Category: Local Food

Plots, Plans and Schemes

This has been a fine day. Gorgeous sunshine in which to run a morning errand. Finally feeling inspired to cook and bake again, after a long spell of ho-hum-ness. Kevin and the little kids spent almost two hours playing in the leaves out back. But our big boy is sick. He spent the day in bed, which would be evidence enough; but he also has a fever. As he’s staying hydrated and has no cough, I’m not worried. If it should spread, however … well, that would throw a wrench into the wheels of this busy approaching week. Kevin and I have plans to celebrate our tenth anniversary, a few months late, in Toronto on Wednesday–attending the Alice Munro/Diana Athill conversation at the International Festival of Authors!!!!! Can I wait? No, I cannot. We decided against spending the night, despite having elaborate babysitting in place, because I have a midterm and my own reading the following day. Too much. Throw in a little H1N1 and …
The best-laid plans, huh.
This was a good day, however. Quiet, sleepy, filled with good food. I baked four loaves of whole wheat bread, a batch of oatmeal/chocolate chip cookies, and cooked up a huge pot of chicken stock, made with the frozen lizardy-gizzardy bits from chickens past. I don’t know whether the savoury garlicky broth will cure what ails anyone, but it can’t hurt. Plus, I made so much, I’ve got four containers frozen for later use (likely in the crockpot).
And with today’s kitchen frenzy, I feel a renewed resolve. Nina’s buying club will be going to a monthly schedule after this coming Friday, and our pantries and cupboards and freezers are full of fall and summer bounty, and of the raw materials for baking and cooking magnificent meals from scratch. So, here is my plan: to eat from our stores. If what we’ve stored runs out, hurrah, I’ll take it as a sign of the experiment’s success. And order some more (lentils? bread flour? potatoes? stewed tomatoes?) from Nina. I don’t mean I’ll bake up crackers (my homemade crackers are lousy), but yes, bread, yes, cookies, yes, granola. Yes, chicken stock.
Okay, the child seen pictured above is clad in a yellow duck towel and stands behind me demanding I pick out her pajamas. Oh, I should say that her headgear belongs to her planned Hallowe’en costume. I’ll leave it to your imagination. You’ll just have to wait and see.
Over and out.

Rainy Days

Ah, fluctuation.

From model of efficiency to nasty head cold; though it may not be rational to assume that one caused the other. We’ve been getting very little sleep. First, CJ was teething, then he got the head cold. The cure for both is, apparently (ask him), all-night non-stop nursing. I kept the ball rolling on Saturday, ferrying children to birthday parties, vaccuuming our disgusting living quarters, mopping the kitchen floor (Apple-Apple helped), squeezing in a hair cut (skipped the blow dry, but not the head massage), putting up a bushel of tomatoes, then dashing off to a street party. Sometime that night, during the feeding frenzy, I thought to myself, ugh, sore throat. Yup, by morning, I wasn’t feeling fabulous. Yesterday the gears shifted to low, sputtering. But colds are colds, liveable, doable, managable. There’s no urgent need to put myself to be bed. I’m going to spend a sleepy rainy day with my boys–Albus is also here with us, due to a hacking germ-spreading cough–and I’m thankful I don’t feel worse.
Had a list of smallish bloggish blurbish items I’ve been meaning to cover, but can’t recall them now (of course). Especially because I’m listening to Q on CBC at the same time as I’m typing this, at the same time as CJ is pulling on me yelling, “Hand! Hand!” which means, gimme your hand, mama, I’ve got plans for us. Other vocab he’s come out with in the last day or two: “Wagon,” “bunny,” “rain,” “backpack,” “hot dog,” “wind,” “sit.” And more. We interrupt this post for an extended interlude of puzzle-doing. And the sipping of my home-stewed honey-garlic-ginger-lemon cure-all brew.
Above, a few pics from the kids’ first skate of the season. Kevin has organized an informal neighbourhood skating/hockey time similar to our soccer-in-the-park model. CJ and I skipped out as neither of us have skates. Maybe next time? I want to see this in person.
Oh, just remembered: local food and preparing for winter, that was another item on my list. It feels like we haven’t concentrated on putting food away with the same zeal as last year, and yet I’m pleased with what’s hanging out in our cold cellar, on our shelves, and in our freezers, waiting to cheer us this winter. Last year, we had success storing garlic and potatoes in our cold cellar. We store the potatoes in smallish amounts in paper bags, thoroughly dry, and carefully checked over for any signs of rot. The garlic we store loose on wire shelves. Last year’s onions were a spectacular fail; so never mind this year. I feel like I’m really just experimenting, just dabbling in maintaining a minimum of survival skills as I go about collecting food for winter.
Other bits and bobs we’ve put away recently: roasted red peppers yesterday. Two bushels of tomatoes, frozen or canned, over the past two weekends; likely not enough, but also likely all I’m going to get to. Shredded zucchini for baking.
Thankfully we have a global food system into which to tap. Should it grind to a shuddering halt, good luck to us.

