Large Family Eating: Without pictures, sadly


* WordPress won’t let me upload pictures anymore (HTTP error). I did look into WordPress support but I can’t even understand the language they speak so we’ll have to do this the old fashioned way and imagine things in our heads. Failing that, you know that I am on Instagram as @happy_chaos_ right? That will work too.

This week I decided that the pain of disorganization wasn’t worth the reward of not having to live by a schedule. You know what I mean if schedules give you hives, as they do to me. Routines and I repulse each other. We’re the opposite of velcro. For a long time, I considered routines limiting. I’m a “target of opportunity” kind of person: strike while the iron is hot, create when the creating vibe hits you, make supper when everyone is about to eat their shoes. Over the years, as children outnumbered me by a factor of 9, I learned that I can accomplish much more by being somewhat organized and this — sadly — involves routines. Nowadays, routines annoy the heck out of me because nothing guarantees more interruptions that trying to get something done. The children have a sixth sense, and infortunately it’s not seeing dead people.

The first thing on my list of Things to Improve is getting supper on the table early. Someone was asking me how I dealt with the witching hour and in theory it’s quite simple: I feed the kids. In practice, I often end-up like most of you, trying to make supper while the children are raiding the pantry, the baby is crying and the teenagers are making grilled-cheese “to wait for supper.” Having supper ready for 5:15 pm is a huge improvement to my quality of life. It means that the children can be fed before they turn into gremlins, we can clean-up the kitchen before starting bedtime routines and once all the littles are asleep, there is time left for writing, reading and trying to launch a new venture (add: reading WordPress Support posts).

How to get supper ready on time? Well, that’s always the challenge isn’t it? The best way I found is to make supper and lunch at the same time. This way, I deconstruct the kitchen once and clean it up once. To make this possible, I have to “reverse-engineer” my day starting with supper, making sure that our homeschooling is done by noon. To add an extra level of motivation, I was alone with the littles 3 evenings last week. So it had to work.

MONDAY

Monday I thawed a whole wad of Costco ground beef and made hamburgers with half of it and meat balls with the other half. Then we learned that red meat is now a class 1 carcinogen, make that 1+ if you BBQ it. Wonderful.

TUESDAY

On Tuesday, we ate some beef (again?) curry from the freezer with white rice and broccoli.

WEDNESDAY

Wednesday we went to Value Village to get some Halloween costumes before music classes. It was a rainy, miserable day to run errands. When we came home, I made chicken fried rice with wild rice, celery, carrots, chicken and ham (cured meat, another class 1 carcinogen). At least it was wild rice, no?

THURSDAY

On Thursday, I made pumpkin black bean soup from Smitten Kitchen. This soup is just delicious. I made enough to share with a friend who is having a tough time health-wise.

FRIDAY

On Friday we had meatballs (from Monday) in tomato sauce with spaghetti and zucchini noodles.

SATURDAY WAS HALLOWEEN!

Saturday was Halloween and I made some soul cakes for the children. I used this recipe from Food.com, which was adequate but next year I’ll try this yeasted version from CatholicCulture.org. We trick-or-treated with friends in the suburbs where the houses are not so few and far between. We had Aero bars and rockets for diner with Coffee Crisps for dessert. The twins barfed it all back between Midnight and 1 am the following night. But it was fine because we gained an hour overnight… **YAWN**

In other news, I am pursuing my clean-eating journey (speaking of rockets…), eliminating gluten, almost all grains, most dairy and a whole lot of sugar . I’m not sure yet if it’s helping anything but Holy Cow, two mini Coffee Crisps and some Skittles are not a nice way to break your clean eating streak: my gut may never forgive me.

Along the way I discovered the gluten-free products by Purest and they are excellent (this is not a sponsored post and no-one is footing my significant grocery budget to say nice things about them). Purest is a local (to me!) company based in Perth (ON). I use their products to make this gluten-free flour mix, with great results (for instance, I made this cranberry orange loaf ). I also use their Artisan Bread mix, which is excellent. The recipe for the bread mix is on the bag and has to be followed scrupulously:use a hand mixer or the paddle attachment to your stand mixer, mix it for at least 3 minutes (more won’t hurt it, less will.) I tried it using butter instead of oil for a more “brioche-ey” version. It worked but didn’t rise as high.

