Wednesday, April 30, 2008

What's cooking Wednesday

We're jumping ahead to What's cooking Wednesday, completely ignoring anything that has been happening to me on Monday or Tuesday; ignoring that John's mum is here providing me much needed relief, ignoring that we made a major decision to de-register Emily from one school and switch her to another, ignoring that I'm in the middle of deciding whether to go back to work in the fall or stay home (I expect several comments thanking me for that because we all remember last year and how my decision went on and on and on. I'm sparing you until the very end this time). We're just skipping ahead to the food because we know I'm all about the food and food is the thing I generally focus on when I don't want to focus on anything else.

This week I'm starting to look at a new cookbook from my collection. My two favourite Polish-Canadian-sister-cooks Janet and Greta Podleski's newest book Eat, Shrink and Be Merry has sat on my shelf for too long without being used. That is about to change. I know that Shan is wanting a copy of this book so I figure this is a way for me to finally try some of the recipes and for her to get a sneak peek before she wins a copy for herself.

Their previous two books, Looney Spoons and Crazy Plates, were huge hits. They put together pretty interesting recipes, put a goofy name on it, make it low-fat and Bob's your uncle. I have Crazy Plates and I love it, love it, love it. I use it all the time. I bought ESandBM over a year ago and have made maybe three recipes but I have many dogeared.

Last week, I checked through my cupboards and found I had everything to make the recipe below. I didn't really know if it would be a hit. I thought it would be just okay. Turns out it was a major winner. John and I loved it but Hope really loved it and Hope doesn't generally love anything in the food department, unless it's from the pickle family. She ate a huge bowl and repeated the performance the next night. This was a winner.

Mexican Lasagna (Okay, real recipe name is No Weigh, Jose! Mexican Lasagna. These women love the goofy recipe names as you will see in the coming weeks)

1 1/2 lbs extra-lean ground chicken (I used beef because we had it in the freezer)
1 cup each diced red onions and diced green bell pepper
2 tsp minced garlic
1 cup canned black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup diced tomatoes
1/2 cup frozen corn
1 1/2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
2 cups your favourite tomato pasta sauce
1 cup medium salsa
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp minced fresh cilantro
4 large or 8 small whole wheat flour tortillas
1 1/2 cups packed shredded old cheddar cheese
1/4 cup shopped green onions (didn't use because I didn't have any)
sour cream

Preheat oven to 375. Spray a 9x13-inch casserole dish with cooking spray and set aside.

In a large, non-stick pot or skillet, cook ground chicken, onions, green pepper, and garlic over medium-high heat until meat is no longer pink. Break up any large pieces of chicken as it's cooking.

Add black beans, tomatoes, corn, chili powder, and cumin. Cook and stir for 2 more minutes. Add pasta sauce, salsa and black pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in cilantro and remove from heat.

To assemble lasagna, spread 1/3 sauce mixture over bottom of casserole dish. Top with 1/2 the tortillas, overlapping and cutting them as necessary to fit. Top with 1/3 sauce mixture, followed by 1/2 the cheese. Cover cheese with remaining tortillas, followed by remaining sauce. Sprinkle remaining cheese over sauce and top with green onions.

Cover with foil and bake for 35 minutes. Uncover and bake 10 more minutes. Let lasagna stand for at least 10 minutes before slicing for easier serving. Top each piece with a dollop of sour cream.

Another thing I loved about this recipe, aside from the rave reviews and the tummy-warming flavours, was it finally took care of the problem of what to do with slightly stale tortillas. I always have some in the freezer and they inevitably get freezer burnt and then thrown away. Not any more!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Call Stockholm

Emily was sitting at the table yesterday eating something or other that is keeping our grocery bill exorbitantly high these days (not that I'm complaining really; Hope is eating after all. Like, really eating. Food. And not just chocolate food.) like apples or crackers in large doses. It's not the what that is so expensive it is the how much. These kids are eating like grown men. Okay, not quite grown men. Maybe very short men.


Emily: Mummy, guess what!?
Me: What, Emmy?
Emily: I finally learned to chew! And I finally learned to swallow! Right now! Isn't that great?
Me: Silence. Confused silence.

And it only took her 3 1/2 years. She's on the fast track to somewhere.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

What's cooking Wednesday

I've been AWOL the last two Wednesdays. I had grand plans for both weeks and Wednesday night came and went and somehow I ran out of time to post, even though I had even prepared something. Anyway, I'm back. The recipe will be the last out of A Taste for Justice, the cookbook I've been revisiting the past four weeks. However, I will without doubt continue to come back to this book for favourites and new ideas.

