouldn’t have dreamed of purchasing such a luxurious treat), and we improvised with mango sorbet and Mapleton’s chai ice cream.
Today was our cooking day. I promised we’d start by 3pm. But at 3pm, I was still immersed in a self-inflicted photo organizing ordeal which I vow, as of right now, never to force upon myself (or my family) again. This past year has been our family’s most documented year EVER. And I’m beginning to question the need for so much evidence. Why this compulsion to collect the details? We have the blog, which has photos; we have a beautiful scrapbook I made online–more photos, but a creative final product; and now we have actual photographs, printed out, placed into (approximate) chronological order (definitely the most maddening task of my afternoon), and then into photo albums.
Next year, I’m going to let everyone choose his or her five favourite photos, get prints of those, and leave it at that.
Where was I? Oh, yes, 3pm, AppleApple’s buzzer went, and it was time to rouse myself and get to work. But because I have an obsessive personality, and need to finish one thing before starting another, I stayed seated at the dining-room table, butt damn near numb, and directed her to measure out the sticky rice we would need to make the rolls. The bag was apparently open. Rice everywhere. Never mind! I remained glued to the photos: “Just pick it up and put it into a one-cup measuring cup.”
Enter Kevin.”What’s going on in here?”
“Oh, some rice just spilled.”
“Is it?” I couldn’t see. I was stuffing photos we didn’t need into albums. “CJ can vacuum it up,” I said. Yes, I actually said that.
“There’s a bit of extra stuff in here,” AppleApple said, at last, her cup measure full.
“What sort of stuff?”
“Like a bit of dirt and stuff.”
Okay, you’ve got my attention, kid. Limbs creaking, I rose and rinsed the rice. AppleApple vacuumed. She does it for real, and CJ does it as a hobby.
“We’re not off to the best start,” I admitted.
As the rice came to a boil, I managed to stuff the final stack of photographs into an album. I was back to the present. Praise be! Things became much more pleasant after that. AppleApple chopped red and green peppers and cucumber into matchsticks. I strained the chicken stock that had been simmering on the stove all day.
“I just read a book called Naomi’s Road [by Joy Kogawa],” AppleApple told me, out of the blue. “When I got to the end, it was still kind of sad. Why would a book end like that?”
Oh, be still my heart. She wants to talk critically about literature!
I said: “When I get to the end of a sad story, sometimes I make up another ending for it.”
“I do that too! Except it’s not a different ending, I just think about what might happen next.”
Ah, yes, exactly.
“Sometimes the author wants the story to go on in the reader’s mind. The author might not want the reader to know everything.”
“Maybe some things can’t get fixed up.”
Yah. I know.
Later, we rolled some sushi. We made it look pretty on the plates. We pretended we were running a restaurant, and everyone loved that, even our resident grump, Albus (taking over that role for today, anyway; we share; everyone takes turns). Instead of putting the pots on the table like we do most nights (classy, I know, but it makes for less dishes afterward), we served from the kitchen. We took orders. Everyone ate the miso soup! Everyone! Even fussy Fooey.
“What’s this green stuff?” “Seaweed.” “Oh.” Slurp.
Everyone had seconds. The rolls were passable, if not as awesome as the real thing. The wasabi was HOT. The rice went into the fridge for tomorrow. And we polished off a litre and a half of ice cream for bedtime snack. Pretty awesome.
Fooey’s planning to look up the recipes from China for next week. Albus wants Russia the week after. Can’t wait.
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?
Wishing you a merry and peaceful Christmas day!
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