Monday, March 28, 2011

A lovely surprise

Yesterday, while baking, blogging and totally making over Little Miss' bedroom, I received a lovely surprise.  I saw a Tweet entitled "Gratitude" by a dear gal who Tweets under the moniker Eating Niagara.  An ardent local booster and supporter of much good food, I try to keep caught up with her blog as often as I can.  During a little down time while something was either baking or cooling, I clicked the link.  It was a post about the Lovely Blog Award, which she'd received a nomination for.  I'd never heard of it, but apparently it's a pay-it-forward token of appreciation for bloggers from people who enjoy what you do.

As I read down through the post, enjoying learning some fun things about T. that I didn't know, I got to the blogs she was nominating.  Definitely some great ones there.  A few I need to start following myself, actually.  Then I saw it.  "A Single Step."  What?  My little blog, among all these amazing ones?  Really?  I was stunned.  And so humbled.  This blog started as a a rather indulgent way to capture my thoughts and feelings about life, and has sort of evolved into a blog which is largely about food, and, if you piece it together, my journey towards being more mindful about supporting local businesses and farms.  For it to be a place on the web that others enjoy reading and being a part of is more than I'd hoped for.

So in the spirit of the nomination, and in accordance with the rules, I am going to share some facts about me that some of you may not know.  Then I am going to go through the blogs I enjoy and nominate some.  To avoid duplication, I suggest you take a look at the Eating Niagara blog post for an already wonderful list.

1.  While I always wanted to be a Mom and have something like half a dozen kids, it took us 6 years before our son was born.  His sister came along 3 years later and we decided we were done.  We were both in our mid-thirties by that point and honestly my body does not do pregnancy well.  Where once I thought I wanted a house full of kids, I now see that these two can be more than a house full!  LOL  And I love being a Mom more than I ever imagined!

2.  My mother did all the cooking in our home.  Her grandfather came to Canada from Italy and her "5-day" pasta sauce was a special Christmas dinner treat.  Several kinds of meat, simmered in a rich tomato sauce for 5 days until it was dark and acidic.  But beyond that it wasn't her who inspired my "foodiness."  It was my father, who actually has a very limited menu of things he'll eat (meat, potatoes, corn... not much else).  But he enjoys looking at, learning about and talking about different foods.  He was a truck driver and would travel to Texas often.  And then he'd come back and tell me about regional foods he'd come across (but never tried, of course).

3.  I like ironing.  Really.  I don't mind doing it at all.  Though we really don't have much in the way of clothes that need to be ironed.  We're really a jeans and t-shirt family.  I don't own a single skirt, and the only dress I have was the one I wore to my sister's wedding last year.  I hate folding and putting away laundry, but not as much as I hate unloading the dishwasher.

4.  I have been a foodie my whole life.  As a young child I remember seeing caviar in a store and being impressed.  Why, at 5 or so, did I know what caviar was?  Probably because I watched the few cooking shows that existed on 70's T.V in Canada (Celebrity Cooking with Bruno Gerussi anyone?) When Food Network launched I would ask friends with cable to put it on in the background so that I could indulge.  Getting satellite TV blew my culinary mind!

5.  I do have interests outside of food.  It's just that food is what I'm most passionate about.  I love homeschooling because there is a whole world of things out there for me to learn as I teach the kids.  My faith is important to me as well.  And I enjoy learning.  I mostly read non-fiction and magazines.  I read very little fiction.

6.  I fancy myself to be crafty.  I'm not, but I keep trying.  I like browsing crafting blogs for inspiration.  Some day I'll learn to use my sewing machine.

7.  My dream home would be on a nice sized piece of land, with geo-thermal heating, solar and wind power, with a lovely wood stove in the kitchen, pizza oven outside, and a fireplace in the family room.  There would be a balcony off the master bedroom, and in the shade under it would be a space for those hanging hammock chairs.  I would have a nice kitchen, with a "summer kitchen" outside specifically for canning and baking and such without heating up the house.  And I'd have a room with no electrical outlets, data jacks or even wi-fi reception.  A real retreat space to go and "unplug."

Now that you know a bit more about me, take a look at these blogs I'm nominating.  I imagine they'll tell you even more.

