Slowly catching up

Once again, things have been rather silent on the blog front. Our excuses aren’t interesting, so suffice to say we’ve had a busy winter so far, and there’s more to come.

We hit a milestone in November, when I went away for work for 6 nights. It was a long time for everyone, but we all survived. I really enjoyed my time in Montreal, despite missing the family a lot. From a cultural perspective I could have done without the night in Whitby, but it was important for work and they were the ones footing the bill.

Sign on a building in Montreal, warning of falling ice and snow. It made me laugh.

Sign on a building in Montreal, warning of falling ice and snow. It made me laugh.

December was full of choir rehearsals and concerts, a trip to Victoria, norovirus for all, and Christmas in Surrey. Other than the norovirus, it was fun! The time between Christmas and New Year’s was especially relaxing – we hadn’t made any travel plans, and just enjoyed chilling out at home, playing at the park, singing endless rounds of Skip to My Lou, building with Duplo and making elaborate recipes with playdough.

Uncle Jeremy gave Miles a new Duplo set, which has seen hours of play!

Uncle Jeremy gave Miles a new Duplo set, which has seen hours of play!

We celebrated the arrival of 2014 by hosting a small party, which worked out really well. It meant that we both got to get in on the fun without imposing on any friends or relatives to babysit. Miles got to enjoy the party too, and was so cooperative about going to bed that we might just have to host more parties!

We also received some great news from our new landlords in early January. We’d been concerned ever since our house went on the market back in July that whoever bought it would want to strip it down to the studs, do a major renovation and convert it to strata-titled suites (the norm in this neighbourhood). However, the new owners took possession on January 1 and let us know less than a week later that they have no intention of doing so and would like us to stay (and no rent increase, either!).  We’re feeling more confident now that we might be able to stay put until Mr. Chumsley graduates and only move when the job market dictates.

Unfortunately the good news on the housing front ended shortly after that happy discovery, when we woke up to discover that our entire lower floor had flooded. It wasn’t just a bit damp; there was standing water above the carpet in Miles’s bedroom. We had to have all our bedroom furniture and belongings moved out and put into storage immediately so the restoration work could get started, so we packed up some suitcases and moved upstairs. We’re lucky that we have the upper floor with our main living area and spare bedroom, since it means we get to be in our own space instead of hotel or short-term rental, although the novelty of camping out is wearing thin now that we’re 3 weeks in.  Miles has been a total trooper, but we’re all getting pretty tired of it. The worst was probably the industrial fans and dehumidifiers that ran all day and all night for about 10 days.  Now that the fans are gone and the drywall repairs are underway, every surface (even upstairs) is covered in drywall dust, which is also not my idea of a good time. The next steps are painting and the installation of new carpet.  We’re hoping to go visit Granny when the carpet goes in, so we can have a bit of a break and avoid the worst of the carpet fumes.

We’ve consciously been trying to have more treats and do more fun things since the flood to balance things out.  We’ve been to two birthday parties, had ice cream, done lots of baking, and gone out for dinner a few times.

What does it mean when your kid starts talking about "our usual restaurant"? This night we had a special treat of chocolate milkshake that was greatly enjoyed by all.

What does it mean when your kid starts talking about “our usual restaurant”? This night we shared a chocolate milkshake that was greatly enjoyed by all.

We’ve also been making lots of favourite of dinners at home. This particular recipe was a winner with everyone, and I thought it was worth sharing.

Not-over-the-top Cassoulet

Adapted from Curtis Stone, What’s for Dinner?
 

Some cassoulet recipes really go all out with duck confit, sausages AND bacon, and can take a day or more to slowly cook. While those versions are delicious, they are a bit beyond our style of everyday cooking. This version still has amazing flavour, and while it’s not quite fast enough for a weekday dinner, it works nicely on a Sunday and makes leftovers for a weekday.

