Thing 1’s Stir-Fried Ginger Chicken

Thing 1 is learning how to cook, by which I don’t mean just helping me in the kitchen, but actually planning and preparing entire meals. She’s been able to successfully manage pre-packaged food for a while now, so she wanted to step up her game. I gave her free run of my cookbooks last week, but I suggested that for now she stick with some of the ones meant for beginners that I’d picked up over the years. She really likes Essential Cooking Basics: The New Cook by Mary Berry & Marlena Spieler (1997), I think at least in part because it’s full of detailed step-by-step photos, but isn’t only targeted at children. She prepared this dish almost entirely by herself, although I remained nearby to field (many, many) questions and to introduce her to some new techniques.

She chose to make Stir-Fried Ginger Chicken (page 88), which is the kind of meal that takes a lot more time to peel and chop than to actually cook. She was only just starting to prepare when she cut open a sweet pepper to find another tiny pepper growing inside! I’d read about this phenomenon before, but hadn’t chanced upon it myself; it’s called parthenocarpy, which is a kind of internal proliferation of a fruit without fertilization. Basically, it’s a tiny natural clone of the larger pepper — and it’s perfectly edible.


Yes, I know the knife in the background shouldn’t have been left blade-up; Thing 1 put it in the dishwasher moments after this photo was taken.

Knife skills are, I think, one of the most essential parts of learning to cook efficiently. I’m no speed demon myself, but I’m reasonably quick I manage not to cut myself most of the time. I find that even a lot of adults are awkward and slow with a knife in the kitchen, so I hope that starting Thing 1 early acquiring this skill will mean it’s easier for her as she grows up.

Another part of learning how to cook is learning how to adapt a recipe to what you have. I, for example, don’t have a good wok any more, so the dish had to be cooked in a large non-stick frying pan, which meant that the instructions had to change a little bit. Also, I couldn’t find the specific kind of noodle that the recipe called for, so a few adaptations had to be made for that.

Thing 1’s final dish was perfectly prepared: the veggies were still a little crunchy, the chicken was moist, and the noodles were al dente. Everyone went back for seconds, and there was still enough for Thing 1 to take as leftovers for lunch the next day — and show off to her friends.

A Family Sunday

On Saturday morning, we found Candy Cane hiding under the chair in Thing 1’s room, riding a LEGO scooter, playing with the a Vaporeon and a Playmobil pegasus:

And Sunday morning we found her hanging around in the kitchen with Chimpy:

I spent most of that day with my little family decorating the house for Christmas. As of now we’re still not done, but that’s to be expected as we do Christmas almost as big as we do Halloween around here.

Of course, we had to take a break for dinner, which was roll-your-own sushi again at the kids’ request. Since this is a pretty healthy meal, I don’t mind indulging them.

Their rolling skills are getting better, but their knife skills could use a bit of work. Part of their difficulty was the knives we used, though, which could definitely use a sharpening.

One thing we did manage to finish was decorating the tree, which is a real one in our house so it doesn’t stay up all that long. We find three weeks (two weeks before Christmas and one week after) is about as long as the needles will stay on. I know that the kids would be more than happy to have it up in November otherwise, although I’m pretty sure my husband would object.

The addition of the tree and its decorations are, I think, the inspiration for the stuffed Christmas bear to tie Candy Cane to the tracks this morning. Although I do remember learning somewhere that there is actually no damsel-in-distress-tied-to-the-tracks scene in any old movie other than parodies; maybe I saw that on QI? At any rate, the elf is safe enough considering that the train has no batteries. Her predicament didn’t seem to bother the children at all.

A Few Things

Thing the First:

This morning we found Candy Cane in the kitchen, sitting on the clock that usually sits under a glass dome above the cabinets.

Thing the Second:

With twenty days to go, I finally finished knitting the Vero Shawl (Rose Bower colourway) for my aunt who is always cold — and who I am pretty sure doesn’t read this blog. It will go in the mail tomorrow and will hopefully arrive on her doorstep before Christmas.