SUNDAY

On Sunday I had my 9 children under my roof for the day and it was a great joy. I made chili from the Whole30 cookbook, gluten-free corn bread and Savoy cabbage slaw.

Have a good week everyone and wish me luck to keep-up my winning early supper streak.

Large Family Eating: The Thanksgiving Edition


When it comes to traditional meals, I’m of the school of “If in ain’t broke, don’t fix it” Every year in September or October, Canadian lifestyle and cooking magazines release their Thanksgiving issues where re-inventing the wheel seems to be the key concept. Here’s some inconvenient truth for you: if you can’t stand your mother-in-law’s turkey and fixin’ , chances are that her cooking talents are lacking. Next year, don’t try to stuff guinea fowl with some fusion South Asian mixture. Just get a good cookbook and give MIL a break. Here, tradition is Queen.

I am not a naturally good cook. My husband and I were laughing at our early days as a couple because we had a rotation of two meals: tortellinis with tomato sauce (from a can) and tuna sandwiches. I grew-up surrounded by my mother’s excellent cuisine so it didn’t take long for me to put on my try-hard pants and broaden my horizons.  My mother-in-law (who is a good cook, wave!) gave me a subscription to Canadian Living Magazine, my mother gave me a few good cookbooks and I learned by trial and error. I don’t consider myself a good cook yet — I’m way to distracted and rushed to do a good job of anything — but I can follow a recipe. Here are a few of our family favorite Thanksgiving recipes (with pictures from 2 years ago because Thanksgiving lunch is tomorrow in this family. But hey, a turkey’s a turkey…)

THE TURKEY AND THE STUFFING: Sage Butter Turkey with Shallot Sausage Stuffing. We need to breed turkeys with bigger cavities because there is never enough of that stuffing. I usually double the stuffing recipe, stuff the turkey, beat a few eggs into the leftover stuffing, pour it into a loaf pan and bake it into a “stuffing loaf”. I usually make a whole pound of sage butter and keep some for the bread. Food poisoning tip: take the butter you will need for the bread out before you start playing with the turkey so you don’t cross contaminate your butter by repeatedly putting your raw-meated hands in it. Buttering the turkey is a highlight of Thanksgiving and the children fight for it. We cook the bird on the BBQ (you’re welcome, neighbourhood). I don’t have a recipe for roasting a turkey on the BBQ. All you need to remember is: indirect heat for a long time. If you can use an aluminum pan to catch the drippings, you can baste away but not until the turkey is somewhat cooked: you don’t want too much heat variations by opening and closing the BBQ repeatedly.

Collage_Turkey 2012

THE CRANBERRY SAUCE: I always make the cranberry apple sauce from Canadian Living.

THE BRUSSELS SPROUTS: Where I manage to make Brussels Sprouts (a) totally edible, and (b) bad for you (sorry, can’t have one without the other). Here’s how: first I pare the sprouts and blanch them for 4 minutes (maybe?); then I cut them in two (because surface matters for what is about to follow); then I fry some bacon and set it aside; I pour out most of the fat but leave what is coating the pan; then I add some butter (yes!!! I absolutely do); then I add some finely sliced onions and cook them until golden but not too much yet; then I add the sprouts and brown them in the butter; wait, we’re not done here; then I put them in a baking dish, add the bacon and — believe it or not — COVER IT WITH CHEESE. Then I bake the whole sinful thing. Then I pray that my kids won’t want to eat any.

THE SQUASH: My favorite squash recipe comes from a tattered printed email I received after after a youth group pot luck where it was served. You take dried fruits (I like to use a mix of cranberries and currant but anything goes, even raisins) and throw them in a pot with booze. Yes you do. Cover the berries in booze (Sherry comes to mind) and bring to a simmer. Let it simmer until the fruits are plump and the booze is mostly evaporated. I can’t remember if I cover it or not but you’ll figure it out. Meanwhile, roast the butternut squash according to your favorite method. Scoop the flesh into a bowl, add the booze-soaked berries, a generous serving of butter, salt and pepper, et voila.

THE GRAVY: by now, I am totally exhausted and my mother-in-law, who is a pearl, remembers the gravy which I have completely overlooked. She makes it using the turkey drippings, some chicken broth and a thickening agent such as flour, cornstarch or Bisto stuff, depending on what I have on hand.

THE DESSERTS: My mother-in-law usually brings the desserts and the selection is Thanksgiving themed. If you want a good pumpkin pie recipe, check this one out from Smitten Kitchen.

