Sick Day Part 2

I’m at the tail end (hopefully) of recovering from my cold, and unfortunately my kids have caught it too. Well, they might have been the ones to bring it home in the first place, elementary school being the wretched hive of scum and villainy that it is. At any rate, I kept the kids home from school yesterday in an attempt to speed up their recovery.

I gave the kids the option of homemade chicken noodle soup for dinner, since it’s a traditional kind of food to eat when you’re not feeling well. They vetoed this idea, and I was willing to be vetoed, as I hadn’t actually started cooking anything yet. At first they voted for instant mac-and-cheese, which I said no to. I can’t tell you how much it frustrates me that it doesn’t matter how many original and tasty meals I prepare, they’d live off of 99¢ dried pasta with powdered cheese sauce, given half the chance. Next they argued between themselves between bacon and eggs and trout with teriyaki sauce over rice. A quick trip to the grocery store brought the decision firmly down to bacon and eggs, since trout was not on special.

So our family dinner last night was eggs over easy, reduced-salt bacon, freshly baked Light Wholemeal Bread (Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf (Jennie Shapter, 2002), page 69), and a side of sliced strawberries with a sprinkle of sugar. The girls were even up to hulling and slicing the strawberries. All in all, not a bad dinner for a house full of sickies!

Childhood Family Dinner

Yesterday I had a million and one things to do in order to prep for the party on Saturday, so I really needed to make a dinner that I could probably have cooked in my sleep. This was the kind of dinner that I had regularly as a kid and was one of the staples of how I learned how to cook, way back when. A few small things have changed here and there, but it basically tastes the same.

I baked chicken thighs that were sprinkled with powdered onion soup mix. When I was a kid, boned and skinned meat was way too expensive for everyday meals, so it would have been whole chicken legs (drumstick and thigh), bone-in, skin-on. I served it with whipped potatoes; as a kid, that would simply have been mashed, no fancy schmancy electronics like a hand mixer. The corn was exactly what I grew up with: boiled from frozen, generally in the microwave.

We ate all kinds of other food, of course. My mom used to hang out with a Lebanese couple, and they exchanged recipes and techniques, so Mom made great Lebanese food. We ate all kinds of pasta and roasts and fancy Sunday dinners. But when push came to shove and we had something going on on a weekday evening (and with both my brother and I in hockey and Guiding/Scouting, that was most evenings), this was our fast, easy, everybody-likes-it kind of meal. To me, this kind of dish is a comfort food, because it brings back fond memories of family togetherness. And as a bonus, now that I’m a parent myself, there’s nothing in a supper like this that I have to fight to get my kids to eat!

Oh, and if you think that my parents wouldn’t have served supper on a plate with a skull and bones on it, on top of a skeleton-print tablecloth, you probably haven’t met my parents. Trust me, if they’d had those things, they would have used them in a heartbeat.

Canadian Thanksgiving

Although today is technically Thanksgiving here in Canada, my family celebrated yesterday. I know that a lot of other people I know hereabouts do the same. Having Thanksgiving dinner on Sunday combines the tradition of a Sunday family dinner with the practical consideration of a stat holiday on the Monday. This means that out-of-town guests can travel in on the Friday night or Saturday, then go back home on the Monday, i.e. no traveling the day of celebrations and no need for most to miss any work.

Here in Canada, Thanksgiving is mostly a secular harvest festival, although some religions do incorporate thanks for a bountiful harvest into their liturgical calendar. Unlike Americans, we don’t have a tradition of the First Thanksgiving (our history is markedly different than our southern neighbours, with our first European settlers being predominantly explorers, hunters, and trappers). We also celebrate this holiday much earlier, i.e. the second Monday in October instead of the fourth Thursday in November. We used to celebrate Thanksgiving later in the season, but the earlier date keeps it from conflicting with Remembrance Day (November 11th) and, on a practical note about climate, is also when the bulk of the harvest has been brought in this far (and farther) north. Heck, the Prairies often see snow as early as September.

