Thursday, 27 October 2011

48 Momths - The tale of two parties

And then we were four.......



























































































 


















Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Dinner Last Night - Chicken Tortilla Soup

It is strange to me that I have never made this before.  It is exactly the kind of thing I love but for some reason I have just never made it.  Even stranger, there are the millions of variations of essentially the same dish.  I suppose they all have slightly different flavours but they are all called Chicken Tortilla Soup and have the same core ingredients - chicken, chicken broth, and tomatoes - but from there the ingredients run the gamut from black beans to Italian salad dressing?  So keeping all these recipes in mind I made one up of my own.  It went like this. (prices in brackets)

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (maybe $.25)
  • 1 medium onion, diced (I buy organic so maybe $.50)
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic ($.25)
  • 1 jalapeno, finely diced (free out of my garden)
  • 6 cups chicken stock (1 1/2 organic tetra packs at $1.50 each = $2.25)
  • 1 jar of my homemade canned tomatoes (I figured out they cost me about $1 each)
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained ($1.49)
  • 1 can of corn kernels, rinsed and drained(1.49)
  • 6 chicken thighs, boneless and skinless ($7.49)
  • 2 limes, juiced, plus wedges for garnish ($.99)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper 
  • 1 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro leaves ($.99)
  • 4 (8-inch) corn tortillas, toasted, cut into thin strips (These are a gluten free sprouted corn tortilla.  They aren't cheap but you don't eat many.  The pack has 9 and we toasted 4-5, a pack is approx $4.00, we used $3.00 worth lets say)
  • 1 avocado, pitted, sliced ($1.00)
  • 1 cup shredded Monterrey cheese ($1.50)
  • 1 cup thick set yogurt ($1.00)
  • 2 tablespoons chilli powder ($.25)
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika ($.10)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne (optional)
Total = $23.55/4 adult servings and 4 kids servings = $2.94/serving

Directions

In a large saucepan, over medium, heat the olive oil. Add the onions and cook for 2 minutes. Once the onions have softened add the garlic and jalapeno and cook for another minute. Pour the chicken broth, tomatoes, corn, beans, chilli powder and paprika into the pot and bring to a boil. Once at a boil lower heat to simmer and add your chicken. Cook the chicken for 15 to 20 minutes. Once chicken is cooked remove from pot. When cool enough to handle, shred or chop it up and add back into the soup. Add the juice of one lime and fresh cilantro to the pot. Let simmer for 5 minutes and then ladle into serving bowls. Top with a lime wedge, toasted tortilla strips, avocado slices, cheese and a blob of yogurt (I completely combined the yogurt into the soup for the kids.  It calms any spicy and acid from the tomatoes) For the adults I made a side plate with toppings for everyone to 'self top'



Everyone really liked this.  The kids asked for it for lunch the next day which is always a good sign and Big Daddy announced after dinner that he "would eat that again".



Kids bowl with yogurt mixed in






Monday, 24 October 2011

Something I am proud of

Something I am very proud of and have always stuck to my guns about in the face of much criticism, judgment and push to do otherwise.

Gabe's is the same





















We have never wavered on this decision or wondered if we should do otherwise. The more I learn the more resolute I am in our decision and nothing will change my mind.  I get very honest and sincere questions about this choice and as a result I am going to make a page here with lots of reference materials, articles and medical journal links for your own perusal.  I am offering up an opportunity to read and educate yourself on vaccines NOT picking a fight or looking to have one picked with me.  When it comes to this subject I live by the rule "You don't have to attend every argument you are invited to" and if it's a fight you are looking for, you have come to the wrong place.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Almost Back to your Regularly Scheduled Programming

Well maybe not quite yet but maybe I can see the forest through the trees?  I am getting closer to being able to take a deep breath and be more in the moment (yes thank you Eckhart Tolle, Buddha and even Oprah for the idea) but in practice....well life has been far to busy to stop and smell much but my need for a chance to shower.

