Friday, January 29, 2010


While this isn't as contentious a topic here in Southern Ontario as it would be in, let's say Texas, there are still set ideas about what chili is. For some it means pieces of stewing beef, simmered in a flavourful red sauce, with or without beans. For most of those I know it's all about ground beef. That's what I grew up with, and how I make it. Beans are not optional and must be red kidney. Heat levels vary (for us it's mild because of the kids). Some have green peppers. Mine never does. I think they overwhelm the dish. Some have mushrooms. Why? Seriously.

(As an aside, the worst thing I've ever been served by anyone was a bowl of "chili" made by a friend's mother. She began making it when we arrived. About an hour before supper. It consisted of browned ground beef, some chopped onions and green peppers, a can of spaghetti sauce, a can of mushrooms, and a can of baked beans. BLECH! It was so hard to be polite and choke it down. Right up there in ick factor with the Kraft sliced cheese pizza my friend and I made one day as teens when extremely hungry. But that's another post).

Anyway, chili. I have a pot simmering now. I'll share how I make it, and I'd love to hear how you make yours.

I start by "browning" the ground beef. It's not really browned. I just start cooking it in a heavy pot. I add a couple of tablespoons of chili powder (it's a very mild blend - I prefer to be in control of the heat myself), some cumin and a tablespoon or so of cocoa powder. Yep, cocoa powder. It adds depth, both in flavour and colour. Then I add the diced onion and garlic. Usually about 2 medium onions and a few cloves of garlic. Those got pulsed today in the mini bowl of my new Kitchen Aid food processor (hooray!) Once everything smells wonderful, I add a can of tomato soup (trust me, it adds body to the chili), a tin of whole or diced tomatoes and a tin of tomato puree. Then a splash of vinegar and a spoon of brown sugar go in, for balance, along with salt and pepper. The whole thing simmers all day long, and about an hour before supper I add a can of kidney beans, goo and all. I correct the seasoning as it cooks and we eat it with good bread.

Apart from the cocoa and cumin, that's how my mother has always made it. I like those additions. Today I added a star anise, having heard that it boosts the flavour of simmered beef dishes. We'll see. It's a pretty simple recipe, and the result is a hearty, balanced dish with a wonderful sweet and sour background and a rich tomato flavour. And of course it's better the next day. But since we're having it tonight, I made it around 10am. It will simmer all day and we'll probably have the leftovers for Sunday supper. Yum!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Whoopie Pies

Okay, I know that these are popular in some parts. But I'm in Canada, and apart from hearing them mentioned by Americans on forums, I have never had any experience with them. Until this weekend.

It was my turn to make snack for church, and for whatever reason I decided that I wanted to do a filled cookie. I think I was inspired by a marshmallow filling recipe in my Mennonite Treasury cookbook. I remembered the concept of the Whoopie Pie, and began looking up recipes. The one that I came across didn't use marshmallow fluff in the filling, which was good, since I had none. Comments were made about the extreme sweetness, so after reading a bit more I decided to add coffee to the icing sugar mixture by way of steeping it in the warmed milk, which I then cooled and strained. The finished recipe was actually quite good, though I cannot imagine being able to use all of the frosting. A large amount is produced by this recipe.

And here it is. My take on the Whoopie Pie.

Mocha Whoopie Pies

1 cup sugar
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup baking cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons milk

4 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon ground coffee (not instant)
4 tablespoons butter or shortening, softened to room temp
3-3 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar

Preheat oven to 425. In a mixing bowl, beat sugar and oil until crumbly. Add eggs and beat well. In separate bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt.

Gradually beat flour mixture into sugar mixture. Add milk and mix together well.

Scoop out small mounds of batter and place 2 inches apart on a greased or parchment lined baking sheet.

Bake at 425 for 5-6 minutes or until tops are cracked. Cool for 3 minutes before removing to wire racks to cool.

Filling: Heat milk slightly and add coffee grounds. Let steep until cool. In a mixing bowl, beat together butter and confectioners' sugar. Strain the milk and beat into the sugar until fluffy.

Spread filling generously on to flat bottom of cooled whoopie pie and top with another whoopie pie to make a sandwich.

Makes about 1 dozen complete cookies.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

When I _____ I feel His pleasure

That has been the theme at our church lately. Taken, apparently from a line in Chariots of Fire - "When I run I feel His pleasure." And I've been wondering what I fill in that blank with (certainly not running!)

Parenting, definitely. When I connect with my kids, I know God is smiling. But what else? Not that that's not enough, because it certainly would be if that were all I did that brought God pleasure. But what about the passions we have? If those are given to us by God, then presumably they make Him smile.

Thinking on that, I wonder about my passion for cooking and for food. Right now I am simmering a dish called Beef Rendang. It's a Malaysian curry of sorts, made with many ingredients that I love using. Lime leaf, lemongrass, coconut milk, ginger, shallots... And some that I don't get to use as often, or have never used, like chilies, galangal, star anise and palm sugar. As I mentioned in my Temple Food post, I love southeast Asian ingredients, so I am just loving making this curry. It's for my gourmet group, by the way. The one I mentioned in October when I did the autumn harvest menu.

