I May Not Be The Best Cook But..

I had a dream, of creating home made meals from scratch, learning to bake more than muffins and having an expertly designed meal plan each week. Reality check. Three kids later and on the average, this doesn’t happen. Most times I scramble, (as a lot of parents do), to make healthy, well-balanced meals. But once in awhile, I surprise even myself.

Last week, I had a craving for pasta. Not whole wheat pasta topped with tomato sauce, the tiny frozen meatballs mixed into the pot. But pasta like I used to prepare, before the kids. The kind where I tossed it with olive oil, added whatever spices I had on hand, vegetables and protein.  Nothing complicated but always good. I would mix and match from different recipes I had learned over the years as I experimented in the kitchen. With a crusty bread and glass of wine, Mr. L and I would sit and enjoy each unique dish. It took him awhile to accept pasta as a main course, for him it had always been a side dish, an afterthought. But when he did, it was a staple each week.

Last week I went for it. I grabbed the remaining regular pasta, (the kind I keep on hand and mix with the whole wheat most of the time), leeks, garlic and some Italian deli meat that needed be used up and set them all out on the countertop. I coated the bottom of the pan with olive oil and caramelized the leeks. Added the garlic, fresh basil, salt and pepper. Threw in the deli meat and let it all simmer down, scraping the bottom of the pot so nothing would burn. The already cooked pasta went in next along with a cup of shredded parmesan cheese. It smelled, heavenly.

Once it was done I slid the whole pot into one of my pasta dishes, used rarely these days, and presented it to the family. They tried it. In a family of three or more kids, if at least one finishes your meal, it’s considered a success. I had two finish it, the third picked at it but ate half. Mr. L finished the whole thing off when he returned home that night from work. I loved it. For the adult dishes, I added a couple of dashes of Turkish Red Pepper, sent directly from a friend who lives overseas straight out of the Turkish spice market.

It was divine. It was like drinking  a cold beer after a long hike, much needed and refreshing. I may not be the best cook or have the prettiest presentation. I will never win Pinterest awards or Instagram mentions for my everyday fare. But, I can whip together a gourmet pasta dish for my family to enjoy.

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Recipe – Quick and Easy Carbonara Twist:

Half package of pasta (I find spaghetti, capellini, spaghettini works well.), Olive Oil, crushed garlic, diced leeks, Italian deli meat (I used pastrami but anything), 2-3 eggs frothed, cup of shredded parmesan cheese, salt and pepper, spice of your choice.

Directions: Boil and cook pasta al dente and set aside but try to keep warm as possible. (I strain the pasta, put it back over the pot to drip and place a lid on top. Keeps pasta moist and warm.)

Coat pot/deep pan with olive oil, add leeks. Simmer until softened. Add garlic. Cook 1-2 minutes. Add deli meat. Throw in salt and pepper. Stir in your spices of choice. Simmer ingredients scraping at bits until all the ingredients are slightly sizzling. Add warmed pasta. Add frothed eggs, toss pasta with all the ingredients in one pot and remove from heat. Cover the pot for a few minutes then add in parmesan cheese, and top with whatever other spices you want. I added the Turkish Red Pepper afterwards for the adults. Egg should be cooked and well mixed. The heat from the pasta and the ingredients will cook the eggs quickly leaving small pieces throughout. Toss together. Serve.

Enjoy!

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The Banana Bread Recipe

Long ago, on a hot summer afternoon in 2005, two professional young woman bantered back and forth on email trying to carve out and finish multiple conversations. One was on maternity leave, the other finding herself, working at a local arts council after leaving a stable corporate job.

Their emails were filled with affection and updates on their days, motherhood, marriage, gossip about friends and weekend plans.

Prior to the onset of civil pleasantries, a recipe for banana bread was shared. A no-fail recipe with chocolate chips. The receiver of the email (me) was spending some time honing her domestic cooking skills and asked one of the great bakers/cooks she knew, her friend L., for the recipe. Now, eleven years is a long time and I cannot remember if I had L.’s banana bread and that’s why the recipe was shared or I was just trying to fill up my empty cooking journal with something that was easy and delicious. Maybe it was because my partner, Mr. L, loves banana bread and I wanted to make something special. The reason is not very important really, what matters is that today, in February 29, 2016, that reciepe exists.

Folded neatly into a cooking reference book my grandmother made years ago to store recipe and meal ideas (perhaps hoping I would turn out to be a domestic wonder in the kitchen), the recipe comes out every so often. Still printed on the same paper, it brings a smile to my face each time I use it as I wonder if L. knows how much I reread one of our hundreds of emails to each other over the years and use this long ago shared recipe.