I know it sounds cliche but my life is getting in the way of my life.  We have been so bloody busy that resentment is starting to build.  With every invitation or obligation to attend another event I get mad and stressed. I don't like it when you start to live your life in 'reactionary mode'.  That frantic kind of decision making that is based purely on getting it done and out of the way not with any thought or consideration.  Nothing healthy can come from a life in this mode for any length of time.

We have been running on fumes since our return from our holiday down south.  September was insane with an aunts visit, the kids starting school, a seminar, our wedding anniversary, Parent Association Meeting, TPOMBA meeting, Big Daddy's weekly hockey league starting up, 2 evening school events, School photo day,  2 kids birthday parties, 2 doctors appointments, 4 hair cuts (3 appointments), 3 play dates, me throwing my back out, a date night for us, a school bake sale to bake for, moving the kids into proper single beds from toddler beds and reorganizing their room, close to 20 hours of volunteer work for me and Big Daddy helping out a friend at an event all day.  This is just what was added on to our regular day to day of meals, laundry, and work.

October hasn't slowed down with 2 kids birthday parties, 3 meetings, a convention, Gabe starting Fluency Treatment, 1 evening at the school event, 1 doctors appointment, Thanksgiving weekend away, getting Chicken Pox, trying to finish up the great furniture and stuff reorganize, the grandparents coming to stay for a week and now the twins fourth birthday next week...complete with not one but TWO parties for me to plan. This mingled with on-going work, housework, and the occasional need to bathe myself.

I am tired.  Not the kind of tired where I need more sleep, I have been sleeping really well for the most part, but where I need to shut my brain off or put it in idle for a couple of days.

I maybe deluding myself about things slowing down after their birthday.  I am trying to launch a new business so chances are slim that I will ever get to slow down and idle for many many years but I am hoping to get to the point where I can schedule things a bit more efficiently and know when and what time of day will be dedicated to writing and recipe development but for now......maybe I am living in the moment....a series of unplanned chaotic moments that I just have to learn to surrender to.  Great, now I'll add 'learn to surrender' to my to do list.....fuck you Oprah.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Like Candy

There are very few candy products that I like.  Even as a child I would always choose chips or baked goods over candy.  And there must be something genetically wrong with me because I am not a fan of chocolate.  Not in the way that most women are.  I only started to understand the addiction when I tried really high end chocolate from Switzerland.....other than that.....meh.

It goes without saying that we don't have any candy in the house.  I do make desserts, I love baking. Usually gluten free and sugar free but full fat (healthy fats) and full on flavour.  And I make ice cream. I will get to those recipes at some point but this is about candy....healthy candy

If I liked any candy as a kid, it was grape flavoured.  And I always love love loved Welsh's Grape Juice.  My mom would buy the frozen can and I would make a pitcher of it but with 3 cans of water instead of the called for 4 cans.  I loved that slightly thick intense grape flavour.  That grape juice is made with Concord grapes.  When I found that out I asked mom to buy some concord grapes at the grocery store and I was disappointed to find out that not only do they have seeds but their skin is thick and hard to chew.  The thing is I loved the flavour so much I ate them till I had a stomach ache.

I think it was when visiting with a friend that I first tried frozen grapes.  It was a hot day and their mom pulled them out of the freezer for us to munch on.  Just red seedless grapes but they had gotten extra sweet being frozen and the texture was unbelievable.  It gave me the idea of freezing my much beloved Concords.

They are better than you can imagine.  It was like eating a grape popcicle with a slightly chewer texture. I ate gallons of them.  My fingers, lips, mouth and teeth turned purple, my stomach hurt and I don't think I had a solid poop for a week! But I loved them.  Luckily for my guts, Concord grapes are only available in the fall but I look forward to buying them every year to freeze.  This year when they came out I noticed a new bluey purple grape beside them on the shelf.  It looked the same, maybe a bit smaller in size but they right colour for that grapejuice grape candy flavour I like so much. Coronation Grapes? Never heard of them....and they were organic (which most Concord grapes aren't) so I got some.