Thing the Third:

I have started on the family’s Christmas stockings. The first one, for Thing 2, is closer to the end than to the start, although there seems to be an awful lot of yarn left to go. I’m knitting this one in hand-dyed Fleece Artist Blue-Faced Leicester Aran (100% wool) in what I believe is the Red Fox colourway. I bought this yarn years ago as part of the Elmira flap hat and fingerless glove set; I knit the hat (which I still love — Ravelry pattern entry here), but I never got around to the gloves. Since this is Thing 2’s favourite colour palette, I figured the yarn would make a lovely Christmas stocking instead.

Thing the Fourth:

I made pancakes and apples for dinner yesterday. I’ve been trying to use up ingredients we already have in the pantry, and there was some pancake mix in there left over from the summer (not sure if it was from camping or the cottage). Paired with some chopped apples and with a drizzle of maple syrup on top, it made a lovely meal!

Holiday Tea

This past Saturday was the annual Girl Guides’ Holiday Tea, which was held at Epiphany Anglican Church just like last year. This year the funds from the tickets, bake sale, and calendar sales were being raised to finance a trip to Europe for the local Pathfinder troupes. Parents of girls in the Guiding movement were asked to contribute baked goods to the tea, so this year I used up some of the bananas in my freezer and made mini banana muffins.

(Bananas for scale.)

I used the recipe that I almost always use, the one for Banana Bread Cockaigne on page 628 of the Joy of Cooking (75th Anniversary Edition, Rombauer & Becker, 2006). Of course, I omitted the chopped nuts and/or dried apricots (which usually have come into contact with peanuts or tree nuts), since anything baked had to be school-safe. I also omitted the grated lemon zest, as I usually do, since I don’t often have lemons in the house unless I’ve bought them for a specific purpose.

As usual, the tea was lots of fun, with the tiniest of Sparks and Brownies bringing out cold drinks and trays of treats, while the Guides were in charge of serving hot drinks, and the Pathfinders and Rangers ran things from the kitchen.

Of course, I never got any of the fancy-looking shortbread or thick brownies because the children snatched them up right quick. And I didn’t see any of my tiny muffins come by, so I guess they went out earlier in the day, since my container came back empty. I was rather impressed with the surprise flavours of lemon in some of the shortbread, and maple syrup in the Rice Krispie squares. I think I’ll have to try those additions myself in the future.

Hot Chocolate

Yesterday morning when I woke up it was a frosty -18°C (0°F) — okay, technically -17.9°C (-0.22°F), but the weather network rounded up. That felt like -27°C (-16.6°F) with the wind chill. Non-natives to the area might just think, “Well, that’s Canada for you, it’s always ridiculously cold there.” Okay, sure, it’s colder here than in many places, but not usually so early in the season. This is February weather. In November it’s generally grey and dreary, and hovers around the freezing point. Yesterday was the coldest November 22nd in the history of the city, beating the 1972 record by three and a half degrees. My friend in Whitehorse pointed out that it was a “balmy” -4°C (24.8°F) where he lives.

So I feel that I am justified in commenting on the fact that winter has come quite early to this neck of the woods. Don’t get me wrong, I actually like winter — for a while. I enjoy the changing of the seasons. It’s when the season doesn’t seem to want to change that I don’t like — either the stifling, humid days of high summer or the dragging, freezing days of the most intense part of winter. Those days when it seems like all there is to do is endure the season, not enjoy it. And it seems like that part of winter has come on pretty darned fast this year. Heck, my husband went on a ten-day business trip, and when he left it was still autumn. When he returned home, it was February.

The kids, though, don’t mind the biting cold all that much, because it means hot chocolate when they get home from school. They walk, you see, so the weather hits harder than if they just hopped on and off a school bus. It won’t be the hearty meals that they remember fondly from this time of year — at least not until they get a bit older. No, it will be that warm mug of hot chocolate with tiny marshmallows while they read at the kitchen table and let the worries of the day fall away. Or perhaps, on slightly warmer days, that same mug after coming in from playing in the snow, red-cheeked and raw-nosed. How do I know that? Because it’s one of my favourite childhood memories as well.