Just last week, I pulled the recipe out and asked myself,  “Why can’t I commit this recipe to memory?” After all, I’ve been making it for 11 years, yet, for some reason it will not stick in my brain. The banana bread produced each time has been a hit with my now three children, friends and family members. It is often requested by people who have tried it.

I realized at last, on a cold day last week, I really don’t want to memorize the recipe. If I did, that would mean I would have no need for the paper, or be able to read the email exchange written beneath. I wouldn’t smile remembering that person long ago who had just found out she was pregnant after a long year and a half of trying, had visited her friend L. and her little girl so happy for all of them and was just starting to orient herself in a new community. A woman nearing thirty who was battling tiredness, loss of appetite and the heat.

So instead, I kept it. I tried not to spill anything on it and as soon as I’m done it goes back into the special recipe binder. I have treasured this piece of paper and the person who took time out of her busy day as a new mama to send her friend a Banana Bread Email .

For those who want an easy, no-fail banana bread recipe, I give you my friend’s Banana Bread recipe. Take it from a parent of three or more kids, it is delicious and it is a keeper.

Banana Bread Recipe

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup butter

3/4 cup brown sugar

2 eggs, beaten

2 1/3 cups mashed overripe bananas (can substitute half with applesauce in a pinch, still tastes good)

Chocolate chips – optional – quantity determined as desired

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease a 9.5 inch loaf pan. (I use butter but whatever you want.) In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar. Stir in eggs and mashed bananas until well blended. Stir banana mixture into flour mixture; stir just to moisten. Pour batter in prepared loaf pan. Bake in preheated oven for 60-65 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into centre of the loaf comes out clean. Let bread cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.

Enjoy!

 

Thinking Ahead – Switch How You Meal Plan

Entering the month of August, (Here I will throw up my hands and try to excuse a lengthy hiatus from this blog but such is June and July in our little world, busy with a capital “B!”) a parent of three or more kids begins to sweat. Or perhaps panic is a better word. Their minds race plotting out fall schedules, back to school shopping and how to keep delightful children entertained for another four weeks. If you are back to work after some vacation time you are desperately trying to catch up while juggling various camp options.

If you’re like me, with three young school aged kids (or more!) you still glance at the huge amount of articles and Facebook posts hitting your computer screen. “Plan now!” “Set your schedule!” “Get on track for Fall with these tools!” You may or may not have learned to weed through the crap and bookmark the ones you will read later, maybe. Most of the guilt you used to carry about being super prepared vanished over the last five years. But yet, you still make a half-hearted attempt to plan. To at least have a map to follow when the days get dark and you can’t stand seeking out the perfect backpack for your eldest child because the one she was given earlier this year just isn’t the right one.

Then the messages from the mom’s group you joined a while back start. Women in similar situations with multiple kids pleading for advice on how to manage lunches and back to school shopping and still keep your sanity. You realize you are  not alone.

From one of these boards one mom posted this question:

“Okay I’m going crazy with menus and grocery shopping. How do you plan your meals. Any good websites that post weekly or monthly menus. Ughhhhh please help!”

Lots of ladies started posting links to multiple websites, suggestions on how to manage a meal plan. All great advice and resources. But one post caught my eye.

“I plan backwards from most people. The grocery store plans for me. I look at what’s on sale in the meat department, then see what’s on sale I can add to that to make meals. I save a lot of money and stress this way.”

I couldn’t believe what I read. Someone else bucked the trend of being utterly prepared at all times? An alternative to the huge amount of time and work that is menu planning? No way!

You see I realized something the last few years. No matter how much I try to plan ahead, something always buggers it up. It’s like an unseen force makes things a touch difficult to mess with me. Then I feel like a failure at this whole domestic stay at home mom deal, wallow in self-pity and get right back on the crazy train. A vicious cycle.

With specific attention to meal planning, I tried different apps on my wonderful device tethered to my hip this past year and combined it with a written monthly menu board. Not surprisingly, I made nothing that I planned for. Out of pure frustration, I attempted a whole different approach. I picked a day of the week where, unless there is an emergency, I go grocery shopping. The same day. (Yeah, yeah. My grandmother did it this way too..but it must have worked. She had four kids.) My kids were all in school so I spent an hour or so wandering the aisles, (No coffee cup in hand. Remember, I was meal planning.) and let the grocery store decide my menu. I based my weekly meal plan on what was on sale that day combined with what I already had in my pantry.

I did one other thing, I stopped trying to plan every day of the week. I planned only for four out of seven days. One day off to do whatever I wanted. (Leftovers or pasta but I had to use what was in the fridge.) One day I asked the kids what they wanted and ensured I had most requests in the freezer. (Usually tacos, hot dogs, chicken nuggets.) One day for spouse to make decisions.