OMG!!! They are the seedless (almost seedless really, some have little mini seeds in them) thinner skinned sister to Concord grapes!!  I have tried despretely to get them into the freezer so my kids can try how good a frozen grape can be (I felt up until now they were probably too much of a chocking hazard) but we keep eating them all.  My lips are numb, my fingernails purple and my stomach hurts but I can't stop.  I only eat other things because I know I should and reward myself for eating the other thing with some Coronation Grapes.  The season will be over soon and I will have eaten my fair share.....who am I kidding....the city of Toronto's fair share!!...but hopefully there will be a little stash in the freezer...one that I haven't told the rest of the family about.....what's wrong with me?

The snack while I write this.
Frozen Grapes 


I know it seems crazy to give a recipe for this but there is a slight trick to it.  Rinse the grapes well but then let them dry well.  De-stem them and throw them in a zip-lock bag.  If they are really dry you don't have to worry about them freezing together into a huge lump which you really don't want.  Let them freeze solid.  You may need to break them up a little by crunching up the bag.  For kids freeze seedless easy to eat grapes.  I am not a big fan of how seedless green grapes freeze but try out a couple of different kinds and see what you like. BUT you HAVE to try frozen Coronation Grapes!!

*Frozen grapes are a wonderful feverish kid snack without the lowering the immune system sugar (did you know that as little as 1/4 tsp of sugar can lower your immune system for up to 48 hours?  Makes you wonder why kids cold meds are so full of sugar)



Saturday, 15 October 2011

THE POX!!

I have a bunch of half written 'draft' posts I haven't had time to get to.  I am MIA due to a chicken pox outbreak.  On Thursday the school sent home a letter of warning.  Public Health had received notice of a possible case of Chicken Pox in the twins' school.  The same day, they sent Miss Bea home early with about 6 spots on her back.   They looked like bug bites but as the day progressed she started getting a fever and then started vomiting, not often but about every 8-12 hours. We are now on day three of home sick kids.  Bea seems to have a true case of them and other than the vomiting has a pretty classic case for her age group but Gabe has only really had a fever and chesty wet cough.  Gabe's fever is now gone and Bea's is just a low grade today although yesterday she got pretty hot.  She hasn't been eating but taking fluids.  I am packing them full of Grapefruit Seed extract, vitamin D, vitamin C and sleep.  I am hoping the worst of it is over.

I really thought that getting chicken pox would be more difficult.  I mean getting the kids them, not having them, and I would actively have to seek it out.  One month into school and here we are.  I was also pleasantly surprised what a casual approach the city and school board have taken.  I thought that like most virus' that Big Pharma have tried to get 'disease designation' there would be more of an uproar or fuss.  Parents seemed to be meeting my expectations of 'outraged' when the rumours started on Tuesday blaming parents that don't vaccinate for CP but the school doesn't even have a policy of sending the kids home unless they are too sick to be there.  The send home said:
"Staying home from school or daycare is not necessary if a child feels well enough. The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends that a child with mild chicken pox who is able to participate normally in all activities should be allowed to return to school even if they still have a rash. Chicken pox is most contagious one to two days through coughing and sneezing before the rash appears. It is usually too late to prevent exposure to classmates and teachers"

I really appreciate the lack of fear mongering here.  It was a nice surprise.  I just hope that parents have the same reaction now that the letter has gone out.....I have yet to see them since the outbreak and not at all since my kids got them!!


I was also forwarded this interesting study about CP and death in children.  This study shows that the deaths are actually from a drug reaction/interaction or complications from Chicken Pox not from the pox themselves. The conclusion is that if the parents had chosen to do nothing and let the CP ride it's course then these kids may not have died.  That is a scary prospect!!

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Cook Book, Food Book Heaven

This summer when we headed down south I was sad to find out that the terrible US economy had claimed the life of Walden Books.  Originally it's own chain but then sold to Walmart who merge it with Borders and now it is gone....

I always really liked Walden Books.  There was one in the mall my grandmother would go to often and I would sometimes hang out in Walden while she picked something up in Belks or the like.  They were smaller stores and you would get to know the people that worked there.  They kept me well stocked in Sweet Valley High books in my Tween years.