  • 4 whole chicken legs (thighs and drumsticks)
  • Drizzle of olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 6 slices of bacon
  • ½ yellow onion
  • 1 fennel bulb
  • 3 carrots
  • 2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 Tbsp fresh rosemary (or 1 tsp dried)
  • 1 Tbsp fresh thyme (or 1 tsp dried)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 19 oz can white beans, drained and rinsed
  • ½ cup panko bread crumbs
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375F. Place chicken on rimmed baking sheet and rub with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake for about 40 minutes, until golden brown and mostly cooked.

Meanwhile, coarsely chop bacon and cook in a large frying pan over medium heat until crisp. Spoon off about half of the fat and discard. While the bacon is cooking, finely chop the onion, and chop the fennel bulb and carrots into ½ inch pieces.  Add the onion to the pan with the bacon. Cook about 5 minutes or until onion is soft, and then add the fennel bulb and carrots to the pan. Cook another 5 minutes. While the veggies are cooking, pound the fennel seeds in a mortar and pestle or grind in a spice grinder. Add fennel seeds along with the rosemary, thyme and garlic to the mixture in the pan and cook about 2 minutes. Add the stock and beans and simmer a few minutes. I found this series of steps took about as long as roasting the chicken, so I just kept simmering the beans until the chicken was done.

Move the bean mixture to a 9×13 baking dish and nestle the chicken pieces into it.

Mix the panko and parmesan in a bowl, and then sprinkle over the plan, placing most of the crumbs on the beans, and just a bit on each chicken leg.

Bake at 375 for another 30 min until most of the liquid is gone and the top is crisp and brown. Let stand a few minutes and then serve and devour!

Some kids might take to this better if you separate out little piles of beans, carrots and fennel pieces, with cut up chicken on the side. Miles did OK with the bean mixture being all combined, although we did notice him high-grading out the bacon. Who can blame him?!

Posted in Miles, Recipes | 1 Comment

The Ocean

This year is the first year that Miles really got into Halloween. He visited three different pumpkin patches and had definite ideas about his costume. When we first brought up the idea of a costume back in September, he said he wanted to be a dragon (the same as last year). That seemed kind of boring to me, so I let it slide. I can’t quite remember how or why the costume idea came up again, but a while later, he said he wanted to a fish. Now, Miles loves fish, both to eat and to look at, so it was a fitting choice, but I was stumped about how to make a fish costume. It’s kind of make-work-ish and old-fashioned of me, but I do like homemade costumes. Last year we took the easy route and bought one, but I wanted to see if I could make Miles’s costume this year. But a fish?! Even the “super simple make at home for under $25” ideas I found online were daunting. So I checked in with a friend, who quickly suggested making a fish bowl costume. From there we escalated the plan to  The Ocean, so it could include shapes like boats and waves and whales and all sorts of other critters.  I even carved our pumpkin to match, as a school of fish. Unfortunately I only had time to carve one of our four pumpkins, but something had to give.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present, The Ocean!

The Ocean

The Ocean

This costume has been so popular that Miles has worn it to several non-Halloween gatherings and has been requesting it for naptime and bed as well! I had no idea I’d be able to make such a winner! The shapes are cut out of felt, and the tunic body is an old pillow case. I did it the hard way and sewed the shapes on by hand instead of gluing them on, so that we could snip the thread and use the shapes on a (yet-to-be-constructed) felt board. However, that will have to wait until the costume is no longer in regular rotation.

As for Halloween itself, it was fun! Miles and I went to about 10 houses, picking and choosing the ones near us that had the most appealing decorations. Some neighbours had a fireworks show too, which Miles thought was pretty neat since the lights looked like fountains. He sat on the front steps when we got home and ate 5 smarties and a bunch of the faux treats that I planted in his bag (pumpkin seeds, raisins etc), and then trundled off to bed. We’ve put the rest of the haul away, and so far we haven’t received any requests for it, so I think we’ve dodged the issue of Halloween candy for another year!