A Few of My Favourite Things

Kids who make their own lunch. And arrange it on a table they’ve set up themselves.Children who read. A baby who still nurses from time to time.

Tiny front-yard gardens that produce actual tomatoes to be picked by girls still wearing pajamas.

The smell of a lime being sliced open, which makes me think we should up and move down south to a country where these would be locally grown (along with mangoes and avocadoes).

Good Enough

Trying to get up in school-ready time, which is silly because we still have two and a half weeks of summer vacation left; but I want to remind myself that I can do it. And I can. It just makes me want to go to bed earlier. Unfortunately, the children are not going to bed earlier. If anything, they seem incapable of falling asleep before 9:30 at night, no matter when we tuck them in (perhaps we should end the two-week-long sleepover going on in Albus’s room; Apple-Apple is in his loft bed, because she kicks, and Fooey and Albus have been sharing a mattress on the floor, which leaves only enough floorspace for masses of dumped Lego. My thorough cleaning of several weekends ago was decimated almost instantly). Naturally, no matter how active our days, the children still wake up at approximately the same time. This morning it wasn’t their fault. We were all woken by an apparent earthquake, the entire house shuddering on its foundations. It’s still going on. Endless road construction.

:: :: ::
Tomato season seems to be starting only just now; at any rate, my favourite savoury fruit hasn’t been offered in bulk yet at either of our local food sources. Tomatoes loom, and part of me is questioning whether I’ll find the energy and time to do the work when the bushels start rolling in. (I think I can, I think I can). It feels like I haven’t been putting up food at the same pace as last summer, or perhaps not with the same fresh enthusiasm. Because we’ve already filled one freezer, so obviously we are putting food up: mainly blueberries, apricots, peas, and yesterday evening Kevin grated a ton of zucchini (for baking). There is no doubt if we had to live on what I’ve put up, we would not survive; but why am I thinking in these all-or-nothing terms? Instead, why not appreciate how second-nature putting up food has become? Not vast quantities, but little bits here and there. It does add up, and will make our winter more flavourful. There is so much summer bounty, and no way to preserve it perfectly. The way of all things perishable.
Cheery, huh.
This post has been written in the midst of serving children breakfasts and trying to meet their variety of demands (poorly, due to focussing on this posting instead). And now it’s time to hop on bicycles and head to swim lessons.

Recipes for a Party

I like a party where people of all ages can relax and have a good time, including the hosts. And I really really really enjoy hosting just such a party. The planning! The feeding! The mingling! The half-finished conversations and the help with the dishes! My planning basics are: who, when, food, beverages, activities, seating. I’m fond of a good to-do list. If all the thinking and preparation is completed before the guests arrive, you can just let events unfold in a lovely swirl around you.

Herein, a few recipes and photographs to document Fooey’s fourth birthday party: nine children, eleven adults, zero injuries.
Yesterday morning, I started cooking a giant pot of black beans (from Nina’s buying club).
**Mini-recipe: Pot o’ Beans: Rinse and pick over six cups of black beans, cover them with water in a large pot, bring them to a boil for two minutes, then turning off the heat and let them soak for an hour. Add some whole cloves of garlic, to taste, several bay leaves, approximately one tablespoon of salt, and cook on low heat for two hours, or until done. Add more water if needed during the cooking process. Pretty effortless.**
About an hour before the guests were due to arrive, I started a large pot of white rice.
**Mini-recipe: Pot o’ Rice: Place three and a half coffee cups of rice in a large pot with a tight-fitting lid. Add approximately double the water, or add water to about one thumb’s length above the level of the rice. Add salt if desired. Bring to a boil, cover tightly, simmer undisturbed on low for twenty-five minutes (brown rice takes about forty-five minutes). Turn off the heat and let rest, then fluff with a fork before serving.**
Meanwhile, I was also frying up two generous pounds of hamburger (Nina’s buying club, again).
**Mini-recipe: Hamburger Topping: Saute one chopped onion and several cloves of garlic in a large pan with a small amount of olive oil. Add hamburger. Season with salt, cumin, and ground coriander to taste.**
Finally, I made a fresh tomato-peach salsa, which involved a lot of chopping.
**Mini-recipe: Tomato and Peach Salsa: Finely chop four large tomatoes, three ripe peaches, several green onions, and approximately one cup or half a bunch of fresh cilantro. Slip in a few finely chopped zucchinis, if you’re looking to rid your fridge of these, too. Salt to taste. Dress with cider vinegar. Add hot chili pepper flakes if you want some heat.**