Anyway I have to admit that I reaped the rewards of this death.  I shopped there 3 times in the two weeks we were in North Carolina.  The closing sale prices were out of control, so much cheaper than you can imagine.....75% off something already 75% off......so it goes without saying that I went crazy in the cook book section.  I also picked up a few novels, like a new copy of the 7th and final book in the Harry Potter series which I lent to someone and never got back, but it was the prices on generally expensive cook books that made me squeal, and cry and more embarrassingly jump up and down in the store.



Here is some of the stash

Food Matters by Mark Bittman
Jamie's Food Revolution by Jamie Oliver
Larousse Gastronomique
Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume 2 by Julia Child & Simone Beck
The Art of Charcuterie by Jane Grigson

I also took home a couple of cook books from our house there.  My grandfather was quite an amazing cook and like me collected cookbooks and recipes.  He was the one who got me interested in cooking and food in the first place by assigning me jobs in the kitchen while he cooked.  He made a beef stroganoff  that made me appreciate mushrooms....something I abhor to this day (who wants to eat something that has the texture of bug bodies?)  He got me to enjoy the flavour of them and now depending on the dish and if they are cook properly I love them (most people cook them wrong) The point is that he had the same love of food possibility that I have. The satisfaction that after a bad day you can come home a create something to feed and nourish your family.  Knowing that all those cook books on your walls are filled with the possibility of great night, great meals, happiness and love.

So I stole some of the 'possibilities' from our house there.....I am currently the only real foodie in the family that would truly appreciate them and I was reading them while I was down there and I wasn't quite done.  Besides a couple of them were being eaten by mice.....

*The Honey Kitchen edited by Dadant & Sons
*The Picayune Creole CookBook
*La Technique by Jacques Pepin


I went through most of the books there....seeing if I could find a page that had some evidence of use. Some oil stain or food covered finger print.  I wanted to know which recipes my grandfather made, which ones he thought were good and worth making again.  It made me miss him again...knowing how much there was left to learn from him....how much there was to admire.  He was the one that created a strong sense of family in my family.  He was the glue.  He was the one who made sure that traditions were kept, celebrations were had and connections to far away cousins never lost.  And he would cook.  Grand meals for many many people.  And never simple stuff, he always made real meals that involved a lot of time and love.  I can only hope that my commitment to food and the feeling left from this commitment leave the same imprint that my grandfathers show of love did. I hope that it creates some glue and sense of strong family because my kids need that too

Friday, 7 October 2011

Dinner Last Night: Chicken Cacciatore

I am much more of a warm/hot weather person than a cold weather person.  I hate winter clothes and I LOATHE socks.  There is only one aspect of cooler weather that I like.....the change in the menu.  We go from eating grilled meats and salads like chick pea or watermelon to roasts, curries, baking and canning tomatoes.  I love this change to warmer, spicier, comfort food.

This past weekend was my Father-in-Laws birthday.  We were just finishing up two weeks of busy hell here with various crazy obligations every day along with the regular day to day do tos.  I love being busy and really do believe that if you want something done ask a busy person to do it.....and I don't mean that I delegate everything because I almost always just do things myself....but that I am always amazed by how much we can accomplish even when we don't think we have time to do anything.

I had spent all of Friday night setting up a huge charity clothing sale for the twins group I belong to. (I love working on it.  It is hard work but I love the ladies (hi Tamara!) and have so much fun doing it.) And again working with them running the sale early Saturday morning.  I rushed from the sale to another kid's birthday party where Big Daddy and the kids already were, elbow deep in cake.  We made it home in time for an early dinner and bed time. I woke up Sunday knowing that we were hosting lunch/dinner and a little birthday celebration for the FIL.  It had already been a long weekend (but not in the extra day kinda way) and I can't say I was dying to get cooking or cleaning.  Luckily Big Daddy had taken care of the dessert making some GF fudgy brownies.  He also got some whipping cream and strawberries to top it off.  So all I had to do was the lunch/dinner.

I make a point of stocking up on certain meats when they go on sale.  Chicken thighs is one of those items.  I am NOT a fan of dark meat usually but I can handle thighs because they are a nice mix of both light and dark meat, they mix beautifully into stews, soups and saucy chicken dishes without getting a tough over cooked texture like breasts can do.  Our local organic butcher will often sell 6-8 thighs (depending on size) for approximately $15.  You can get this much cheaper if you choose not to use organic.