Posted in Miles | 5 Comments

Pumpkin Patch Redux

After the success of our visit to the pumpkin patch in Victoria, we thought it would be fun to go to one here in Vancouver. Most of them are far away and/or pretty frenetic (with bouncy castles and the like) but the Southlands Farm patch is a great mellow option. We went when Miles was just a wee thing, not yet one and just starting to walk. He wasn’t sure about the whole affair, although the pumpkin was quite popular once we got home.

P1010373

Pumpkin patch 2011

P1010407

Playing with the pumpkin 2011

This year was another story altogether! I could hardly drag Miles away when it was time to go home. The highlight was probably the sheep, who very patiently received a very thorough grooming, although the chickens, horses and (very sleepy) pig were also popular.

At the patch 2013

At the patch 2013

Love this place!

Love this place!

Hi chickens!

Hi chickens!

Following the sheep

Following the sheep

The pumpkins? Well, those got chosen by me, since Miles was too busy with the animals to pay much attention to them. We have yet to carve them, so ideas are welcome. Last year I carved our lone pumpkin as a cat, and it was well received. Maybe a fish this year?

Posted in Miles | Leave a comment

Thanksgiving

This is a little late, but I wanted to post a few photos from our trip to visit Granny last weekend for Thanksgiving. We had a lovely time, and it was (relatively speaking) so easy! When I think back to our first few trips when Miles was tiny and needed mountains of stuff, it’s quite a contrast! This time we didn’t even take a stroller; Miles just walked on his own two feet. If you know the Tsawwassen terminal, you’ll know that’s a long way even if you have full sized legs! It’s so liberating to be able to travel like that, even if we do still routinely case out the bathrooms everywhere we go and plan the quickest route there in case of urgent situations.

It’s hard to say what was the highlight of the trip – the pumpkin patch, feeding the harbour seals at Oak Bay Marina, or pumpkin pie. All were awesome!

At the patch

At the patch

I choose this one

I choose this one

Holding the fish

Getting ready, holding the fish

Here you go, little seal

Here you go, little seal

Whee!

Whee!

Today we went to the much anticipated UBC Apple Festival. We had a good time, although it was awfully cold and there were long lines for everything (I am still confused about why the line for a bowl of chili took over half an hour, while custom-made pizza could be had in about 10 minutes). Despite that, we are now well stocked with apples, as well as a few pears that snuck into our box, and we very much enjoyed a slice of pie, courtesy of Gramma and Grampa. 

Great pie!

Great pie!

Posted in Miles | 1 Comment

Ketchup

I like to think of myself as a pretty practical person who doesn’t make extra work for herself.  I make time for things that are priorities for me (like hanging out with Miles and cooking from scratch), and I’ve learned to ask for help for things that don’t get as much attention from me as they should (like cleaning the house – we have had a wonderful couple cleaning for us for just over a year, and it’s some of the best money I’ve ever spent!).

Occasionally though, I get a little obsessed about something that seems like it should be a low priority. Case in point: homemade ketchup. Heinz has got it figured out pretty well and it’s not something we eat very often, so it seems like it shouldn’t have been necessary to  make my own.  However, sometimes we get a little crazy when our kids are involved, and that’s what happened in this case.

Miles discovered ketchup on a recent trip to “our usual restaurant” (as he so casually called it), while scarfing down a few fries with his salmon fillet. (What other toddler wants salmon instead of a burger, I ask you?) He thought it was the bomb, and I figured that it would be fun to come up with a healthier version (avoiding the TWO kinds of corn syrup in the regular stuff).

I remembered reading about homemade ketchup on SouleMama, a blog I read with equal parts envy and eye-rolling. I checked to see if she provided a recipe, but she didn’t- just a reference to a recipe book. I immediately put the book on hold at the library, but I didn’t want to wait that long, so I kept scouring the web. I found a recipe that claimed to be based on the same book, another from the authors of the book, and another from Bernardin, the company that makes canning supplies and basically writes the home-canning gospel in Canada.  There was a pretty big range of spices and sugar, so I made a spreadsheet that compared the ingredients in the three recipes, and then came up with my own hybrid.