That’s the Thanksgiving Dinner with the English side of the family. On the French side, we celebrate everything with my favorite dish of all time, the traditional “tourtiere-that-is-not-a-meat-pie”. I promise to write a post about it but I need to find some pictures and a recipe that corresponds more-or-less to what my mother makes to share with you. Just to tell you how much I adore this traditional French Canadian dish, when I was pregnant with my first child and very sick, my mother made a tourtiere for my birthday and I remember throwing-up and coming back to the table to start again. Now that’s commitment.

Tomorrow I might get adventurous and try some kind of scalloped sweet potatoes. Anyone knows of a good recipe?

Leaving you with my favorite quote this Thanksgiving, in memory of Paul Prud’homme:

Anderson: So how to you cut the turkey to be able to stuff it with a duck stuffed with a chicken?

Paul Prud’homme: Very carefully so you don’t hurt yourself!

Large Family Eating: Meal planning edition


I’m not back to my normal level of cooking and photographing yet so this week I thought I would bore you with my high tech meal planning tool and how I use it.

First, a few ground rules.

  • I do not shop specials. We live in the country and the mileage involved in shopping specials makes it moot. My time is valuable.
  • I buy all my meat from Costco. Costco’s regular prices usually match grocery store’s sale prices. Someday I will buy ethically produced, grass fed, local meat. I just don’t have the enough cycles to submit to the waiting-lists-suddenly-buy-a-whole-hog game. Someday.
  • My husband does the Costco. He always buys the same things and I figured out how to use them. It’s a modern version of the hunter/gatherer gig: he brings home the mammoth and I cook it. We buy meat, dairy, eggs and bread at Costco, among other things.
  • I do the produce and grocery runs two or three times a week.
  • I’m not sharing how much we pay in groceries every month because (a) it’s obscene, and (b) it increases every week these days.

My meal planning tool is called a clipboard. By that, I mean an actual board with a clip on top where I can affix paper and tuck a writing implement. On the piece of paper, I write the days of the week and I leave room for notes. Notes are usually events or activities that have an incidence on meal preparation. For instance, if we are going to a party or if I need to have supper ready earlier than usual or if I am coming home from an afternoon activity later than 3pm, etc. (because if dinner hasn’t started by 3:00, it’s not happening.) On the right hand side  is a grocery list column, to write…. The grocery list! I know: high tech doesn’t even begin to describe it.

(If you think that Excel would do all this for me, (a) you are probably right, (b) you have never seen me use Excel, it’s stand-up comedy; and (c) some teenager stole my mouse and I’m using the track pad on my lap top 100% of the time. Using Excel with a track pad is prohibited by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms under  “cruel and unusual punishment.” I don’t get paid enough for that shtuff.)

 

There’s always song lyrics on my lists. This one is from Taylor Swift ‘s All Too Well. That song is superbly written. I have a songwriting hobby that is mostly limited to listening to other people’s work and wishing I could write like that.

Once my little spreadsheet is written, I take the clipboard with me for a walk. We have a pantry and two freezers, both of which contain things I can’t remember. I make a menu based of the mammoth parts my husband has hunted down from Costco. Then I check the grocery items I will need to accompany said pieces of meat. I write everything down on the paper with a pen. At that point, I might also ask the family for input since, you know, there is never anything good to eat here. At that point, my entire family might answer: “I don’t know. Food?” And this is how I end-up with hundreds of dollars’ worth of nothing good.

Fries for Friday’s dinner? Check.

(Normally it would be written in French but I made this one just for you).

And there you have it. Large family, high tech, meal planning. The clipboard lives in my purse afterwards.

Before I let you go, I just wanted to share our Sunday meal. My friend Sue’s amazing pulled pork (which I took from the freezer) and beer bread. I had never made beer bread, I didn’t even know what it was, but I got the idea from one of Simcha Fisher’s “What’s for supper?” blog posts. Since I want to be as awesome as Simcha, I decided to give it a try. It’s seriously amazingly good, especially with pulled pork. I used this recipe: http://www.food.com/recipe/beer-bread-73440 and yes, I sifted the flour and it turned out perfectly.

This will definitely make you as awesome as Simcha in the kitchen. As for the becoming a gifted writer and successful blogger,  I’m still working on it.