Things That Go Bump in the Night

My favourite book as a child was about a family of bears who wander through the woods behind their house. They venture between the rocks, around the lake and up Spook Hill, where they encounter an owl who howls loudly (mimicked extremely well by my father at the time). The bears turn tail and run all the way, down Spook Hill, back around the lake and between the rocks…home through the window to their bed in their well-lit, completely safe home. I’m not sure if it was the howling, the suspense or the running home that grabbed my attention, but something in that book did. It grabbed me and held onto me virtually every night for many years of my childhood.

Last night I was awakened by a similar howling, coming from Leith’s room. I slowly emerged from the warm, comfortable sleep in which I was indulging and lay there in the dark, wondering what the noise was. I heard another long howl and my feet immediately hit the floor. I wasn’t quite awake when I found myself beside Leith’s bed, gazing down at my loveable son who was crying his little heart out. I bundled him up in his blanket and sat down with him in my lap and rocked him back and forth, whispering to him over and over that he was going to be okay.

After a few minutes he had calmed down, was heavy and warm in my arms and ready to go back to his bed. I tucked him in, said good night and went back to my own room. After about two minutes the crying started again – not as loud or as determined as before but still plaintive and heart wrenching. He stopped on his own this time but I couldn’t sleep anymore so I got up, put on my slippers and padded to the kitchen.

What do you do at 3 am when you can’t get back to sleep? I don’t find that the old warm milk trick does anything for me. A nice hot cup of peppermint tea is more my speed…and something sweet on the side to fill my belly enough that I can get back to sleep. Luckily, I keep some tidbits in my freezer for just these occasions. Slices of dessert bread or cookie dough, in small packages, ready for the oven; awaiting me when I need them most. All I have to do is turn on the toaster oven, pop one of these little beauties in for a few minutes (about as long as it takes to boil water for a cup of tea). Soon I’m seated, wrapped in my ruby red chenille throw, sipping my tea and munching on something sweet.

It calmed my nerves and obviously Leith’s as well because he didn’t wake again over night. I am still not sure what it was that woke him in the first place. The howling noises I made while reading his favourite book over and over? Another cold? Missing his father? Who knows. But he slept – much like a baby – the rest of the night, as did I after having my small, sweet treat and a few sips of tea.

Not Quite Green Eggs

“Breakfast for dinner” is a phrase that is turned quite often in my parents house. My mom LOVES it (but at her own concession, the woman worships anything that might come with bacon), my dad enjoys it a lot, and my brothers? Well, “Bacon and eggs? Now? You mean for dinner? Um, okay, why not?” is sort of their general attitude. Actually “why not?” seems to be their general attitude about everything, I think…they’re men. So I grew up in a house where breakfast for dinner was a semi-regular occurrence and I became rather attached to the idea myself.

Leith has wholeheartedly embraced this idea and eggs are probably one of his favourite meals. He likes his eggs every-which-way-but-loose, to be honest.

Continue reading “Not Quite Green Eggs”

Back in My Kitchen

Lately there have been days that I don’t even make it into the kitchen…which for me is extremely difficult. Many days I’ll grab a coffee while on my way to work after dropping Leith at school, to drink along with a yogurt for breakfast. Lunch these days is almost non-existent and is, more often than not, eaten while submitting payroll or editing reports at my desk. By dinner I’m famished and craving something hearty and delicious – that also takes little or no effort on my part.

Continue reading “Back in My Kitchen”

It Happened

Stop. Breathe. Seriously — take a whiff…deeply, through your nose. Do you smell it? I mean, really smell it? No, not the smog or the pollution. Not the boring everyday smells. The nice one. The sweet, light, airy scent that bounces and flits its way along, throwing itself beneath people’s noses as they make their way…wherever they’re going.

It’s not flowers or grass or water or even that odd scent that lightning leaves behind on the thick air after a storm. It’s neither warm nor cold and definitely not damp or dry. It’s got a heat like chili’s and a depth like really delicious, red wine. It bubbles and makes me light-headed much in the same way that champagne does and goes right along with it like strawberries. Chocolate, in shapes like bunnies or hearts or just in good, droolingly delicious lumps. Fresh, double cream brie with peppercorns — soft and sumptuous with just that little crack and spice of pepper between your teeth.