Indian-Style Chicken

4-5 lbs chicken pieces, skin removed
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp pepper
3 cups plain yogurt
2 onions, finely chopped
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp soy sauce
1 1/2 tsp turmeric
3/4 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves

Rub chicken pieces with garlic, thyme and pepper. Combine remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Add chicken, turning to coat each piece thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours, turning occasionally.

Preheat oven to 350.

Remove chicken pieces from marinade and place in a single layer in a large roasting pan. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil, turn chicken and bake for another 30 minutes or until lightly browned, basting occasionally. (You can also bake the chicken for the final 30 minutes on the bbq).

We liked this but we didn't love it. I think I would have liked it more if I had actually marinated it for 24 hours rather than 1 hour. Bad planning on my part. Still not bad though. I think done on the bbq it would be extra good. I did it on a grill pan on the stove top and that worked quite well.

A long time ago this was one of my favourite cookbooks and it still has a few of my favourite recipes (none of which I did on here because I wanted to try recipes I hadn't made before). Now, I have several more favourites out of this book and I know that I'm going to be using it a lot more than I have in the last few years.

Next week it will be time to Eat, Drink and Be Merry!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

You may all go to Hell and I will go to Texas

Davy Crockett knew what he was on about. I have similar feelings saying goodbye to Ottawa for a week and hello to Austin. Beth, best sister in the world, is flying me and the girls to Texas. We leave on May 12 and I am so so so excited! Beth has many adventures planned for us. I'd be satisfied if we never left the porch, the teapot and the pecan cracker. But I'll be even more delirious if we do half the things Beth has lined up for us. Now I just have to figure out how to get two kids, two car seats and carry-on through the airport on my own.

Bye-bye booby

Last night I didn't breastfeed Hope. It was the first time in almost 20 months that she didn't breastfeed in a day. It was a bit sad but mostly AWESOME.

Gotta run to get a passport renewed because Texas here we come! Yay!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

On the mend

I took Hope to the clinic last night after she puked up plain water. In fact, it was such a violent spew that the water was running out of her nose. Soon after that the doctor was telling me that it was going around, nothing to worry about, give her a Gravol suppository (since nothing would stay in her) and feed her fluids; up and around in no time.

I dreaded the suppository. I've only given one before, to Emily, and for a month afterward it was like a vice was keeping her knees together come Hell or high water, which made changing her diaper a minor challenge.

Well, Hope being Hope she thought the whole thing was funny. The girl who hadn't smiled in twelve hours got the giggles while I was shoving the little Gravol rocket up her bum. Totally in character and kind of made yesterday a whole lot better for a brief moment. Since then she has consumed more liquids and popsicles than should be humanly possible.

Every hour today I could see her improving. The three naps (yes, three!) didn't hurt. She seems back to herself. She's upstairs laughing and playing with Emily right now.

Phew. I'm so glad that it was just a bug. I could do without that for a while now. The house has an eau de barf about that I could really do without. Probably not aided by the fact that I haven't seen a shower in quite a while and it is quite possible that my feet have been sprayed by vomit more than once since I did see a shower. Oh, and add poop water to that too. Cloth diapers + toddler diarrhea = ew, ew, ew, ew.

And how was your weekend?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The hardest days of parenting

Hope is sick again. My girl who went from a record streak of no barf is now competing for the most barf in a single season.

This morning she threw up BEFORE breakfast, after one or two sips of her morning OJ. Then she threw up after breakfast. Then she threw up after some milk hours later, then after a cracker and some water and then again later after just water.

I know it's irrational but now I'm worried that there is something really wrong with her. She has no fever, she is quite happy a few minutes after each expulsion so although the puking points to a bug of some sort, she doesn't have any other buggy symptoms.

It's normal for parents to have mini-panic attacks about their kids' health. I imagine it is even worse if they've had scares in the past, which thankfully we haven't. But when you read or hear stories about kids who have serious health issues, you can't help but feel blessed that it isn't your kid and worried that it could be. I'm in one of those moments now.

The last three weeks she's been weird: not sleeping much, clingy, throwing up occasionally. I figured it was a tooth coming in but after today I'm wondering if the last three weeks were leading to today and pointing to something more serious.

I know, I know; it is probably nothing more than a bug and I sure hope it is. I'll go to the clinic later to have a doctor allay my concerns but for now, I'm going to sit here and try not to think about the other things it could be.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Inside the hallowed halls of the ding dongs

Yesterday Emily got her wish. She saw the culmination of a dream that began almost a year ago to the day. She finally got to go inside the Ding Dong Castle.

