Valentine’s Day Baking

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day, and while we’re not terribly into big romantic gestures in our household, the kids really do love celebrating this holiday at school. Everyone ends up with a little mailbox full of Valentines, and some sweets to bring home, and often parents send in some nice snacks for the kids to munch on throughout the day. So of course I had to get the girls to help me with some baking to bring along to class.

At Thing 1’s insistence, I made a chocolate sheet cake with chocolate icing for her class. Since she loved her Triforce Cake so much, I used the same recipe: Amelia Bedelia‚Äôs Sheet Cake, found at the back of the story book Amelia Bedelia Bakes Off (Herman Parish, 2010), or online via Desktop Cookbook. This time, though, I actually made buttercream icing from scratch — my very first time trying it! I used the Joy of Cooking (Rombauer & Becker, 2006 edition) recipe for Chocolate Buttercream found on page 793. Honestly, the icing was more difficult to make than the cake, but it turned out so well! I used really dark chocolate and my munchkin appreciated it. She isn’t actually a big fan of the thick layers of super-sweet icing that are commonly found on commercial cakes, and to be honest, neither am I. I decorated the icing with a dusting of icing sugar over some heart-shaped cookie cutters, and then I removed the cutters to lay down a heart made of Smarties. I know it wasn’t symmetrical, but the kiddos didn’t seem to care.

Thing 2, however, really wanted to make mini banana muffins for her class. I went back to the trusty recipe in the Joy of Cooking and we together we made the Banana Bread Cockaigne on page 628. There’s a lot of teaching that goes along with baking with a child of that age, especially since they haven’t started learning fractions yet! Even so, this recipe is very forgiving (if you read my blog regularly, you’ve probably noticed that it’s a favourite), and it turned out really well. There were only three left over after she shared them with her friends, and those were promptly snatched up by her grandparents. Not that I begrudge them, because if they didn’t eat them, I would.

I hope you all had a lovely Valentine’s Day and were spoiled with some of your own favourite treats!

Resolutions

1. Crafting

This is a two-part resolution. Firstly, I’d like to use up the materials I have purchased over the years, and/or use recycled or thrifted materials whenever possible.

Secondly, I’d like to participate in more group or community projects, like Mochimochi Land’s Let’s Knit a Ball Pit — ideally using materials previously specified. The ball pit will be a part of Vogue Knitting LIVE in New York City, and once the event is over they will be donated to the American Foundation for Children with AIDS. I contributed the two knitted balls in the photo above to this project, and I really enjoyed it! I hope that they arrive in time. I’d like to keep the ball rolling, as it were, and donate my time and skills to other events, even if it’s something as simple as hats for the newborn babies at the local children’s hospital.

2. Environmental

I would like to try to decrease our household’s reliance on single-use plastic, and to continue to reuse, repurpose, and recycle. To me, that doesn’t mean being rid of plastics entirely; actually, I think it would be rather wasteful to completely be rid of the plastics we do have, just to buy all new replacements in another material. Rather, I’d like to commit to using recycled plastics, either post-consumer recycled commercial products, or finding a new home for second-hand plastic products, like the lunch boxes above that I bought at a thrift store.

3. In the Kitchen

I want to expand my cooking knowledge, skills, and style — while at the same time trying to keep it reasonably healthy. I think I’ve been stuck in a bit of a rut lately, and I want to do better! To that end, I have purchased even more second-hand cookbooks that I’m not only going to try out, but that I’m going to read through for ideas. At Thing 1’s request, I am looking into more Japanese food:

Sushi by Ryuichi Yoshii (1998)
The Japanese Kitchen by Kimiko Barber (2004)
Ten-Minute Bento by Megumi Fujii (2007)

Of all of the books that I have thrifted lately, I think I am most excited about The Japanese Kitchen, which helps break down and de-mystify each ingredient, and Ten Minute Bento, which is all about quick and easy (and I think will become a favourite cookbook to pull out to prep dinner on busy weeknights). There is a lot about Japanese cooking that I don’t know, but these books look like they’ll really help me get a better grasp on it.

In a more general vein, I have also picked up:

Gordon Ramsay’s Passion for Flavour by Gordon Ramsay (1996)
Deliciously Dairy Free: Fresh and Simple Lactose-Free Recipes for Healthy Eating Every Day by Lesley Waters (2015)
Gourmet Meals in Crappy Little Kitchens by Jennifer Schaertl (2010)
More Bread Machine Magic by Linda Rehberg and Lois Conway (1997)
Jamie Oliver’s FoodTube Presents: The Cake Book by Cupcake Jemma (2014)
Cocktails for Book Lovers by Tessa Smith McGovern (2014)

Now, some of these, like the cupcake book and the cocktail book, are just for fun — but shouldn’t cooking be fun? The dairy-free one and the one about cooking in small kitchens (and I have to say, that title grabbed my attention) are probably the ones I’d use the most, though. Yet every cookbook is a kind of inspiration for me, even if I don’t try a single dish.