I can’t stop there…

It’s ice cold beer on patios and peanut butter cookies sold at lawn sales. It has the feeling of freshly picked tomatoes with home-grown basil in a salad with buffalo mozzarella that you buy on your way home from work one night, because you simply had to go to the gourmet cheese shop that was more than a half-hour walk out of your way…

It’s more than food though, too. It’s Frank Sinatra on the stereo and patio lanterns on the balconies. Oh, and who can forget having the window open again after a long cold winter? It’s the smile you swear you see on your son’s face when you are walking home in t-shirts and sunglasses…and your husband’s face when he sees you in a light summer dress again after so long in jeans and big, bulky sweaters. It’s freshly painted toenails and hair pinned up off of your neck…

My fickle friends, the summer wind has come blowing in. Leith and I celebrated it with a gorgeous, fresh Caprese Salad last night…a short swim before dinner and the windows in our apartment open all night (even though it rained). We made it through the winter. Summer is coming. It finally happened. I love it.

Remains of the Day

When I was young the term “left-overs” instilled pure, unadulterated fear into my immature, teen-aged heart. I wasn’t the only family member who felt this way, either — not by a long shot. You could easily see my one brothers’ eyes glaze over, the skin of the others’ cheeks become tinged with a greenish-greyish hue. My older sister would usually slink out of the house after hearing those two words… but not before having made a face and sticking her tongue out at me from behind my mother’s back. My dad, who loves absolutely everything would even look a little solemn at those woeful words and my little sister didn’t often have a choice in the matter (that’s what little sisters are for) and had to stick around, whether she wanted to or not.

You would think that I would have learned from such displays of anger and disappointment and that I would never, ever in a million years endure an evening that is based on left-overs, let alone create an entire meal from something so vile that it would remain “left over” for longer than a fortnight. Because, really, that is what left-overs are; food that is still there after a certain amount of time. Food that has outstayed it’s welcome. Food that has been… well, let’s be honest: left over after the other, more popular food has been eaten and enjoyed.

Everyone has them, sitting in their fridge as we speak. A Tupperware container full of cold, sauced pasta, a foil-wrapped pile of grilled vegetables, a few frozen portions of lasagna… whatever the genre, whatever the denomination, they’re there, awaiting the time-honored tradition of left-over night in your house.

I have to say that I do believe I am the world’s most tenacious eschew-er of left-overs. You might say I am an Olympic Left-Over Evader. I will look at a container in the fridge and pass it over. I will know, on my way home from work, that there is already a perfectly good meal in the fridge or freezer, but because it is not new, not exciting, not tantalizingly up-to-the-minute, I don’t want it. There are nights where I eat toast-sticks and popcorn in order to avoid eating something made from food that has been patiently waiting to be eaten for who knows how long.

What does all of this have to do with the sparkling dish pictured above? Well, as much as I hate to admit it, this was our “left-over meal” quite recently. Left-overs, in a different way: we had a sweet potato that had lingered just a few days longer than I thought it should. We had a whole butternut squash lounging on the windowsill, which had remained uneaten for way too long. We had a half bag of Arborio rice in the cupboard that really, should have escorted itself out the door months ago. And, lastly we had a heel of Pecorino Romano that was dying to be used up — leaping out of the fridge at me every time I opened the door.

So left-over night became butternut squash and sweet potato risotto night. Redolent with memories of childhood left-over nights… with a new twist to make those nights just a little bit less painful and a little more delicious.

Calamity Jane

When I was little I was quite accident prone; my father’s nicknames for me were Calamity Jane and Murphy’s Law — I’ll give you one guess as to why. Now that I’m grown, it’s not that I’m suddenly full of grace, either. It’s more likely that I hide my accidents a bit better and look before I leap more often than I did when I was a child.

I remember writing an autobiographical essay for an English assignment in grade ten. The teacher had asked for a mini-biography (at age 16 it couldn’t be anything but short!) to teach us about writing in the first person, in the past tense. I thought it would be a funny twist to chronologically list my calamities rather than bore people with stories of how I got a dog when I was a kid or how my cat ate my brother’s bird. People respond to misfortune; it makes them laugh in the face of disaster — this was the wisdom of a 16 year-old.