 365 Days to a New Me - I've known Dawne for some years now, and I have to give her props for being so gutsy as to start a blog documenting her planned weigh loss.  As one who has always struggled with my weight, Dawne's blog both fascinated and horrified me.  What if it didn't work out?  What if she didn't do it this time?  What if.....  But Dawne left the "what ifs" by the wayside and over the course of the past year has changed her life so completely that she's quite literally a new woman.  A healthy one, dedicated to making the most of her life.  She's been a real inspiration.

Around My Family Table - I found this one recently, through a message board, if I'm not mistaken.  Great recipes and a lovely person behind them.

Life Nurturing Education - Renae Deckard is a home schooler who inspires me.  Her blog is full of wonderful information and charming posts about the real life of a home school family.

Seasonal Ontario Food - What more need I say?  The name says it all.  And the recipes look so good!

Food in Jars - A recent discovery, this blog is all about canning.  And I am really getting into canning, so this is a joy to read.  I have found so much inspiration already.  Can't wait until we're really rolling in the fruits and veggies!

Living Life With Food - My friend Jenn is such a creative woman.  She decided a while ago to change the way she approached cooking, and specifically baking, to make delicious treats healthier for her family.  This blog is the result of that and her desire to share what she's learned with others.

My Life I Live - Similar to mine, this is a blog about a journey.  Hillary is a wife and mom who is finding her voice, and I'm looking forward to reading where the journey takes her.

Why Not Train a Child - Not for the faint of heart, this blog takes a hard look at child abuse under the guise of Christian faith, and offers many guest posts about alternatives to punitive parenting.  As a Mom of two young children, this blog speaks to my heart to see children raised to choose what's right because they've learned how to discern that for themselves, not because they're afraid of being hit.  One approach changes the heart, the other only the behaviour.  And to me that just isn't good enough.  Or what Christian parents are called to.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A productive kitchen weekend

Over the years my husband and I somehow got into the habit of using weekends to be out and about, running around, whether we needed to get things or not.  "Feel like going to IKEA just to look around?"  "Hey, there's a sportsman's show in Toronto right now.  Let's check it out!"   "Wanna go wander a mall?"  And so forth.  When the kids came along we just took them with us.  So it continued that a good chunk of our weekends were often spent out of the house.

Lately we've tried to be more deliberate about staying home.  The kids don't like spending the day going from one place to the next, and honestly there is plenty here to keep us all occupied.  And somehow it's been truly amazing to see what we can get done around here when we're actually... well, here.

Yesterday we did minimal running around.  We bought a few groceries and blitzed a mattress outlet to get Little Miss what she needs for her "big girl bed."  Yes, she's 3 and still in a crib.  We'd intended for her to be in a bed by now,  but the one we had needed painting and sealing, and then there was February...  Ugh.  Anyway, 5 minutes may not sound like much, but this place has 2 twin size mattresses available, and one box spring.  Fine by us, they're all quality and way cheaper than other place we've dealt with.  Let's just say that we now know why to buy a mattress anywhere else.  ;-)

Anyway, that's today's project.  Stripping out her room, dismantling the crib, moving the dresser and toy bins and getting her bed set up.  I needed a simple meal that didn't require my attention, so I picked up a rump roast yesterday.  After browning the well salted meat, I made a marinade of soy, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, smoked paprika, ketchup and a barbecue spice blend that I made some time ago and like to have on hand.  I added some dried onion flakes and the contents of the deglazed pan as well.  It sat overnight and is in the crockpot now.  Man does it smell GOOD!

Backing up to last night, I spent the evening making baked wontons.  And learning that I suck at not overfilling them.  LOL  I made two fillings.  One was inspired by these Buffalo Chicken Rolls at Can You Stay for Dinner.  I don't like blue cheese though, so I created a mixture of cream cheese (half a block), shredded cheddar, cooked chicken and hot sauce (Frank's and Sriracha).  For the other I blended shredded mozzarella, the other half block of cream cheese, two diced jalapenos and about a quarter of a jar of pickled ones.  Stuffed, rolled, brushed with oil and into the oven they went.  I increased the heat to 450F and turned them part way through cooking.  All of the cream cheese ones burst on me, as did a few chicken ones.  But they were all tasty and I have a bag of them in the fridge for lunches this week for hubby and I.  And maybe Little Miss, who snagged two small pieces of jalapeno yesterday just to taste them.