I started cooking the dishes that I was going to bring to Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday. I began with pumpkin pie, which was a combination of the Purity Pastry crust from page 73 of the Purity Cookbook (Elizabeth Driver, 2001 edition) and the Pumpkin or Squash Pie filling on page 686 of the Joy of Cooking (Irma S. Rombauer & Marion Rombauer Becker & Ethan Becker, 2006 edition). The filling pulled away from the crust since I had to store the pie in the refrigerator overnight, but it still tasted just fine. Due to food sensitivities in the family, I substituted coconut milk for the heavy cream/evaporated milk specified in the filling recipe. I have done this for years now, and I find that it tastes almost identical to using cow’s milk. That being said, I’ve learned that it takes much longer for the filling to set this way. To compensate, I don’t glaze the crust, as it causes it to burn over the long cooking time. Also, I put the pie plate on a baking sheet when I put it in the oven (something I do when making any type of pie), which both helps protect the bottom crust from burning and keeps any filling overflow from burning onto the bottom of my oven.

I cooked a small pumpkin to make the pumpkin pie instead of using canned (I like the flavour better that way), and I had some leftovers squash puree that needed to be used up, so I made Pumpkin Bread (page 628, Joy of Cooking) as well. I made this quick bread loaf with coarsely chopped pecans and golden raisins, as that’s what I happened to have in the pantry. It’s a rather lovely, dense loaf, as this kind of bread tends to be, and it smells divine. Unfortunately, since there are nuts in it, I won’t be able to send it to school as part of lunch for my girls in the upcoming week.

Since I had the time (which I never seem to when I’m carving Jack-o-lanterns for Halloween), I saved the pumpkin seeds and roasted them in the oven with a bit of olive oil and salt. These are one of my favourite fall snacks, and the smell of them cooking takes me right back to my childhood.

OF course, no family dinner around here would be complete without a batch of Nan’s Pan Rolls. It’s especially fitting this time of year, since Nan passed away four years ago this weekend. Making one of her signature dishes is a fitting way to remember her, I think.

This was Thanksgiving dinner at my parents’ place (bottom to top): Yorkshire pudding, squash & pear casserole, roast turkey, gravy, bread stuffing, pan rolls, Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, and steamed asparagus. This may seems like a huge spread, with all of that food for only six of us. However, traditionally you only have a little of each dish at the actual dinner, which is more than enough to feed you to bursting, and then you eat leftovers for the following week. Generally it’s an informal recreation of the dinner on day 2, then (depending on the size of the bird) some kind of casserole on day 3, then hot turkey sandwiches on day 4, then turkey soup or stew on day 5, and so on.

So happy Thanksgiving to all Canadians, and a happy Thanksgiving in advance to our American neighbours!

Mom’s Birthday Dinner

We celebrated my mother’s birthday this past Saturday. At her request, I hosted dinner at my house and made her up some of my ramen — which somehow she had never tried before. The version that I chose to make was Furikake Salmon Ramen (page 82 of Simply Ramen by Amy Kimoto-Kahn (2016)); the recipe is also available online here. This recipe uses a shoyu base (page 8, or online at easypeasyjapanesey.com), which I made up in advance in my slow cooker. I remain rather enamored of this base recipe, but every time I make it I remind myself that sometime I really need to try the tonkotsu base, which is my favourite but appears much more difficult. I used soft-boiled eggs instead of marinated half-cooked eggs, mostly due to time constraints. I also used packaged noodles; one of these days I will make my own, but that really requires a pasta maker, which I don’t own. I didn’t use the kind from the instant soup packages, as I find they get soggy much too quickly, but instead a package of dried noodles on their own for which I unfortunately can’t read most of the label.

The real star of this dish is the salmon. I was lucky enough to find it on special at the grocery store, pre-portioned and ready to go. The furikake topping was delicious even though I used North American mayonnaise instead of Japanese-style. There were some leftovers and I really look forward to having them served over rice in the next few days. I think that this topping is going to become part of my regular dinner roster; it would probably be good on other pink, oily fish like sea trout.

