In the Knitting Weeds

This morning we discovered that Candy Cane must have gotten into my knitting cupboard, since she was all tangled up in my sock yarn leftovers:

I have to admit that I’m feeling a bit like how Candy Cane looks at the moment. I’m in the knitting weeds, as it were. There are 12 days left until Christmas and I’m only halfway through the second stocking. Granted, most of my holiday shopping and other making is already complete, which is what has been eating into my time, but I was hoping to finish all four stockings in time for Christmas Eve. And much as I love knitting, I’m no speedster like the Yarn Harlot, although I don’t think I have her level of experience either.

And yet I remain sure that I can get it all done, despite not yet having picked out my own yarn. Mine will be the last one knit in any case. I think I can, I think I can…

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.”

Family Sushi Night

One thing we share as a family is that every single one of us loves sushi. However, we do differ as to which one is our favourite — the best bribe ever to use on Thing 1 is salmon nigiri, while Thing 2 is a big fan of a California roll or any maki with shrimp tempura in it, my husband prefers hand rolls (temaki), while I actually like sashimi (just the fish/seafood), possibly with a bowl of rice on the side to fill me up.

That being said, I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me before now to make sushi at home. I used to do it all the time in high school and as a young adult; I actually hosted a few dinner parties where we all rolled our own sushi. However, it is very time consuming for one person to make a family’s worth, and I guess I just set it aside until I thought the kids were old enough to help me out. But the kids are both old enough now to assemble their own soft tacos or burritos, and sushi uses many of roughly the same techniques, so I thought it was time to give it a go.

Last night I made up a big pot of sushi rice and cut up all kinds of toppings: smoked salmon, cooked shrimp, scrambled egg with a bit of mirin mixed in, cucumber, carrots, and avocado. Then I dug out one rolling mat per person and let everyone assemble their own sushi.

The nice thing about making sushi this way is that everyone can have it just how they like it, although probably not as pretty as they’d like it, that comes with a heck of a lot of practice. I find it surprising that a lot of people around here still assume that sushi automatically equals raw fish, when it’s really all about the vinegared rice. You can top it or roll it with just about anything you’d like. You can even avoid fish or even all animal products altogether, although the purists may take objection to that. But let’s be honest, purists aren’t going to be rolling sushi at home with their six-year-old, they’re going to be paying a very skilled professional chef to create the perfect mouthfuls.

I really liked the combination of the saltiness of the smoked salmon with the sweet egg and the crunch of cucumber.

The egg-and-shrimp roll I made could have used a little more punch; perhaps I should pick up some spicy Japanese mayo for next time?

My husband’s rolls generally turned out nicer-looking than mine, except, of course, when I went to take a picture. His egg, cucumber, and shrimp roll tasted pretty good, though.

After a couple of messy (if tasty) attempts at maki sushi rolls, the girls tried their hands at hand rolls, which are the closest in assembly to a taco, which is where there experience lies.

We had a really good time making and eating this dinner, and I’m starting to think I should have introduced homemade sushi long before now. I loved watching the kids’ faces light up when I told them that we could actually make sushi at home. Not only that, but it’s a pretty healthy meal that’s infinitely customizable. We are definitely going to do this again, and soon. It needs to become a regular thing in my house again.

Comfort Food for a Sick Family

The cold/flu that flattened our family for a good three weeks seemed to have gone away, but over the last few days it reared its nasty head again, albeit in a more subdued form. Thing 1 ended up home with a fever, while at the same time Thing 2 has a nasty, chesty cough. I am not immune, and still have sinus congestion and pressure issues. This means that, on our least-energetic days, we all want comfort food, and I haven’t felt up to cooking anything complicated.

This is where chicken noodle soup came in the other day. I didn’t even have to go out to get the ingredients! I had homemade broth in the freezer (I try to always keep it stocked), along with some chicken thighs that I baked. Then I boiled up some ditali noodles, threw them in a pot with half of the broth and half of the chicken, and there was chicken noodle soup for the family. Earlier in the day I also managed to throw on a loaf of herb-free Bread Machine Fluffy Herb Bread (it’s become my go-to loaf for a nice, light white bread), so we had fresh bread to go with the soup.

Now, you may have noticed that I only used half of the broth and chicken, and that was so that I would have leftovers. Chicken noodle soup doesn’t generally refrigerate well because the noodles swell up and absorb most/all of the liquid over time. Instead, I refrigerated the ingredients separately, and last night I threw them all in a pot with a half of a cup of rice and simmered it all together until the rice was cooked (about 20 minutes).

It’s nothing fancy, but culturally our first go-to around here is chicken noodle soup when we’re not feeling well. If chicken noodle soup isn’t available, something bland, nutritious, and warm is the next option on the list. It seems to have worked this time, because the girls are already getting their energy back. I hope this means we’ve managed to kick this thing for good — knock on wood!

The Nightmare Before Christmas Garage

Halloween is all over but for the consumption of vast quantities of candy. Due to rainy weather, we didn’t get as many trick-or-treaters as I thought we would this year, so we have boxes of full-sized candy bars on top of what the kids accumulated. I think I’m going to have to Google “things to make with leftover Halloween candy”.

Of course, after Halloween there’s also lots of cleaning up and packing away to do, but before I get to that I’d like to share my favourite part of this year’s decorations: the Nightmare Before Christmas garage.

You see, this year marks the 25th anniversary of one of my favourite movies (and Thing 2’s all-time fave so far), The Nightmare Before Christmas. I thought that part of my outdoor decor should definitely reflect this fact. I purchased the little Jack Skellington inflatable on the right, and the larger one on the left was a generous gift from a friend. I made the Oogie Boogie “moon” light cover out of a plastic platter, a black Bristol board cut-out, and a yellow light bulb. The “hill” on the garage door was just more Bristol board taped on and cut out in the desired shape, with breaks and slight overlaps between the panels so I could still open and close the door. Honestly, it wasn’t terribly difficult, but I was really happy with it all in all.

As for actual costumes the day of, I wore my Robin Hood: Men in Tights costume during the day, and my Discworld Death to take my kids trick-or-treating at night. Death was very well received by most, although he did frighten a few little ones (he’s enormous, after all). I really did enjoy chasing the teenagers. The kids wore their Borderlands 2 costumes, and they were thrilled when a few people even knew who they were supposed to be.

I’d say that it was a pretty great Halloween.