As I was talking to the kids this morning about supper, we all decided that dessert was in order.   They usually have fruit for dessert, but since we're home I figured I should make something.  And that something was a unanimous vote for brownies!  Borrowing from this recipe, I added a square of unsweetened chocolate to the butter as it melted.  The pan is now cooling on the counter.

And now I'm going to start on some coleslaw.  I'll salt the veggies first (yes, it's a bag of slaw... I needed it for the Buffalo chicken rolls and didn't want to buy an entire head of cabbage), and let them drain before I dress them with a vinegar based dressing.  We're not really big on creamy coleslaw here.  I'm also thinking of making some cornbread.  We'll see.  The crib is being dismantled right now...  It's nice to stay home.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Pimento Cheese

As a watcher of Food network and reader of various blogs, I've heard of this Southern U.S spread called Pimento cheese over the years.  It never really appealed to me at first, given that I read it was made with Velveeta.  But lately I've been hearing more about it and I even read that along with Whoopie Pies it's going to be one of the food trends of this year.  I'm ahead of the curve on the Whoopie Pies (read here), but Pimento cheese was still something I hadn't tried.  Until a few weeks ago.

I'll be honest - money was tight last month.  Lunch meat (the non-baloney, non-mystery loaf type - think salami) isn't cheap when you're on a budget.  We can't have peanut butter in the house and hubby was tired of plain cheese sandwiches.  So my thoughts turned to a recipe for Pimento cheese I'd seen recently on Epicurious.  There was no processed cheese in it.  It called for real cheese, jarred pimentos and mayonnaise.  Ditto other recipes I looked up.  This went from something I turned my nose up at to something I could see us enjoying.

We always have old Cheddar (which I believe is called sharp cheddar in the U.S) in the fridge, and a jar of mayo and some jarred peppers costs very little.  I couldn't find anything labeled "pimentos" so I bought roasted red peppers.  A little grating, a little chopping and some mixing and voila, a sandwich spread I've read folks in the Southern U.S swooning over.

It was... okay.  Nothing special.  Definitely better as a cracker dip than a sandwich spread.  I added a grated clove of garlic and some hot pepper paste and that helped a lot.  But honestly I think it needs more.  Like some smoked Cheddar or Gouda.  Maybe some crumbled bacon.  A little green onion.  More zip...  But then I guess it wouldn't be true "Pimento Cheese."

I asked some people online.  Many buy it already made (processed) in tubs and have never considered making it themselves.  Others grew up with it, so the relative blandness is ingrained in childhood memories and they don't question (or notice) it, I guess.  None add much to it, and most spread it on white sandwich bread.

What it actually reminded me of (probably because of the roasted red pepper) was a Feta dip I did my best to recreate after dropping way too much money at the local Farmer's Market for it.  So I'll share that recipe, such as it is.  There are no set amounts.  The end result is slightly chunky, with visible oil and a bit of a curdled appearance.  It should be tangy, with a noticeable oregano flavour and a bit of zip.  If your olive oil is strong, cut it with some neutral oil, like grapeseed.

Feta cheese
Roasted red peppers
Red onion
White wine vinegar
Olive oil
Oregano (dried or fresh)
Red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper

I put a couple of chunks of mild feta in my Kitchen Aid and break them up with the paddle. Then I add a few mushed up roasted red peppers, some garlic (I grate a whole clove into it), some finely minced red onion, a splash of white wine vinegar, a generous amount of olive oil (or a mix of olive and grapeseed if the olive oil is strong), a good sprinkling of dried oregano and some salt and pepper to taste, along with a little crushed red pepper flakes. I mix it all together and eat it with lavash (crisp flat bread).

Monday, March 14, 2011

ABC of Me (fluff)

Stolen Borrowed from a friend at 365 Days to a New Me.  Just a little fluff that gives a bit of a picture about who I am.  Thought it would be fun while I get back into the groove of posting recipes and thoughts about food, faith and family.

