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.

Ottawa Comiccon: Holiday Edition Costumes

I was planning on going to Ottawa Comiccon: Holiday Edition this weekend, and of course since I’ll take any excuse to wear a costume, I’ll be dressing up. This year I’ll be bringing the kids along, and they have asked to dress up too! I was really hoping to get us all into coordinating costumes, but as of right now theirs kind of look like this:

Really, I only have 1.25 robes left to make and some accessories, but it still feels like so much! I was pretty lucky that I was able to find most of the elements of the costumes around Halloween — some of the parts were even highly discounted on the after sales. The plan is to work with the Anna Jedi costume that I wore last year. I think I can, I think I can…

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.

Halloween Food

One of the things I try to do every year is to send some treats to school with my kids for Halloween. Some years those treats aren’t food, and instead come in the form of seasonal trinkets such as erasers and pencils (especially the stacking point kind because it brings back so many happy memories from my childhood). If I choose to send along food, I prefer for it not to be straight-up candy, since I know that the kids will be getting enough of that when it comes time for trick-or-treating. This year, Thing 2 requested that I whip up another batch of her favourite Graveyard Five-Layer Dip, which was an easy enough wish to grant. But since Thing 1’s favourite thing is, in her words, “chocolate with chocolate in it and chocolate on top,” I had to make something else for her.

I was inspired by Delish’s Pumpkin Patch Brownies for Thing 2’s dish, enough so that I even baked a second batch for her to take to her Girl Guides Halloween party as well. However, I wanted to make the brownies themselves from scratch instead of from a boxed mix. (I generally find that if a boxed mix requires additional eggs, water, and oil, you’re really just paying a lot extra per pound to have someone pre-mix your dried ingredients for you.) I used the Book Club Brownies recipe on page 762 of the Joy of Cooking (75th Anniversary Edition, Rombauer & Becker, 2006). It’s a solid recipe that is based on the Brownies Cockaigne that has appeared in Joy since the original 1931 edition. Since I knew that these brownies would be eaten in a classroom, I opted for making them slightly less messy by not adding the frosting and Oreo “dirt”. Instead, I just traced the “vines” on with green icing and made sure that every square got a pumpkin — since every kid argues about which piece is “better” based on number of toppings.

As can be surmised from my Happy Halloween! post, we also carved our pumpkins this year. In an attempt to waste as little food as possible, I had the girls separate the guts from the seeds while I cleaned out the pumpkins. Then I roasted the seeds with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt, on a sheet pan in the oven for about 30 minutes at 300°F (150°C), checking every ten minutes or so. They turned out lovely and will make a wonderfully crunchy, salty snack while they last. It always surprises me how few seeds you get from a single pumpkin! This is the result of five quite large gourds, and it probably won’t last us a week.