If the late summer/early fall glut of tomatoes is still available in your neck of the woods, I highly recommend this as a way of preserving some of that delicious goodness! I used Roma tomato “seconds” from the farmers’ market, which worked out very well.

Homemade Ketchup

  • 8 lbs tomatoes (use fleshier varieties, like Roma)
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 medium onion
  • ½ tsp celery seeds 
  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
  • 1 tsp whole cloves 
  • 1 tsp whole all spice 
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar 
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar 
  • 1/3 cup white sugar 
  • 1 Tbsp pickling/coarse salt

Wash tomatoes and cut into half or quarters. There’s no need to blanch them or remove the seeds, as that will happen later with the food mill.

Core and seed the bell pepper and chop coarsely. Chop onion coarsely too.

Place all veggies into a large pot. I had to use both of my largest soup pots. Bring to a boil and turn down to simmer. Simmer as long as you have available. I did mine for several hours in the evening.

When the mixture is starting to thicken up a bit, run it through a food mill. I ran my through twice – once on the middle-sized disc and once on the finest disc.

Bring mixture back to a simmer.

Cut out a 3-or 4-ply square of cheesecloth, or get yourself a tea bag that is meant for loose tea. Place all the spices into the cheesecloth/tea bag and seal it up tight so the celery seeds don’t escape.  Put the bundle into the simmering tomatoes.

Add the vinegar, sugars and salt. Reduce your sauce until you are happy with the consistency (1.5-3 hours).  Make sure to stir more often at this point, since the  sugar could burn.  Remove the spice bundle when you’re done simmering.

There are a lot of tips on how to check if your ketchup is thick enough. I may have gone a little overboard on the thickening stage, but too thick is better than too runny, I think.

Once your ketchup is thick, pour it into prepared canning jars and process in a boiling water canner for 15 min.  There are good canning instructions here and here, so I won’t repeat the information again.

From 8 pounds of tomatoes, I got 4 and a bit cups of ketchup.

Posted in Recipes | 1 Comment

Nostalgia

This was seriously awesome.

2013-09-21 21.34.45-1

2013-09-21 22.54.28 - cropped

Those are my dear old friends, Amy and Emily (known to many as The Indigo Girls). I remember the first time I heard them, back in the mid-90s. I was instantly drawn to their music and wanted to sing along all day. Over the past 20 years (yikes!) I’ve gone through phases of listening to them more and less, and in the past several years my tastes have turned more towards this. But when a friend of mine spotted an announcement about an upcoming show a few months ago and asked if anyone wanted to go, I was the first to put my hand up.

The show was amazing. The Indigo Girls have been playing concerts and writing great music for more than 25 years, but you’d never have guessed it from the amount of energy they poured into their performance on Saturday. They seemed relaxed and happy, and it was easy to imagine hanging out with them (and to forget that they are famous big shots). I’ve seen them play before, but this was the first time I’ve seen them without a band, and I’m holding tight to the beautiful memory of hearing just their voices and guitars (and banjos and mandolins).

I happened to notice that they’re coming back this way in January, playing a small show in Bellingham. Anyone want to go? :)

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Summer Loving

Fall is firmly in the air these days, but before summer becomes too much of a distant memory, I wanted to share some photos from the last few very summery weeks.

First up are some photos from our much-anticipated trip on Uncle Paul’s boat. We had our inaugural trip last September, which was a definite success, but also quite an adventure thanks to the motor breaking down, a lengthy tow to Lions Bay, and an even longer bus ride back into town. Paul’s boat has been getting some TLC ever since and just recently got back in the water. He kindly agreed to take us for a ride again, and this time it was every bit as much fun, and lot less eventful!