(I have been thinking of adding to my recipes the relative costs....how to feed a family of four an all organic, high quality, gluten-free, whole foods diet as cheaply as possible....does that sound helpful? interesting? necessary? a waste of time?  I will test it out with this recipe and see what the feed back is)

This meal, this Chicken Cacciatore is a gluten free version (some recipes lightly dust the chicken in flour), it is made with a cheaper cut of meat albeit not a lower quality one, it is the family friendly version (meaning meat is already off the bone and the dish is ready to serve the kids without  any extra prep)

Here is what you need


3-4 tbsps Olive Oil (maybe 50 cents)
6-8 boneless, skinless Chicken Thighs, sliced into strips and salt and peppered ($15)
2 796 ml cans of Plum Tomatoes, one entire can and one drained of its liquid. (I used 2 jars of my own canned tomatoes.  My end cost on these is about $1 each)
2 med Sweet Peppers, diced (I have been buying the local which are in season, approx $1.50)
1 lg Yellow Onion, diced (I always buy organic onions (google Dirty Dozen) so they are pretty pricey compared to regular $1.50)
4 cloves of Garlic (50 cents-ish)
1/2 tsp Dried Thyme (maybe 5 cents)
3 cups White or Brown Basmati Rice (I try to get brands of rice that I know don't use a GMO'd grain.  I like Lundburg brand a lot but can only afford their non-organic on sale and their organic is out of the question.  If using Lundburg $3.00, Organic Bulk $2.50 or regular, probably less than $1
7 cups Chicken Stock or Water (I prefer rice cooked in stock and because I will only use organic chicken anything this can be pretty pricey so I do a half and half thing.  I used one 900 mL tetra pack of stock ($1.50)and topped up my liquid with water)
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp Cayenne optional

In a large pan over medium high heat saute the onions and peppers in 2 tbsps of the olive oil.  Just as they soften add the garlic being careful no to let it burn. Once soft remove from pan.  Add the remainder of the oil and add the chicken.  Let the chicken sear and brown a little. This will save it from falling apart when the liquid is added in later.  Once all the chicken has changed colour but without letting it cook through, add back in the onions, peppers and garlic and 1 cup of the chicken stock.  Bring to a simmer and add the tomatoes and thyme.  From here let it simmer until the rice is ready.


First rinse rice well with cold water.  Rice should always be washed before cooking.  This washes away any non food, small rocks, dirt and starch.  Wash until the water is relatively clear.  I use a rice steamer so I can just add the rice and liquid (in this case 3 cups of rice, the remainder of the chicken stock, which was just less than 3 cups and 3 cups of water) and turn it on.  If you are using a pot there is a great trick to perfect rice.  Start the same with the rice and liquid in the pot and bring to a boil. Once boiling turn the heat down as low as your burner will go.  Make a tight seal with a piece of tin foil between your pot and the lid.  Leave it like this for 20 minutes then turn the heat off and let sit for 5 minutes.  Remove the lid and very carefully remove the tin foil and fluff rice with a fork.

Serve some rice topped with Chicken Cacciatore.


Now this fed 6 people very well.....for $25.00.  This could have been dinner twice or a lunch and a dinner for our family of 4.  A full organic/local/whole foods meal for $12.50

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

How to Cook Gluten Free Noodles

One of the first things you think when you 'go gluten free' is all the stuff you can't eat.  And if you focus hard enough on that you can make the whole thing a nightmare.  One of the fastest ways to make yourself unhappy is to try to replace all your old eats with gluten free versions.  You are only going to be disappointed, miserable and hungry.  There really are only a few things that I had to find a decent replacement for and noodles is one of them.  I have two kids of course I need noodles in the house!!

So here is a 'how to' on rice noodles so you won't be disappointed, miserable and never hungry.

Don't try to make classically Italian dishes with the Asian style rice noodle.  The Asian style is thin and usually made with a white rice.  These need to be flash cooked and are never served swimming in a sauce like spaghetti.  Find a nice, preferably organic brown rice noodle.  I like the penne and rotini best.  I find the spaghetti or long noodle version of these rice noodles pretty lame and have an alternate substitute for that...more on that later.

