Monday, May 30, 2011

Sunday Afternoon Buttermilk Berry Cake


Sunday afternoon. Warm, sunny, happy, quiet, lazy. The anticipation of a good meal and being together. It doesn't matter the weather - for me Sunday afternoons are 'sunny' and just about the best part of the week. 

Saturday evening I made a buttermilk cake with strawberries for dessert. So good. So good in fact that I  had to make it again Sunday afternoon. This time with blueberries and strawberries (not having enough strawberries on account of the cake the night before). A simple cake full of ripe berry goodness and topped with a crisp sugary crunch, it is pretty (in a home-y way) but it is the first bite - oh ya...... the sighs from around the table are very gratifying. Yup - it's very good. And very fast. And easy.


Buttermilk Berry Cake
(adapted from Gourmet Magazine June 2009)

1 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 cups fresh berries

Butter and flour a 9" cake pan. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Beat butter and sugar together for about 2 minutes - until pale and fluffy. Beat in vanilla. Add egg and beat well.

Mix in flour mixture in three batches, alternating with buttermilk - beginning and ending with flour. Mix just until combined.

Scrape batter into pan and smooth top. Scatter berries evenly over the top and sprinkle with  2 tbsp sugar.

Bake for 30 minutes or until cake is golden. Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack. Cool 10-15 minutes more. Invert onto a plate.



It's hard to wait for dinner - and sometimes harder still to wait for dessert. A good book helps :)..... a little bit.....for a minute.


Saturday, May 28, 2011

For Katie

A year ago I was asked to teach a class on 'De-Cluttering'. De-cluttering your life, your home, your head. Almost the moment I was asked I thought of five statements that define how I approach organizing just about anything. The next thought was 'okay, that should take about 5 minutes of the 50 that I have been asked to use' and I have nothing more to add. I guess I de-clutter my head a bit too well - or maybe it is just empty minimally decorated. Anyway, I asked Jonathon to do a bit of graphic design for me and he came up with these amazing designs for my favorite quotes - which made me look good and like I had enough credibility to be listened to for 50 minutes. I love the designs so much that I have kept them and rotate which one I display.



I had them printed on cheap, plain, white paper (because I planned to recycle them after the class) at a local shop that prints flyers, signs, blueprints and stuff. It cost about 5.00/print for a 24" x 36" size.


When I was staging Merin's house for sale, there was a blank wall in the kitchen that wanted something on it and I used the quotes/statements again. This time I simply printed them on cardstock (at home), put them in Ribba frames from Ikea, and hung them in a row of three. The young family that bought the house liked them enough to request that we leave them.

A few weeks ago my sweet friend Katie asked for the files so that she could have some of the quotes printed as well. Here they are in jpeg. format Katie. If you - or anyone else - wants them in a pdf. file let me know and I can email them to you. ( Sadly, one can't post pdf. s on blogger)






I think my personal favorite is the the last one by William Morris.

Photos are by edenlangpictures. 

Graphic design by Jonathon Litchfield. 

Do I not have extremely talented offspring?!! And so good to me too. Thanks guys - love you.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Eden-aid: Curried Quinoa and Yam Soup


Eden has been suffering some really severe headaches and yesterday was a bad day for her. Seemed like a little soup on what was literally - as well as metaphorically - a rainy day might be a good thing. Even it if couldn't cure the ailment at least it would show some love and concern. And she wouldn't need to worry about, or make, dinner. 

My good friend Nancy shared the basic recipe with me. It was delicious as she sent it. I made a few changes that I think make it even better. It is fast, easy, and super yummy. (Ya, I know, I know. I've said that before - but it is.) Better yet, it can be made on the spur of the moment from things that I usually have in my pantry. Fastest of all when there are frozen, diced, organic sweet potatoes in the freezer. The only thing you may not keep on hand is the cilantro but it is worth stopping to pick up at the market - it really kicks this up a few steps on the yummy scale. Looks pretty too.

Curried Quinoa and Yam Soup
(adapted from Nancy's recipe*)

1 red onion finely chopped
3 tsps finely chopped ginger
1 garlic clove minced
1 Tbsp coconut oil
1 tsp Red Thai curry paste
4 1/2 cups (1.1L) chicken stock
2/3 cup quinoa 
1 (19 oz) can diced tomatoes, with juice 
1 tbsp dark brown sugar
2 medium yams  peeled and cut into small cubes (or 4 cups diced, frozen, sweet potatoes)
salt to taste
3/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro 


Place the coconut oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion, ginger, and garlic. Cook 2 minutes until softened. Mix in the curry paste and cook 30 seconds more. Add stock, quinoa, tomatoes, sugar, and bring to simmer. Simmer  for 5 minutes. Add the yams and simmer 10-13 minutes more or until yams and quinoa are tender. Season with salt. 