So I'm thinking; my passion for food is a gift from God. Do I feel His pleasure when I cook? Um.. not always, no. In fact, often I find it more of a chore than a joy lately to cook. The kids can be picky, which makes being adventurous more tricky. Sometimes money is tight, or the pantry is bare or things don't work out the way I'd intended, and I get more down than up about the whole process.

And I have to wonder about my part in "feeling His joy." That's not a passive statement. Feeling is active. It's something that we DO, rather than have done to or for us. Do I spend time aware of God with me as I take the time to enjoy something that I am passionate about, like cooking this wonderful curry today? Well, I am thinking about it as I blog. But generally my mind is not on God as I cook. I don't think about what He's thinking as I indulge in my passion for food. In fact, sometimes I'm ashamed by my passion for it. Being an overweight person means that food and I don't always get along, and believing that my love of food is a gift from God means that I am either way off base, or that I am misusing His gift. I suspect the latter.

What can I do with this passion, besides cook for myself and my family? I sincerely think that cooking for others is an amazingly wonderful way to show them that I care. And I know that God smiles at that. I recently bought a barbecue cookbook and every time I open it, I see something that I want to share with friends. Partly because I really want to cook whatever it is and partly because I really want to share whatever it is. There's that passion for food coming out again, coupled with a desire to share it with others. I want to host at least one barbecue this year. Proper slow smoked pulled pork, ribs, baked beans, the works. And I want to share that with people I care about.

I suspect there is far more to write, but I have to think first. And stir the curry, which smells AMAZING! And wake the little miss, who no doubt will be up late tonight. Oh well. Maybe we can share some popcorn together. :-D

Friday, January 15, 2010

Learning via osmosis

Our son turned 5 in November, and has always been a very bright boy. He began recognizing and reading words around 18 months old (the first word he read was "Canada" on a mail box). By 3 he'd taught himself to read and was just working on sounding out bigger words. By 4 he was reading beginner readers. By the time he turned 5 he was reading 60 page chapter books geared at grade 2 & 3 readers.

He is also teaching himself math. The other day I gave him a very awkward explanation of odd versus even numbers and told him that I'd figure out how to explain it better another time. Yesterday he said something about mini-golf with his cousin, and how he would putt first on the even holes, and his cousin could go first on the odd holes. And then gave examples. So I quizzed him. 9. Odd. 14. Even. 348. Even. 1859. Odd. He explained that if it ends in 0,2,4,6 or 8 it's even and 1,3,5 and 9 are odd. That isn't how I taught him, though it makes a lot more sense than my pathetic attempt to explain divisibility and such. He figured it out himself. After a 30 second conversation.

Homeschooling is something that we knew we'd do before we had kids. It's not that we knew (or know) a lot about it. We just felt that it was and is how we are supposed to raise our kids. And it has been to our son's benefit. Everyone who is familiar with public schools has told us that he would be bored stiff in kindergarten. And knowing him, I know that he would be a problem. He'd latch on to whatever kids were the most energetic and act out with them. Because that's how he is. He's drawn to energy. He wants to know everything and do everything and be a part of everything. So homeschooling has been a natural fit for him.

Our daughter is 2 1/2. She can't read yet. We don't expect her to, though sometimes we have to remind ourselves that she's not actually behind. LOL She's learning her alphabet and numbers. We have flash cards for fun, but if she's not interested, we don't push. She'll learn at her own rate. She's still bright, and has an amazing memory, just like her brother. She also has a very determined spirit and gets frustrated easily. So her quirks will contribute to the way we school her, just as her brother's quirks contribute to the way that we school him. I love that about homeschooling. We can customize the way we approach each of their educations. We can cater to their interests and strengths, and find creative ways to work on weaknesses. It's a learning process for all of us, and I love it.

Homeschooling fits us as a family. I get people who ask "Oh, are you a teacher?" I know they mean well, but that's like me asking "Oh are you a caterer or nutritionist?" because they cook for their families. Or I get the, "Oh, I could never do that" comment. My answer is often, "It's definitely not for everyone." Sometimes I get a defensive response from someone, telling me how great public school is, or how much their child loves school, and so on. I didn't choose to homeschool to make anyone uncomfortable. I chose it because it is right for us. I never expected that it would cause someone else to feel the need to defend public schools so vehemently.

We each (hopefully) do what we believe is best for our children. We're not perfect, but when it comes down to it, we want good things for our kids. In this case, keeping them home with us, teaching them and guiding their growth and development apart from the intense pressure of the public school system and all that it brings with it, is what we know is best for our children and our family. And we're blessed to be a part of a larger community of people who feel the same way.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Snow matters not

Even though the snow has (finally arrived), my thoughts have already turned to my garden. My strawberries and raspberries are sleeping, along with my parsley, chives, mint and marjoram. Seed catalogs have arrived and I've been dreaming of what I can add this year. A new mint? A better oregano than I got last year? Some snow peas and bush beans to grown in the upside down planters? What kinds of lettuce will I grow? What radishes does hubby want to try? Will we work out a space for potatoes this year? So much to think about.