Disaster #1: My brother dropped a drinking glass on the floor of the kitchen (which was marble) and it smashed into a thousand pieces. He cleaned it up, but once I walked in there I “found” the last remaining shard of glass with my foot. My parents thought it might work its way out (does glass ever really do that?) and didn’t take me to the hospital for a few days. When it was still stuck in there later on in the week my mom decided to trot me off to Sick Kids and had the doctor remove it. I got a lollipop and balloons — my brother was jealous and I still have a scar.

Disaster #2: I was in kindergarten and we were at the park playing one day. I loved the slide; I could go up the stairs and slide down that thing for hours on end. Swings made me dizzy for some reason and the jungle-gym was an accident waiting to happen (to me at least), so the slide was my best friend in the park. One day I slid down just as the teacher blew her whistle that signaled everyone to freeze so she could do a “head-count”. I froze. The guy behind me did not. He slid on down that slide, smacking me from behind, pushing me off. I landed badly and cracked my left ankle. I was on crutches for at least 6 weeks (after my mom rushed me to Sick Kids to have it looked at, x-rayed and bandaged). I got another lollipop and balloons. I also got some seriously special treatment at school – pretty much everyone was jealous.

Disaster #3: My father was replacing the glass pane in the door at our cottage. He started to remove it and was called away for a minute. I came up from the lake and wanted to get into the cottage, having no idea what my father had been working on. I tried the door. This door is sticky (yes, it’s still sticky) and you really have to give it a good YANK to open it. I did this and that top window pane came completely loose, fell from the door frame and almost sliced off my right thumb. My parents (being quick on their collective toes) wrapped my hand in a dish towel, treated me by dunking my hand in a large measuring cup full of slightly diluted hydrogen peroxide (ouch!) and Tylenol. No stitches. No antibiotics. No doctor. Why ruin a perfectly good family vacation by driving an hour or two to the closest hospital?! I do have to add here that my thumb is still attached to my hand and works just fine although it does sport a rather large scar and has some nerve damage. NO STITCHES. I swear, I was a miracle child. Eventually my mom took me to Sick Kids to have my thumb looked at – they said it was healing fine and wouldn’t bother with stitches anymore. I got another lollipop, some balloons and was sent home. No one was jealous.

Disaster #4: My older brother and I were at the supermarket with my mom and we were bored. He decided that pushing me around in the cart would be more fun than following my mom around the whole time. Then he decided – without clearing it with me first – that pushing me around wasn’t good enough. He decided that pushing me around really, really fast would be much more productive, and all of a sudden we were going Mach-5 around the Dominion. Admittedly, it was fun. Until the cart hit the fruit stand and everything went black. I opened my eyes and there were a half dozen grocery store employees standing around me as I lay, bruised and scared, UNDER the over-turned cart. Needless to say my mom didn’t take both of us shopping together again…ever.

While these are hardly the only “disasters” I encountered as a child, I always manage to recover each time I scrape my knee or fall up a flight of stairs (it happens more often than I’d care to admit). Comfort food comes in really handy on days when you slip in the shower or stub your toe on every corner you come across…and lately I seem to be the Queen of Comfort Food. This bread is the perfect thing to serve along with some really good corn chowder or even a hearty beef stew. It’ll keep you warm, keep you safe and keep you full.

Some Help…PLEASE!

Lately life has been completely out of control. Hectic… busy… frantic… frenzied… chaotic. S, as you may already know, moved to Ottawa to go to school while Leith and I stayed behind in Toronto to duke it out on our own for a while. Needless to say, we’ve been keeping ourselves pretty busy (getting a three year-old to and from school on a daily basis shouldn’t be this much work!) and haven’t had time to make much of anything other than toast in the mornings and a quick pasta or rice dish in the evenings. Yesterday I actually asked my kitchen for help. While it didn’t respond, my brain finally did.