Waiting for pickup (with cheesy effects that I sometimes can't resist)

Waiting for pickup (with cheesy photo effects that I sometimes can’t resist)

More waiting to be picked up (with another cheesy effect)

More waiting to be picked up (with another cheesy effect)

Steering the boat

Steering the boat

Talking on the "phone"

Talking on the “phone”

Up top with Mummy

Up top with Mummy

Looking handsome

Looking handsome

Next up are a few pictures from a glorious morning Miles and I spent at Kits Beach last week. Instead of making a beeline for the playground, we went straight to the beach and spent the next couple of hours digging, scooping, splashing, playing with a kid from Edmonton, and (eventually) skinny dipping! After getting his fill of the beach, Miles then suggested we go to the playground, so he ran the whole way there, played, and ran the whole way back to the car. He had the best nap of his life when we got home!

Cooking at the beach

Cooking at the beach

Letting it all hang out

Letting it all hang out

Posted in Miles | 2 Comments

Chicken Satay

We aren’t very good at having people over for dinner, and I’m not quite sure why. Partly it might be that we’re all creatures of habit, and having people over is not one of our habits. We’re also not great at making plans in advance, so by the time we think that it would be nice to have friends join us, the more organized of our friends (especially those without kids) tend to have plans of some sort already. However, we lucked out this past weekend, and our friends over at The Westcoast Mama joined us for dinner one night.

It had been a heck of a day (Do you like my PG language? It’s a work in progress), thanks to a grouchy 2 year old who was throwing tantrums like they were going out of style. The morning included the following series of requests: I want to go to the grocery store. No, I want to go to the library! Why are we at the library? I want to go straight home! What, who said anything about going home? Why haven’t we gone to the grocery store yet? And so on… Things looked up a bit after his nap and a trip to the park, where Miles discovered that flying down the hill on a ride-on ATV toy was the funnest thing EVER. We managed to avoid the park-leaving meltdown by suggesting to Miles that when we got home we’d make “vinegar bean dip”, which is much more delicious than it sounds and involves the food processor (aka the foo-fether). I’ll post that recipe another time.

We got home to find Angela and co. arriving, so it was an all-hands-on-deck affair to get things ready. Fortunately we had marinated the chicken satay the night before, and tipped and tailed the green beans while Miles napped, so it didn’t take long to get dinner on the table. Meanwhile, Miles helped me with the dip and then astounded Angela by eating whole spoonfuls of it and whole snap peas dipped in it (meanwhile, her son Joshua was delighting in throwing Miles’s play broccoli around while chanting “I don’t eat THAT!”).

Once dinner was ready, we sat the boys at Miles’s drawing table and had the four adults and baby Savanna at the main table. There is nothing more satisfying than being quite sure you’ve made far too much food, and then watching almost all of it disappear! Savanna amazed us all with her appetite for the satay (eschewing the plain chicken entirely), reminding me of a someone else at that age.

After dinner, we went outside to burn off some energy and enjoy some coconut pineapple popsicles, again courtesy of my budding chef. Our popsicle-making roles are well-defined: Miles comes up with the flavours and I figure out how to make them in a way that uses the food processor. A while ago he wanted chocolate popsicles, which I thought was an excellent idea since I was looking forward to having these again. Miles decreed that that recipe was not acceptable since it doesn’t involve a food processor, so we settled for yogurt, cocoa powder and a smidge of sugar whizzed up together (which was fine, but not nearly as good as the option I had proposed).  The coconut pineapple popsicles turned out well though, and were just coconut milk (1 can), fresh pineapple (about 2 cups) and a smidge of vanilla extract done in the food processor. Easy, and very refreshing!

Anyhow, I’m losing track of the  main point here, which was to share my recipe for chicken satay before the weather changes for good and makes grilling something to look forward to in 8 months. This is not a recipe I picked up from my local warung when I lived in Indonesia; instead it’s from Best Summer Weekends, a book that has produced a few winners for us. I haven’t tweaked it much, other than to scale it down a bit and streamline the preparation.