Kitchen Has Food

Every once in a while, generally when I’m running out of ideas or enthusiasm for what to cook, I like to take the kids out to the grocery store and let them pick what we’re going to eat. I do set a few rules, of course, or every time we do this we’d be stuffing our faces with chips or candy — or is Kraft Dinner yet again. Despite my attempts, it rarely ends up being a terribly healthy dinner, but it is always eclectic and different than any time before.

Let’s take this week’s kid-directed meal: mildly spicy grocery store chicken wings (bought frozen and thrown in the oven), garlic bread (made out of homemade bread we already had), and sliced red peppers. It’s honestly not something I would have ever thought to combine as a meal unless I was cleaning out my fridge, but it was actually pretty good!

I’m hoping that this will be a good introduction to grocery shopping, rather than just dragging them along with me when we go out to purchase a large load. While that’s also a necessary evil, I think that what each individual ingredient is for can get lost in the shuffle. I also hope that as the kids get older I’ll be able to assign at least one night every week where they’re in charge of planning and cooking the meal. Right now what they know how to cook is definitely limited, but it’s a progress. I don’t want them sent out into the world without a stable cooking foundation under their feet. As the joke goes, “Women belong in the kitchen. Men belong in the kitchen. Kitchen has food.”

Disney Princess/Star Wars Mash-Up Photos

I remain astounded by this, but I managed to finish the costumes for Thing 1 and Thing 2 in time for Ottawa Comiccon: Holiday Edition this past Sunday. The costumes were supposed to coordinate with last year’s Frozen/Star Wars Mash-Up so that my friends and I didn’t have to make new costumes. So may I present to you:

Thing 2 as Jedi Tinkerbell! I made her robe using McCall’s M6184: Children’s/Boys’/Girls’ Karate and Scrubs Costumes, but I used green broadcloth as the fabric. I also added two tabards and an obi/sash, which were basically tubes of fabric turned inside out and sewn closed at the end. The tights were Mondor dance tights that I purchased at a steep discount at the Audrey’s Costume Castle fire sale; the wings were from Value Village Halloween stock. I re-used the boots from Thing 1’s Astrid costume, and stuck pompoms on the toes with hot glue. The sparkly pink belt was from the kids’ wardrobe. Oh, and the knockoff “space swords” were cheapies from Walmart.

Thing 1 as Jedi Ariel! Her robe was made using a larger size of the same pattern as Tinkerbell, but in different colours of broadcloth; the tabards and obi were also made the same way as the first costume. I ordered the mermaid scale leggings off of Amazon since I couldn’t find any the right colour in town, and I was extremely lucky when they arrived this past Friday despite the postal strikes (the very last day they could have been in time). The half boots were from Joe on clearance, and the belt came from the kids’ closets. The wig was an inexpensive one from the Walmart Halloween section, and it was the only part of the costume that I was really disappointed with. It didn’t come out of the package looking anything like the picture on the front. Despite trying to style it to look Jedi-ish, it continued to look extremely cheap. I pinned it in about a million spots and it still wouldn’t stay looking halfway decent. I think Thing 1 only wore it for an hour before she gave up on it, and I honestly don’t blame her. Her real hair looked much better anyway.

So here was our Disney Princess Jedi group for this mini con: Tinkerbell, Anna, Ariel, and Elsa. I’m hoping that we can convince more people to join us next year for a group cosplay! It was a lot of fun and the kids especially enjoyed a very enthusiastic reception.

I also took the opportunity at the con to have one of my fave local artists, Emily Griggs of Sweet Ingenuity, do sketches of my girls in their costumes. I almost invariably buy something at her booth at every con I see her at, since her art is so much fun! I was really glad she was taking commissions at this con and had the time to draw my kids. I gotta say, they couldn’t have been more thrilled to see themselves in cartoon form. This art will take pride of place on my wall.

My only regret about this con is that we forgot to go and get pictures outside in the snow! Oh well, we’ll just have to schedule a photo shoot sometime.