In our family, there’s always dessert with a birthday dinner, even if you’re stuffed from the meal itself — that just means that you take a breather and have the treat later in the evening. This year I made apple pie using fruit that I’d grown on my own tree in the back yard. For the chocolate lovers, Dad made brownies with chocolate icing, which were delicious and, if you know my dad, a very special treat, since he rarely bakes. We served it all up with whipped cream and/or vanilla ice cream (and dairy-free alternatives thereto). Oh, and candles! I was thrilled to find that it’s possible to get the candles that burn with coloured flame at the dollar store these days. I used to have to go downtown to a specialty store to buy them.

So happy birthday to my mom! Love always to the woman who helped shape me into the person that I am (whether that’s a good thing or not is a matter of opinion).

Mom’s Potato Salad

Back when I started writing this blog, I set a personal goal to record the recipes that I had grown up with. I didn’t want my descendants to encounter the same issues that I’d had when my grandmother passed away and took her knowledge of family favourites with her.


Mom’s basic potato salad.

To this end, I asked my mother the other day for her potato salad recipe so that I could post in online (it’s one of my favourite summer dishes). Much to my dismay, she explained to me that she had no real recipe and added ingredients until it “looked right”. After telling me this, she laughed a bit, because she used to get frustrated with my Nan and her approach of “a little bit of this, a touch of that” dishes that were downright impossible for her to recreate.


Mom’s basic potato salad.

So Mom and I set aside some time at the cottage this summer to measure all her ingredients and record everything that she did to make her potato salad. This one of her most often-requested potluck or barbecue dinner dishes, and indeed, it got rave reviews when I made her recipe for the most recent potluck. As a bonus, it is both simple and a great make-ahead dish. Actually, it’s easier to prepare the ingredients a day ahead, then combine them into the final dish on the day it will be served. It takes the pressure off of hosting when you know that at least one dish is ready and waiting in the fridge.


Mom’s potato salad made fancier by leaving the potato skins on and including bacon bits.

Mom’s Potato Salad
Makes about 7 cups of salad

You will need:
6 cups potatoes (any variety) cut into bite-sized pieces
This recipe works well with both older and new potatoes. With older potatoes, peel before cutting. With new, thin-skinned potatoes, wash them and leave the skins on before cutting.
Place the potatoes into a large pot and cover with water. Boil potatoes until they are soft enough to be pierced by a fork, but not yet mushy. Drain and refrigerate in a covered container until cool (this can be done overnight).
While the potatoes are cooking, hard-boil:
6 large or extra-large eggs
Place eggs into cold water until they are cool to the touch. If assembling the salad the next day, the eggs can be left in their shells in the fridge overnight.
Place the cooled potatoes into a large mixing bowl. Peel the eggs. Cut up 4 of the 6 eggs into bite-sized pieces (usually eighths or smaller), setting the two most aesthetically pleasing eggs aside as topping.
To the potatoes and eggs add:
1 cup mayonnaise*
1 tsp table salt
1 tsp yellow mustard
3 Tbsp finely chopped green onion or chives
Optionally, you may add:
(375g package of low-salt bacon, cooked and chopped into bits)**
Mix well until all ingredients are evenly coated.
Scoop the salad into a serving dish, or simply serve in the mixing bowl for informal gatherings. Optionally, you may lightly sprinkle over the salad for looks:
(a dash of paprika)
Cut into quarters the 2 eggs you set aside. Arrange the eggs at the center of the salad in a sunburst pattern.
Serve.
This recipe may easily be multiplied in order to serve a larger number of people.


Mom’s fancy potato salad.

*Regular, olive oil, reduced-fat, or reduced-fat olive oil mayonnaise are all acceptable. However, do NOT use salad dressing or Miracle Whip, the flavour is all wrong in this dish.

**If you add reduced-salt bacon, halve the amount of salt in the recipe. I prefer the reduced-salt kind, but if you have to use regular bacon, don’t add any salt at all.