I want to start with the book, "Square Foot Gardening." I will pick it up soon and pour over it. We've decided to focus on the family room this year, so we won't be expanding the garden bed. So I will need to make due with the space that we have right now. The raspberries and strawberries are where they are. The tomatoes will be scaled back. I am not growing Romas this year. I can buy them from any number of farm stands, and they hog too much room. I want to just do heirloom varieties. Preferably small ones. The kids love cherry tomatoes. So do I. I call them (and beans) yard snacks.

We're not adding anymore gardens anywhere this year. I would like some trees out front, but this will not be the year that we do it. We'll add some perennials that we get from my parents and the inlaws to the existing garden that we planted up last year. But beyond that, and some annuals for some colour, we won't be doing anything else. The soil is hard clay and we just won't have the time this year to break it up, haul it away and replace it before planting. The family room really needs to get finished. So long as all of the evergreens and shrubs survive the winter, and our bulbs bloom, I'll be happy with what we have out front for this year.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Temple Food

That is the name of an episode of Nigella Lawson's show that I love. Nigella describes Temple Food as the kind of thing you want after a night (or several weeks) of rich food and drink. So it's no wonder that my mind always comes back to this concept at the beginning of every year. Actually by Boxing Day (day after Christmas for my non-commonwealth readers) my mind was there. Hubby and I dropped the kids off with the grandparents and went shopping. Afterwards we hit a local Vietnamese place for some Pho.

Ahh, Pho. My idea of Temple Food perfection. A light but extremely flavourful and healthy broth, with tender filling noodles (yeah, they're a simple carb, but that's besides the point), thinly sliced onions and (as per my preference) rare beef. Then I get to doctor it up with things like hot sauce, lime juice, fresh Thai basil, sprouts and a little Hoisin sauce for balance. A small bowl is almost a meal for two. And nothing more is needed. It is warming. It is nourishing. It is Temple Food in such an approachable and simple form.

Thinking about it, I tend to gravitate towards Asian flavours when I think of Temple Foods. There is something about the balance of hot, salty, sour and sweet that makes Asian dishes very appealing. And the fact that so much flavour can be brought to a dish as simple and humble as soup or salad means that healthy can be tasty first and good for me as a bonus. Shredded cabbage and carrots, with thinly sliced shallots and cucumber, dressed simply with rice vinegar, grated ginger, garlic, a little sugar, soy, sesame oil and hot sauce can be a whole meal, especially if a little leftover shredded chicken finds its way into the bowl. Heck, the same dressing turns a simple bowl of sliced cucumber into a wonderful treat that feels so cleansing.

As the winter progresses, soups are still a favourite for me. I love pureed vegetable soups the most. Of course, once things like bacon and cream are added, they aren't quite as health conscious. But moderation makes such indulgence quite alright in my book.

I'm always looking for more ways to incorporate the idea of Temple Food into my diet. I'd love to hear what others turn to after holiday indulgence. What comforts you and clears your diet conscience?

Friday, January 1, 2010


Well, welcome to 2010. Is that Two Thousand Ten, Two Thousand AND Ten or Twenty Ten? I haven't settled one one yet. Whatever you call it, welcome to it.

I'd like to have some introspective, retrospective blog post. Something witty and engaging, with the power to motivate readers to stick to resolutions to change their lives, while simultaneously feeling good about past mistakes and looking realistically at the challenges ahead.

Who am I kidding? I can read that stuff on a hundred other blogs. This one is and always has been just about me and what's going on around me. And right now not much is going on. The Christmas decorations are down. The eve of the new year (and decade) was spent eating tacos and creme brulee with hubby. We watched the annual Air Farce special (the F-bomb sucks... bring back the chicken cannon) and played Wii. Then we watched Larry Gowan and Styxx from Niagara Falls until the new year crept in. Went to bed about half an hour later and woke up to light snow and a fairly normal day. Dinner at the inlaws in a while. And my soon to be brother in law will be home from the hospital after going in on Christmas day with some kind of bowel obstruction and emergency surgery.

The new year brings new hope, new promise and a lot of other hype. But for me it's fairly low key. I don't do resolutions. I don't have a special, super healthy breakfast as a way of symbolizing what I want me year to be like. I do what I do each day. I surround myself with my family, I go about my business and I enjoy the little things, like listening to hubby and the little mister challenge each other to MarioKart DS.

But on a day like today, I do a little more looking forward to the future. The flow of the year stretches out before me. Gardening is in my mind now, as my little veg and berry patch is slowly (ever so slowly) being covered in snow.

And so it goes. January into February into March and so on. Only this year I hope it goes by a little more slowly. 2009 somehow melted into a homogeneous mass of days that just slid by rather quickly. And we're back to January again.