Age: 38
Bed Size: Queen
Chore You Hate: Putting away laundry
Dogs: Had one for about a year or so when I was about 11.  The kids want one "after the cats die."
Essential Start of Your Day: Coffee.  It's not a "need" as in "I have to have it to function."  I never used to drink it, but have come to enjoy the ritual of checking email and my social networks while enjoying a mug.  I normally only have that one in a day.
Favorite Color: Hmmm, not sure.  To wear I like shades of turquoise, light grey and baby pink.  But in decor I lean towards neutrals, yellows and blues.  And in general I like black, red, and purple.  LOL
Gold or Silver: Silver
Height: 5'3" or so
Instruments I Play: Does recorder count?  I still have the one my Dad bought me in grade 3, and I still play it.  I also played clarinet in high school.
Job Title: Stay at home mom, loving wife, homeschool parent, family cook.... I refuse to be defined!  LOL
Kids: 2
Live: Southern Ontario
Mom's Name: Roslyn. 
Nicknames: A friend of mine used to call me Alex.  It really isn't related to my name at all.  I called her Rocky, so I guess we were even.
Overnight Hospital Stays: Broke my wrist when I was 3 and had to stay overnight because I rebroke it after they set it.  My kids were born at home.
Pet Peeve: People who are perpetually late.
Quote From a Movie:  I just saw Amelie, so I'll go with one from that - You mean she would rather imagine herself relating to an absent person than build relationships with those around her?
Right or Left Handed: Right
Siblings: 2 sister
Time You Wake Up: Whenever hubby leaves for work, or the kids get up.  Whichever is later.
Underwear: Absolutely!  LOL
Veggie You Dislike: Mushrooms (though technically a fungus)
What Makes You Run Late: "Fat days."  I can't find anything to wear on those days, and it takes me longer to get dressed.
X-Rays You Have Had: wrist, lungs
Yummy Food You Make:Oh I make a lot.  I do steaks really well.  I also make great roast chicken, and delicious Brussels sprouts (though my family disagrees)
Zoo Animal You Like Best: You know, I haven't been to a proper zoo in so long, I'm not sure.  Though I adore penguins!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The February That Wasn't

Is February over yet?  Let me see.  March 1st.  It's finished!  Hooray!

February was the month that wasn't in our house.  Our youngest got hit with an illness late in January and it monopolized our lives for a full month.  We did very little, accomplished nearly nothing, got behind on other things and generally fell off the face of the Earth for a while.

But now it's March!  Look at that.  Sunshine!  Hello Lamb of March.  Let's hope the Lion is a nice thunderstorm after a balmy Spring day and not a snow storm.

So let's see, what lies ahead this month?  Our gourmet group finished off it's year with a lovely dinner based on the final dinner on the Titanic.  This month we start the next year with three fewer people and one new person.  So we've gone from 9 to 7.  I don't host for another few months, hopefully in the summer, since I have no space in my house for 7 people to sit comfortably at this point.  On the plus side, we can do some fun barbecued dishes.

Speaking of space in our house, my husband began tearing apart the basement before the sick hit.  We're converting the largest space into a family room, with a storage room.  The rest, excluding the laundry/furnace area, will be a recording studio.  My husband is something of an audio geek.  I've never had a family room before.  I grew up in a house with an unfinished stone/concrete basement that had a couch and chair.  Not exactly cozy.  My bedroom was down there too.  Next to the furnace.  Again, not cozy.  LOL  Having a family room will more than double our "entertaining space" which right now might comfortably seat 5, if you count the computer chair as being comfortable.  LOL

Look at that.  It's still sunny out.  If it were warm at all I'd open some windows.  We could use some fresh air in here.  For now it's -1C.  Pretty to look at, not nearly warm enough to bask in.

I should start on supper.  Pasta, with a nice sauce that will simmer all afternoon.  We have pasta nearly once a week.  It's Little Mister's favourite.  Sometimes I add meat to the sauce, though never ground beef, as he's not a fan of meat with his pasta.  Today I'll add slices of kielbasa, a nod to my late grandfather, whose father was from Italy and brought with him the knowledge that you use what's available when cooking.  He moved to an area surrounded by people from both Italy and Poland, and thus his pasta sauce often contained meats reflecting both.  Kielbasa, pepperoni, hot sausage, pork hocks, spare ribs...  Maybe even squirrel, though I can't say for sure (my aunt has done that).  I tend to keep it simpler, with only one or two meats flavouring the basic sauce of tomato, garlic, onion, oregano and basil.  Now I', getting hungry...

It's good to be back.  :-D