There is nothing wrong with "help" in the kitchen. There is absolutely nothing wicked about buying (if you eat it) ketchup, or (if you like it) Cheese Whiz. If you prefer canned soup, then you are not going to die a slow and painful death. If you love your microwave and use it on a daily basis, you can still continue to call yourself a cook, if what you make with it pleases you and/or your family. If you take a few shortcuts to make a delicious meal it doesn’t mean that you can’t cook or that you care about cooking any less than someone who makes their own pasta, pastry or soup stock.

I know that time is precious – I am re-learning this on a daily basis. Every hour is filled with something that needs to be done and cooking is generally the first thing to take a back seat to more important things. Why spend hours making soup when you can grab a can and heat it on the stove in under five minutes (and the noodles might even be shaped like fishies)? I think this way sometimes and I don’t hold it against myself for wanting to spend less time doing anything that might take time away from teaching Leith how to ride a bike or taking him shopping for new winter boots. I understand that part of taking care of children is feeding them something other than McDonalds and Kraft Dinner…but there are times when cooking simply has to come second.

Yes, there are times when even The Domestic Goddess in me needs a vacation. There are times when I want something but just can’t find the time to make it entirely from scratch and I will, I admit, take a shortcut that I think is forgivable. I have in the past made my own puff pastry and will only do so again if l lose a bet or have a few days alone and need to kill some time. I have never made my own phyllo dough, and don’t actually know anyone who has to be honest. To me, buying phyllo is a shortcut worth taking, especially when what you put into it is the real act of cooking.

Sometimes these shortcuts keep us cooking – so for that we should be thankful. As long as the results are what you want to eat then you are your very own genius in the kitchen. That’s why a new Pillsbury competition caught my eye and I am encouraging you to enter it. The rules are pretty simple, they want you to create your own unique recipe using one of their handy ready-made products. They have some great examples on their site (from which I have chosen a few favourites) to give you some inspiration and get you cooking, even when you don’t think you have the time.

So enter, vote and enjoy – and stay tuned because shortly, I will be announcing my own little contest you can enter to win a fantastic prize basket from Pillsbury!

Love is in the Air

There are things you say and do when a close friend or family member gets married. Congratulations are expressed, love is extolled and hopes for their future life together are articulated. There are dresses to be picked out, flowers to be chosen and food (oh, so much food) to be decided upon, taste-tested and decided upon again. A lot of hard work and planning goes into a wedding (trust me, I know) and by the time the day arrives most couples are exhausted and left wondering why they didn’t just spend the money on a trip or a house or a new car.

Somehow I doubt my sister-in-law and her soon-to-be betrothed will end up feeling that way. Their wedding (coming up in July of this year) has been planned within an inch of its life. Gorgeous invitations have been delivered, delicious food has been ordered, beautiful dresses are bought and waiting (except mine of course!), the perfect hairstyles have been rehearsed and even the wedding cake itself has gone through its very own "dry run". S.’s youngest sister A. has been planning this wedding for as long as she can remember and I know it is going to go down in history as one of the most fantastic days of her life.

Recently a shower was thrown in her honour and I offered to bring a little something sweet for the party. I thought about it for a long time, trying to decide just what would work best. I knew she was making a cake (the aforementioned "dry run") and I certainly didn’t want even attempt to compete with that, so anything chocolate was certainly out of the question. I thought about ice-cream sandwiches and about flower-shaped cookies decorated in petal-pink icing. I considered mini-cheesecakes and tiny vanilla cupcakes. Nothing seemed like the right thing for a spring-themed, pink-hued shower.

Then I remembered a scone I had eaten last spring from Starbucks – a tiny, buttery, vanilla scone with a sweet milky glaze. Yes, that was it. I set to work early that morning and made a large batch of the cutest, tiniest, heart-shaped scones. Piling the dainties on a platter with a bowl of strawberry butter alongside was the perfect addition to a very girly, very sweet shower.

Congratulations to A. and O. I know your marriage will be just like these scones; sugary-light and happy inside with a dollop of buttery tartness to keep you guessing.

…And the Living is Easy…???

As a moderately busy family with a small child, we tend to have a difficult time getting everyone together without someone throwing a temper tantrum (and by "someone" I mean any of the three of us). Between all of our work, school and social commitments, often the only time S. and I are able to share quality time with Leith is during dinner.