Done.

Each Sunday night I wrote down my tentative weekly menu with just main ingredients, (No fancy quiches dishes) on a dry erase board based on what I bought at the grocery store and our weekly schedule. (Knowing each week is slightly different and how much time I have to prep and make simple or more complicated meals shifts each day.) I asked the kids what they wanted on one of the empty nights and filled it in. Having chicken nuggets one night a week is a treat for them and takes pressure off me. I can buy organic, locally grown, frozen chicken nuggets if that’s what I prefer. Most grocery stores carry a decent brand.

This system worked the best out of any I have tried the last few years. There is less stress trying to manage a list or app. Grocery store shopping is more relaxing without having to manage multiple recipes or the overwhelming list of ingredients I may or may not use. The best reward is that I use up most of the food in my fridge. Less waste.  If I need a recipe, with the abundance of websites it is easy to find one that includes ingredients I have on hand.

I mentioned the above to my sister, a person who is a shift worker, and she rolled her eyes. “Well for those of us who work shifts we need to have a plan.” Fair enough. If having a detailed weekly or monthly menu plan works for you, great. But for those of us parents of three or more kids drowning and overwhelmed with menu planning, perhaps switching perspectives will work. Stop trying to over plan and let the grocery store be your guide.

Sunday Brunch – Where has the food gone?

As a Mom to three growing kids, I know how much the grocery bill has expanded since the little tykes have started eating everyday people food. I am the mom who refuses to make custom-to-go meals at our house. I make one breakfast, one lunch (if we’re home) and one dinner. Lots of sides for picky eaters like we always have cheese, bread and fresh cut veggies, but unless I have already cooked a pasta one with meat sauce for carnivores and one with plain tomato sauce for everyone else, I do not go any further. Even if I felt inclined to make five different meals, I simply do not have the time. The closest the kids every get  the “more than one meal choice” is either at breakfast where one out of three can make her own cheese wrap if she prefers that over oatmeal or it is leftover night where I re-heat and re-use everything in the fridge and put all the dishes in the centre of the table. 

I would love to batch cook on Sundays but up to this point, life gets in the way. With Mr. L working from 1130 am to 3 pm every Sunday, my time is spent on Sunday resting, catching up with kids homework or organization house projects, writing (gasp!) or exercise. That is in between the birthday parties, family get-togethers and other life events that get in the way. On top of that, I’m just tired by Sunday and can think of nothing less I would want to do than be on my feet for four hours prepping meals for the week. I applaud people like my younger sister who work shift work and have to do this so her family has healthy meals on hand. I’ve seen her in action prepping meals during my last post-delivery when she showed up, pots and knives in hand to prep two weeks worth of meals for our family while I was dealing with being in and out of NICU with my little Jacob. I am in awe of people like her. 

However, with full hibernation mode on as we settle into another month of cold, snowy and freezing temperatures, I decided to return to the Sunday brunch. Being on the go a lot in January meant we had little time to sit down on Sunday for a proper meal. I am not an early riser and in dire need of coffee each morning and Mr. L has not taken up the apron as of yet, so an early morning breakfast doesn’t jive with me. But brunch once I am caffeinated, showered, the house is fairly tidy and I had an hour or so to write, seems ideal. So this morning I plunged ahead. Wrote for a half hour and then started making bacon and french toast with orange juice to drink. Simple but food the whole family likes. 

Watching the bacon while burning the new Bath and Body Works Limoncello candle to mask the grease smell it was heart-warming to hear the kids say, “Mmmm..what smells so good?” 

After placing all items on the table and the kids digging in they all yelled thanks and with full bellies have disappeared upstairs to quiet play. (Thus why I’m writing this and not doing the dishes!) But I had to gasp, how can three little people eat a plateful of bacon (I cooked the whole package) and all but two pieces of french toast? (I used up 3/4 of a loaf.) I was hoping to have bacon left to use in a recipe this week for a pasta sauce and a bit of french toast left to refrigerate for tomorrow’s breakfast. My regular sized frying pans did not even accommodate the total amount of food I had to cook but I had to fry and flip multiple pans to get the food ready. Did I mention little people? Eight, six and three years old to be exact. What is going to happen as they get older and hungrier? I already have to battle the “I’m hungry” bug multiple times a day, especially if it’s an at home day. 

As I go to wash up the dishes, for the second time this morning, I’ll have to re-think not only my pots and pan situation but also how much food to buy for a family of five. I could have easily cooked up two packs of bacon if I wanted to try and have some for the rest of the week. I was very much looking forward to fresh crumbled bacon on a caesar salad on Tuesday night!! 

How do you plan and feed a family with three or more kids??