When Emily renamed Parliament Hill the Ding Dong Castle last year she was in the midst of a fascination with the place. Soon after that started she asked, continually, when we could go inside. I promised that when she was three I would take her in. With the crocuses blooming and my dad and Donna to help me out, I decided it was time.

Emily enjoyed the neo-gothic architecture, the library, the stained glass, the carvings, the marble, the splendour of it all but mostly she enjoyed the fire. The fire of 1917 that burned the place to the ground. The tour guide referred to it a few times and for Emily that was what it was all about. The stain on the sink? Must have happened during the fire. The clock on the peace tower? They put it up because of the fire. Those stairs right there? I think they used that during the fire. I was pleased that her first question was about how the people got out of the building. She had a hard time getting her mind around the fact that the buildings burned to the ground and they build new ones. That's a hard concept for the three-year-old mind it turns out. How can something that was there just disappear? Aside from the fire, the highlights for her were riding the train and bus to get there, drinking cream soda with Papa and Mummy getting a parking ticket. Damned OCTranspo and their inferior parking lot.

It was the first beautiful day of what is a beautiful week. I have flowers peeking out of the back garden, the snow pile in the front yard is well below the tree branches now and Hope spent supper with a streak of dirt across her face from her enthusiastic sliding all afternoon in the backyard.

Spring rules.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Quick word

My dad and Donna are visiting for the next three days which likely means I won't be blogging much however I have to announce some great news: John's brother Mike and Mike's wife, Cibele, our only family in town, had their baby yesterday! It's a girl, about 6.5 lbs, named Sofia and absolutely gorgeous! I got to stare at her for a while last night when I dropped off Cibele's first taste of dairy in many months. (Her nausea and violent stomach upheaval - and I mean, violent - was made way worse by anything dairy.)

That's the news from here. My good friend Marnie, also had a her fifth (!) baby two days ago. It's just good news all around. Add to that the 10 degree and more weather coming this week and I'm just a happy camper. Oh, and my dad and Donna brought two suppers worth of food and a bottle of Amarone. Could life get any better?

Friday, April 11, 2008

So awkward, so good, so satsifying.

It was everything I hoped it would be. Last night's return of the Office was brilliant. It was one of the most awkward episodes I've watched yet and if you watch the Office regularly you know that the cringe-factor, the feeling that you shouldn't be watching this, the absolute awkward feeling in the pit of your stomach is what makes it so brillant. They exceeded themselves last night.

Michael and Jan coerced a few employees, most importantly Jim and Pam, to come to a dinner party at their house. The evening ended with the police arriving after neighbours complained of screaming and smashing from Michael's house. The complaint was a result of a fight between Jan and Michael that ended in a trophy sailing through his $200 tiny plasma screen t.v.

I loved the moment when Pam revealed she'd stolen Jan's CD made by her former assistant who Jan obviously has it on for. Also great was Angela smushing the ice cream cone on the door of the car after Andy took a bite of it, Dwight revealing that he only his relationship with his dinner date and former babysitter was "purely carnal," Jan declaring that the osso bucco had to cook for three hours before it is served, and the countless looks from Jim and Pam into the camera.

Below is one of the dozens of awkward moments... Jan "dancing" with Jim to the CD while Jim refuses to stand. If feels like watching a drunk student at a university bar trying to get an otherwise spoken for love interest to show an interest.... yikes.

It was a great half-hour. Can't wait for next week!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

It's here. It's finally here.

It's been a long, dark few months. My Thursdays have been lonely. Very lonely. But today it all returns to normal and I am beside myself with anticipation.

If you were thinking of calling me between 9:00 and 9:30 tonight, please, please, please don't.

I'm otherwise occupied.

John has other plans.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

First spring day

Last week the paper talked about the difference in ottawa between the first day of Spring on March 20 and the first Spring day. I couldn't agree more. March 20 passes without notice around here, especially this year, what with the metre high pile of snow in our front yard, the sub-zero nighttime temperatures and the occasional snow flurry we were having at the time. But today? Today really felt like the first Spring day. There were big puddles, grass was showing in a few places (not on our front yard - snow pile is diminished but still at a metre in a couple of places), and rubber boots were donned. We even pulled out the bubbles.

It was a picture-worthy afternoon.

Notice Emily's new rubber boots. I wish I could pull those off. Who am I kidding? If they made them in my size, I would totally own some (if I weren't on a spending diet, that is).

Monday, April 07, 2008

A financial goal

Not surprisingly, with one salary and two kids things are tight around here financially. Last week we found ourselves with $30 in the bank and not really sure how it happened. Luckily I got a reimbursement for some church-related expenses for over $300 that will get us to John's next payday. Just before we started eyeing a few good-looking cardboard boxes.