4. Business

I think that it’s time for my business to expand from flea markets to online. I think I will start with local sales, since a lot of my products are both heavy and quite breakable. I just don’t know that it would be cost-effective to try to ship vintage Pyrex or, heaven forbid, cast iron cookware. But vintage Tupperware is both hardy and light enough to make the trip! I think that this expansion will challenge my photography skills (since product photography is quite different than casual snaps) and my organization skills. I’m also looking at how to make it all as environmentally-sound as possible; I especially don’t want to package items in styrofoam, bubble wrap, or air-filled bags, since they’re all single-use plastic. I’m looking into wool and straw and other biodegradable options. People shipped things without breaking them long before plastic was invented, so there have to be options. The question is, can I keep it cost-effective? Challenges, challenges!

So what are your resolutions for the New Year?

Kitchen Gifts

Of course, because my friends and family know that I enjoy spending time in the kitchen, a lot of my Christmas gifts this year centered around that.

One of my friends gifted me with some delicious Chex Party Mix and a lovely loaf of Makivnyk (a Ukrainian style poppy seed tea roll) from the Black Walnut Bakery. Oh, and Thing 1 gave me the Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix In A Jar that she’d made, thus ensuring that she would get to eat some of them too.

I also acquired a number of cookbooks over the holidays, some as gifts, others from thrift stores or as bargain books.

The Perfect Pie Book by Anne Marshall, 1984 (thrifted)
Hershey’s 1934 Cookbook, Hershey Chocolate Company, 1971 (thrifted)
Anita Stewart’s Canada by Anita Stewart, 2008 (thrifted — and I’ve wanted my own copy for quite a while)
Bread! Simple and Satisfying Recipes for Your Bread Machine by Kathrun Hawkins, 2006 ($4.00 at Dollarama)
Pumpkin Butternut & Squash by Elsa Petersen-Schepelern, 2000 (gift)

My parents gave me an Instant Pot and a handmade apron, my brother gave me a copy of Jamie Cooks Italy (since I’m a huge Jamie Oliver fan), and a friend gave me a Paderno tamagoyaki pan.

I can’t wait to try out all of my new toys!

Christmas Dinner

Christmas dinner is traditionally hosted by my parents. It used to be served on Christmas Day, but after the gigantic breakfast that often lasts until lunch, it seemed kind of overkill. A few years ago by consensus we moved it to Boxing Day, and it has just made everything so much more relaxed.

One of the things that I love about Christmas at my parents’ house is how their brilliantly-lit tree fills up the front window. From the street outside, as you’re pulling in to the driveway, it really welcomes you in. While my parents do have lights strung up outside, the tree outshines them all. I’m told that there are 600 or more lights on there. To compare, our tree only has 200 lights, and it seems positively dim by comparison.

Mom is generally the one who is responsible for the roast turkey dinner, although Dad’s specialty is the Yorkshire pudding. They used to only serve Yorkshire pudding with roast beef dinners, but enough pestering by my brother and I (and then by my kids) over the years convinced them that they were appropriate to any meal served with gravy. Mom’s turkey dinner this year included stuffing, whipped potatoes, mashed potatoes almondine, carrots glazed in my carrot jam, squash with orange juice and walnuts, and of course lots of gravy. It was all delicious! My contribution to the meal was dessert: homemade apple and dairy-free pumpkin pies, baked in advance and reheated in the oven. It always seems a shame to me that a meal that takes all day to make can be scarfed down so quickly, but there is always lots of chatting after the meal as we all digest.

Christmas Breakfast

Yesterday I hosted Christmas breakfast at our house, which is generally a cold meal with a lot of selection. There were a variety of cheeses (including two kinds of Balderson cheddar, a couple that were actually lactose free, and a spreadable goat cheese), smoked salmon, crackers, Nan’s pan rolls, mini banana muffins, Cookie Monster’s Famous Cookies, cold cuts, an assortment of crackers, and Little Shop of Lobsters’ crab and lobster mousses. To drink there was milk or juice, or the more festive apple cider or eggnog.

This meal is generally served buffet-style, everyone munching away while we open gifts in the living room beside the Christmas tree. This meal represents the last of my cooking for about a week, since I’ve gone into overdrive to get everything ready — not just for breakfast, but for my contributions to Christmas Eve dinner, Christmas dinner, festive baking, and Christmas parties the week before. This spread isn’t just meant to feed us for the day; the leftovers will become meals in their own right for the week to come, so we can all relax a bit and play with our new toys.