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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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!).