You want to cook these noodles in much more water than you would cook wheat noodles.  They need to have some of their starch cooked out of them. I would say in half again the amount of water (so if you would cook the wheat version in 6 cups of water, then cook these in 9 cups) .  Cook normally, letting the salted water boil before adding the noodles.  Ignore the cooking times listed on the bag....I find they are all way longer than needed.  Boil, stirring occasionally until when bitten the noodle has a soft texture but still firm in the middle.  You want it to to undercooked enough that it makes your teeth stick together a little. At this point drain them and stop the cooking by rinsing them with cold water.  If you don't rinse them they will cool in to a lump.  You need to get the starch off.  Finish the cooking and warm them up by tossing them in the sauce you are serving them in.  Don't let them cook like this, just get them nice and hot.  Then serve.

When cooked like this you will never miss wheat pasta.  Now a year and a half gluten free I have a hard time remembering what the difference is.

Grilled vegetable pasta with tomatoes

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Dinner Last Night - Fried Rice

Have I already mentioned it but I threw my back out on Thursday afternoon?....while cleaning behind my toilet.  Because cleaning your toilet isn't insulting enough.

The really tough part of this injury is that it has happened during a crazy busy couple of weeks in this house.  A couple of doctors appointments, a court date, 2 kids birthday parties, a couple of play dates, a hair cut for me, Curriculum night at the kids school (that I volunteered to help out at and bake cupcakes to sell), Big Daddy's weekly hockey game, 2 meetings for me, two days of volunteer work with another group and Big Daddy helping a friend at an event one evening.  As parents we haven't been home at the same time other than to sleep for going on two weeks.  As soon as I get home from my obligation Daddy rushes out the door to his.  We have been playing tag team super parents. Luckily we are near the end of that craziness and next weekend we are going away for a family Thanksgiving....please be relaxing!!

I just finished two days of volunteer work mostly bent to one side and avoiding certain movements.  I managed pretty well and actually found the tail end of it when I was sitting the hardest part on my back.  I went from my 7 am to 12:30 shift to meeting up with my family at a 3 year old's birthday party.  By the time we got home (around 3) I couldn't imagine cooking up a big dinner so it became a 'do something fantastic with your leftovers....the left overs?  Rice and green beans from the trout dinner a couple of days ago.  I didn't have time to attempt a protein that wasn't super fast and I knew we had some shrimp in the freezer that needed to be eaten so I made fried rice!

Coconutty Shrimp Fried Rice

4-5 tbsps of Coconut oil, in this case you want the coconut flavour so get one that isn't very refined(I love Nutiva)
2 large carrots, peeled, quartered and sliced
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium sweet pepper, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp minced fresh ginger
Approximately 3-4 cups of cooked rice.  (In this case I used a Basmati that I cooked in chicken stock) Best if it is a couple of days old and a little dry.
3 tbsps Soy sauce or to taste
1 lbs raw, shelled and de-veined shrimp
The juice of one lime



  1. Put your shrimp in a bowl and squeeze most of the juice from one lime over the shrimp and set aside.
  2. In a large pan or wok heat the coconut oil over medium heat.  Once all melted add the onions, peppers, carrots, garlic and ginger and let it all simmer and soften.
  3. When the vegetables are almost soft turn the heat up to medium high.  Once hot add the shrimp and any liquid from the bottom of the bowl. Let the shrimp start to pink up but don't let them cook completely.
  4. Add the rice, and incorporate everything but allowing the ingredients to fry up a little on the bottom of the pan before turning
  5. Sprinkle on soy sauce and any remainder of lime juice.
























You might notice that my fried rice is more about the ingredients than it is about rice.  The coconutty slight lime flavoured shrimp with the sweet veg and salty soy.  It is veg heavy, healthy fat and really yummy.  This time I took a picture of Gabe's plate.  He had two servings and I didn't have to do much to make sure we had a healthy dinner in about 20 minutes.....and you can do it with s steep lean to one side!