What disturbs me the most is that we don't really know what ate away at our account. Without checking our account activity I can make an educated guess: we frittered it away (likely, mostly me) on lattes, eating out, snacks out with the kids, etc etc etc.

So I've decided to set a new goal for myself starting today. I'm going to try to not spend money for the rest of April and all of May. When I say "not spend money," I'm talking unnecessaries, incidentals, wants instead of needs. Food will still be on the table and I will still wear deodorant. We're going to limit ourselves to eating out or taking in only once every two weeks (we've been doing that too often lately). There will be no more lattes from Starbucks. It will be make-my-own at home. No new crafting supplies; we'll use what we have. If I'm teaching Sunday School, I'll make do with things from home or the supplies at church.

Honestly, we live quite frugally but this month things went off the rails somewhere and I'm not entirely sure how. I keep my spending under control most of the time and I almost always pack our snacks, cook our own meals, and get our books from the library. Obviously I didn't do as well this month.

It will be interesting to see how the rest of April and May go. Last year I took up the same challenge for myself but did it only for a month. I didn't find it too difficult and I saw a real change in my habits afterwards setting me up well for going down to one salary. I need a refresh, a reminder of how I can do better.

Maybe we'll be able to save enough to reach John's stated target of when he'll know that we're financially comfortable:

"Two words: cashew butter."

Thursday, April 03, 2008

The great melt

I have shared with you many photos of our gigantic snow pile in the front yard. Finally the time has come to say: it is melting!

Pretty slowly however. Instead of being in the middle of the branches of the crabapple tree, it is now at the bottom of the branches. Woo. Eee.

On Tuesday the thermometer hit 10 degrees. We put on the rain gear and headed out in search of puddles. We were not disappointed. In fact, we found the east coast, complete with ice bergs, right on our street:

And then I put the kids to work. They seemed to enjoy themselves.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

What's cooking Wednesday

We have a guest WCW participant today: John, partner extraordinaire, who volunteered to cook tonight. I heartily accepted his offer. And it was good, as usual. John is a great cook and unlike me almost never opens a cookbook. So, I told him he was on deck for WCW today while I take a one-week hiatus.

Without futher ado....

Spaghetti with shrimp and asparagus

Marinate shrimp in lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, s&p, garlic and basil. Slice onions into large, thick whole (not chopped) slices. Wash asparagus but leave whole. Grill onions, asparagus with some salt and pepper and olive oil in a grill pan. Remove from pan when grilled and set aside. Put some butter in grill pan, dump in shrimp with marinade, cook on both sides, add asparagus and onions back in after chopping into smaller pieces. Cook together to blend flavours.

Cook pasta, remove from water with tongs and put directly into grill pan, add a bit more olive oil, some parsley and a squeeze of lemon. If you want it a bit juicier, add a bit of the past water.

Dress with freshly grated parmesan (which we were unfortunately out of).

A taste of spring before we can see the grass. And it was delicious.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Ending her non-vomit streak

Hope has a little Jerry Seinfeld in her or so I thought. Most kids barf a lot. Emily did more than her fair share between the ages of 0 and 2 and I expected the same from Hope but I racked my brain around 2:00 am last night and realized she'd only barfed once. Well, once before last night. To her credit, she made sure that she made up for her dry spell with volume.

Hope woke up crying around 9:30 last night but I was able to easily get her back to sleep. She was up again at 10:00; again I got her back to sleep. At 10:15 she was up again. I held her in the chair covered in a blanket, thinking she was cold. We cuddled for a while. Until she puked all over my shirt and then kept puking, covering the chair and carpet. Luckily John was in the basement on the other end of the monitor and came to help with the substantial clean-up. Hope ended up having a full bath and hair wash at 10:30. I could have used one myself.

She hung out in bed with us for a while, playing. I put her back to bed around 11:30. I went back to bed and heard her chatting, then crying, then spewing again. Another change of clothes, bedding. I took her back in bed with me where we snuggled and finally fell asleep around 12:30 or so.

I haven't slept with Hope in months and months. She's never been good at it. As a newborn, she was always looking for boob. As a toddler, she only wants to play. Last night she finally gave in and went to sleep and it was so nice to sleep with her, if only for a little while. She snuggled right against me, actually pushing me off the bed at one point, keeping my chest warm and my face full of her curls. I got to breathe her in for about 2 hours. It was heaven.

Around 2:30 she woke up again and started to play so I got Grobag number 3 (her two other sleep sacks had been soiled by this point - luckily I have an ample supply), put her to bed and she slept until 8:00.

Poor kid. I hope she is better today. So far, so good. Me? I'm planning on finishing my cappuccino and then starting on laundry. Lots and lots of laundry.