Chicken Satay

  • 3-6 boneless skinless chicken breasts (depending on how many people you are feeding)
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne (or more if not making this for toddlers and babies)
  • 1/4 onion, roughly chopped
  • 1-2 Tbsp fresh ginger, roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 strip lemon zest (optional)
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1-2 Tbsp vegetable oil

Put all the ingredients except the chicken in a food processor and let your toddler go wild. Alternatively, just whirl until the mixture forms a paste.

Cut the chicken into long strips and place in a bowl. Pour spice paste over top and cover. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight. This can make your fridge a bit smelly, so really cover it well.

Thread chicken strips onto metal skewers (or bamboo skewers that have been soaked in water) and grill over medium-high heat for 8-10 min, turning once, until cooked through.

Posted in Miles, Recipes | 1 Comment

Zucchini Muffins

This is the legendary time of year when gardeners scramble to find something to do with all of their zucchini, and their friends and neighbours learn not to ask how the garden is doing, for fear they’ll be offered some of the bounty. We’ve been on both the giving and receiving ends in the past, and this year we found ourselves with a glut of beautiful golden zucchini. After hanging a bag of zucchini on the doorknob of our upstairs neighbours and finding a few other voluntary recipients, I turned to baking since none of us actually loves zucchini all that much (too bad it’s so darn satisfying to grow!).  Much like banana muffins, I believe that zucchini muffins do not need to be full of sugar or fat to be delicious. The natural wetness of the zucchini (which can make for soggy stir fries) means that the muffins bake up light and moist even with just 1/4 cup of oil. These have been a hit with everyone in our house, and even passed the taste test with a friend’s kid who can usually detect even the faintest trace of whole wheat flour.

My current go-to blog for healthful baking is Dinner With Julie, and it provided a great starting point. In a post about a rather decadent few days, Julie buried a great recipe for zucchini loaf (or in my case, muffins).  As usual, I tweaked her recipe a bit to reduce the sugar, and I also include some dried fruit. I’ve tried the recipe with apricots, craisins and raisins, and all are delicious.  I’ve also discovered that I prefer walnuts to pecans in this recipe.  I think this recipe would also work well with carrots in the winter, or if you really have a lot of extra zucchini, you could freeze some in 2-cup batches.

Zucchini Muffins

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 cups somewhat packed grated unpeeled green or golden zucchini (about 1 medium-large zucchini)
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup dried fruit (chopped if large like apricots)

Preheat oven to 400°F.

In a large bowl combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.

In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs, and then whisk in the milk, oil and lemon zest, and add to the flour mixture along with the grated zucchini, walnuts and dried fruit. Stir with a wooden spoon just until combined. Don’t worry about getting all the lumps out.

Blob batter in 12 muffins cups lined with parchment paper cups, until golden and springy to the touch, about 18 minutes. Remove from muffin tins after about 3 minutes, and cool on wire rack.

Posted in Recipes | Leave a comment

The Lake House

It’s not quite accurate to say that we just got back from vacation, but close enough! We spent a lovely 12 days at Victoria Beach again this summer, staying with Nanny. Mr. Chumsley joined us for the second half, and it was so nice to have everyone there this year.

We slept in (yes, really! There is something to be said for going to a timezone that is 2 hours ahead when vacationing with a toddler), went to the playground, checked out the bakery, visited friends, and of course, hung out at the beach. Much to Miles’s delight, we had a few cool and rainy days, so we also made some fires and had hot chocolate!

Here are a few photos of the highlights.

Playing at the beach

Playing at the beach

Everybody drink now!

Everybody drink now!

Reading by the fire with Nanny

Reading by the fire with Nanny

Pumping up bike tires

Pumping up bike tires

Plastic bag prince

Plastic bag prince

Mixing

Mixing

Old-skool methods for taking your kid on a bike

Making friends

Making friends

Ice cream? Yeah, I guess I like it

Ice cream? Yeah, I guess I like it

Nice bear!

Nice bear!

Posted in Miles | 2 Comments