At The Park

There are a lot of public parks in the Ottawa area; a lot of them even have splash pads and water features. This means that if you’re looking to do something with the kids (or even just to get outside yourself), there is always somewhere to go and something to do — so long as it’s not pouring rain. I take advantage of this on a regular basis. My kids are old enough now to pop off together to the closest park for an hour or two. However, their range is pretty small (they only just learned to ride bikes without training wheels earlier this summer), and I wouldn’t feel comfortable with them going much further or crossing major roads alone in any case. So whenever it’s nice out and the girls are getting restless, I head out to a park.


Brewer Park


Knitting at Cardinal Creek Community Park. That day I was working on the start of an adult sock in Araucania Yars Huasco 100% extra-fine Merino wool (colour 101, dye lot 74403) on 3.5mm circular knitting needles.

We alternate between parks, sometimes staying close to home, sometimes packing a lunch and driving downtown or even across town to check out some new scenery. I stuff a novel, a knitting project, and my phone into my purse, which is enough to keep me entertained for hours. No matter where we go, I also have to bring about a tonne of sunscreen. It probably hasn’t escaped anyone that I’m a blonde and my kids are redheads, so sunscreen is not an option, it’s a necessity. The kids invariably come home soaking wet, exhausted, and happy. To me, that’s a successful summer day.

Gifts of Food

I love to give food as gifts. I figure that everyone has to eat. Even those people it’s really hard to buy/make gifts for, those people who seem to have everything they need or want (or have expensive tastes way out of my budget), food is something that they constantly need to purchase. It is, after all, a consumable.

So I give food as gifts for birthdays, Christmas, and other special occasions. I try to keep the recipients’ tastes and food sensitivities/allergies in mind, of course, although sometimes I know I don’t quite get it right (but that can happen with any kind of gift, really). I always label all of my homemade food with every ingredient I’ve used, just in case I’ve missed or forgotten something. I like giving hard-to-find items that may require a trip to a specialty store, or foods sold as part of fundraisers. When it comes to home cooking, casseroles and baked goods are traditional. Additionally, I especially like giving home-canned goods, because I can do large batches when the food is in season and dole it out over the rest of the year. Canned goods are especially good when I don’t know when the recipient will want to actually eat the food, since shelf-stable canned goods last a year or more. There’s always a lot of food involved in holidays anyway, so I can’t always assume that a gift will be consumed immediately; to this end, foods that freeze well are also a great option.


A recent gift of food: Mikado milk chocolate biscuit sticks, Maple and Oatmeal Loaf (Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf (Jennie Shapter, 2002), page 95), and Girl Guide cookies (chocolate/vanilla mix). Not packaged very prettily, I know, but it had to survive a ride on the back of my bike.

I also like to give food to people I care about who are going through a rough time. A new baby in the home (a joyous occasion, but a time-consuming and stressful time as well), a death of a loved one, illness, marital troubles… In this case it’s less of a matter of celebration, and more a matter of trying to help out. When you’re in the middle of personal difficulties, the last thing on your mind is eating properly. You have neither time nor inclination to cook, so you rely on whatever is cheapest and easiest, which isn’t sustainable in the long run. I want to help out, but in so many cases there’s not much I can really do to fix the problem. I feel helpless, and I hate to see someone I care about hurting, so I fall back on making food — something I know I can help with. I want to show that I care, but I don’t want to intrude, and popping by to drop off a casserole or a loaf of bread only takes a few minutes.

Where did this mindset come from? Is it regional? Familial? Personal? I’m not sure. I’m from Maritime stock, and I’m told this is very common on the East Coast (also the Southern USA, but I don’t have any ties there). I grew up around potluck gatherings of every kind, that’s for sure. I’m pretty sure my paternal grandmother was of the traditional “bring food around” mindset; possibly it’s part of the whole “hostess gift” tradition? Whatever the reason, what I’m trying to do with a gift of food is show that I care, and that I want to make your life easier, if only for one meal. And hey, if I end up giving you a dish that you absolutely despise, I was trying, okay?