Anyone who has a toddler or preschooler will understand when I say that dinner is not our finest hour. Leith is acting persnickety, I am flustered and tired from a long day at work and if S. is not actually in class, he is studying, working on a paper or grading tests and papers. Lately, it has been more than tempting to simply throw the meal on the table and allow everyone to just zone out in front of the television. I hate to admit it, but we actually do that sometimes. I am aware that this doesn’t qualify as quality time spent with my family and recently have been trying to think of new ways to optimize our "witching hour" to get the whole family together, on gracious terms.

When it comes time to prepare dinner, Leith is always buzzing around the kitchen looking for something to play with or snack on. I have started trying to involve him in the cooking process – either by helping out in the kitchen or just simply allowing him to pretend cook on the kitchen floor. He loves to get ingredients out of the fridge and can be trusted to cart items to the counter and back (he’s even managed to lug eggs from the fridge to the counter without dropping them!) while I am cooking. He has also recently graduated to tasks such as cracking an egg, mixing ingredients by hand, adding various ingredients to the mixer, separating onion slices and piling on pizza toppings. There is nothing wrong with a boy who likes to cook.

Depending on how busy a given week is, I do still see the importance of organizing at least one night when we can all enjoy each other’s company for more than a few fleeting moments. I urge S. to abandon his text books and computer, and we all sit at the table, with the television off and talk about the food, or what we did that day, or our plans for the upcoming weekend. Sometimes we even try to have some fun with this "special" night by having a themed dinner like homemade pizza night or cooking Leith’s favorite breakfast food ("Bacon and eggs! Bacon and eggs!" he chants) for dinner. This is a great way to bond and cook up a creative and tasty dish that all of us enjoy. Family time shouldn’t be limited to eating whatever happens to be on the table – it should also include the fun and creativity put into the meal so that everyone feels included and excited for the delicious dishes ahead.

Along with having the right cookware sets, I have a few stand-by recipes that are good for these sorts of evenings – I hope you will try them with your family and let me know what secrets you have come up with for dealing with the dinner-time disaster hour.

(1) Brie and Asparagus Tart
(2) Creamed Corn Cakes
(3) Spinach Pesto Pasta with Chicken
(4) (Dino) Chicken Fingers
(5) Eggplant Parmesan Panini
(6) Pizza
(7) Stromboli
(8) Mom’s Cream of Broccoli Soup
(9) Simple Samosas

Hitting the Spot

Never one to need an excuse to indulge in a little bit of comfort food, I really, truly deserved some last night. Actually, what I was honestly worthy of last night was a husband without his nose buried in a book and two essays to make me dinner, but let’s not get into that right now. Where was I? Oh yes, comfort food. I needed it badly last night.

You see, we have very nice stairs in our lovely, slightly run-down 100 year-old house. They are oak and nicely polished. They’re a bit narrow but no one has yet to fall down them so we continue to put off covering them with carpet for the time being. I like our stairs, but someday someone is going to really hurt themselves falling down them.

Yesterday in the mid-afternoon Leith and I were getting ready to head out to visit my parents. I was busily gathering the necessities (diaper, pajamas, sweaters, sippy cups) and attempted to hurry past Leith on the stairs so I would be in front of him on descent. I’m not sure why but I still like to hold his hand or walk close to him on the stairs, even though he is always very careful and very steady on his feet these days.

Of course, I have no idea from whom he inherited those steady feet because I am a certifiable klutz. I fall all the time and am always sporting one if not a few lovely, eggplant-coloured bruises. I fall going up the stairs. I fall when walking across flat floors. I have even been known to fall when standing still. So why do I tempt fate and rush up or down our precarious stairs in slippery socks?

I won’t go into the gory details but I think I have bruises in places that most people never even thought that they could get bruises. I have a few scraped knuckles and a very, very sore bum. Today, walking was difficult, bending was painful and sitting for more than 20 minutes at a time was excruciating.

Needless to say, some comfort food was in order last night. After Leith went to bed I managed to stand up in the kitchen just long enough to make some truly delicious corn cakes. They hit the spot, and trust me, I know all about hitting since yesterday.