The basic meal at the end of these simple recipes is served buffet-style, starting with a bowl of fresh flour tortillas (Nina’s, again!), and continuing in the following order: rice, beans, hamburger, grated cheese, chopped lettuce, feta cheese, sour cream, fresh tomato-peach salsa, hot sauce, and, finally, a giant bowl of tortilla chips for crumbling atop everything else. You can add or subtract as your own tastes desire.Now, the cake. This “bear cake” has become a family tradition, in part because it’s ridiculously easy to make and always ends up looking, well, cute. The older children no longer request it, I must add. The design comes from a book that, as children, my brothers and sister and I used to drool and fantasize over, titled “The Cut-Up Cake Party Book,” published in 1973. The authors were fond of dyed flaked coconut, and the themed party, but their bear cake design is unbeatable: bake your cakes in one square pan and one round pan, use the round cake for the head, cut a few squares out of the other cake, and, voila, teddy bear’s body with paws! Frost and decorate.

Okay, deep breath … here’s today’s confession: I use a boxed cake mix to make our birthday cakes. There, I’ve said it outloud! Aagh! But here’s why: because I used to go to a lot of fuss and bother to bake cakes for my children’s birthday parties and they weren’t measurably better than this boxed brand I discovered a few years back. It’s made by Dr. Oetker with a short list of organic ingredients, all of which I’ve heard of and which do belong in cake. I add the eggs, milk (soy milk in this case) and oil. I’m not claiming it’s the best cake ever, but it’s easy to handle, pops out of the pan, and is reliably tasty.
The same cannot be said for storebought frosting, however, so, this birthday, inspired by eating a gigantic slice of my friend Nath’s crazily delectable chocolate cake, I requested and prepared her Swiss Meringue Buttercream, from a Martha Stewart recipe. She claimed it was not that complicated. I’d say we have different definitions of complicated; but nevertheless it turned out so beautifully and spread so smoothly and tasted so rich that I will absolutely be making it again. To save time, and typing, and because it is not in any way a “mini-“anything, I’ll refer you to Nath’s blog for the recipe, with these words of caution: one and a half cups of butter.One final recipe … because this was a summertime party, with lots of adults as well as children, Kevin devised a lime-green rum punch, stirred up in a large glass container and served, upon arrival and throughout the evening, to those guests old enough to appreciate it.
**Mini-recipe: Kevin’s Rum Punch: One container of frozen limeade, three parts water, two cans of club soda, one part rum, one-half part tequila.**
Stir it up. The party’s started.

Fruit for later

This has been a slow growing season due to lack of sunshine and heat, and excess moisture, and I’ve also been slow to preserve this year: usually, I’m hot out of the gates with rhubarb and strawberries (asparagus is something I prefer to eat fresh). In any case, this year there still remained bags of last year’s rhubarb and a half dozen containers of strawberry freezer jam, which seemed like enough, so we just ate and enjoyed the fruit raw. We’ve done the same with cherries, absolutely gorging on the fresh and sweet, choosing not to pit and put any of these away either. But here we have the first real preserving effort … and what ease it was, the fruit purchased at Nina’s buying club, carted home in the stroller, and put up after supper: four litres of blueberries (minus those snacked upon), measured out in two-cup amounts, and a pile of apricots, pitted and thrown into bags, now lining the floor of our freezer.
Last winter, I regretted not putting away a few blueberries for smoothies and general snacking and muffin-additions; and I greatly appreciated the few bags of apricots, frozen in exactly the same simple manner (raw; no sugar added), which were preserved without forethought only because I’d bought too many and they were going bad on the counter. Who could have guessed they would taste so amazingly tart and tangy stewed up and served over hot breakfast cereal? CJ loved them too.
Everything I plan to put up this year follows this theme: easy, and wanted.
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