Puree with an immersion blender.

I serve this with a very generous garnish of chopped cilantro - but I love cilantro. If you don't, try some finely sliced green onion.


I wish that I could just kiss it and make it better for Eden. That climbing in my lap and snuggling in my arms was all that it still took to sooth the misery of feeling poorly. Hopefully, it still helps to know that I really, really care. That I love her.

* Unfortunately I don't know where Nancy got the original recipe.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Chicken with Creamy Mushrooms and Snap Peas


I truly enjoy being alone. Alone as opposed to lonely - which I very much dislike. I have always been comfortable spending time with myself and many of the things I most enjoy doing are solitary pursuits or can easily be enjoyed on one's own. Reading, sewing, gardening, walking, even cooking. But one thing that I really dislike is eating alone. It feels ... lonely. There is no one to share the pleasure of good tastes, or the warmth of good conversation and shared interests. I have eaten more meals by myself than I prefer to for the last little bit so I was especially happy to share Sunday dinner with Thomas and Hannah's little family. 

The bonus? It was a fast, easy, and totally delicious meal. Only 25 minutes from beginning prep to first bite. Browning the chicken cutlets in coconut oil instead of the suggested vegetable oil added a lovely, subtle taste of coconut and increased the nutritional value of the meal. 

Chicken with Creamy Mushrooms and Snap Peas
(adapted from Great Easy Meals)

4 chicken cutlets
3 Tbsp flour
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp coconut oil
1 Tbsp butter
4 green onions, thinly sliced
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, thickly sliced or quartered
1 1/4 cups chicken broth
3/4 cups cream
3 cups sugar snap peas, halved lengthwise

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.  Combine the flour, salt, and pepper. Dredge the chicken cutlets in the flour mixture. Melt the coconut oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and cook the chicken until golden, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer the chicken to an oven-proof dish and keep warm in the oven while you prepare the vegetables.

Add the butter to the pan. Add the mushrooms and green onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms brown. Pour in the broth and bring to a boil. Cook until the liquid is reduced by half. Add the cream and boil until the sauce thickens slightly - 3-4 more minutes. Stir in the snap peas and heat through. Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve the chicken topped with the creamy vegetables.


Cauliflower and an ancient grain/rice mixture  went well with the chicken and vegetables.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Sleepover and Cinnamon-Sugar Bread



6:00 AM - Aubrie rolls over, opens her eyes, and notices it is light. Immediately she throws off the bedclothes and both feet hit the floor as she leaps out of bed. I roll over and crack one eye, check the time, and tell her it is too early to wake up. "But it is light!" she responds, surprised at my lack of enthusiasm to greet the day. I (sadly) cannot recall the last time I had that much energy upon awaking. 

Deacon and Aubrie came for a sleepover last night. What a treat! ....for me (aside from the 6:00 AM wakeup). It was even pretty nice to have Aubrie creep into my bed in the dark hours of the morning after a bad dream - only pretty nice because restless would be a good way to describe her sleep. And to be honest, although I hoped for a later wakeup time, I really anticipated that 6:00 would be as late as I could expect. Expecting that, I made bread dough after the kids went to bed last night so that we could make some yummy cinnamon-sugar pull-apart bread for breakfast.

After all I have had to say about healthy breakfasts, I must admit that this does not qualify as a healthy breakfast. It doesn't matter how one tries to justify it or rationalize - this is just not a healthy breakfast. Believe me, I tried. The best I could come up with was (a) at least it is not sugared cereal (which is a joke because as far as sugar goes - this is loaded) or (b) the ingredients are not synthetic or overly processed  - if you don't count the sugar. So, there goes my credibility. But it was a sleepover, at Grandy's, and although I draw the line at feeding my grandkids sugared cereal I wanted them to have fun and to make good memories, so we made the sugar-y bread and I added scrambled eggs and fresh fruit to the menu in an attempt to balance things a bit. I don't know about the balance but we did have a lot of fun.


Cinnamon-Sugar Pull-Apart Bread
(adapted from Joy the Baker )

Dough:
2 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
1/4 cup honey
2 1/4 tsp instant dry yeast
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup butter
1/3 cup milk
1/4 cup water
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
Filling:
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/4 cup butter, melted

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together 2 cups flour, yeast, and salt. Combine the honey and butter with the milk and melt in microwave just until the butter is melted. Add the water, stir and let stand for a few minutes, or until the mixture is warm but not hot. Pour the milk mixture into the dry ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs and stir well. Add the remaining flour and stir for about 2 minutes. The mixture will be a bit sticky and rough.

Place the dough in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel. Let rise until doubled - about 1 hour. Punch the dough down. (At this point you can refrigerate the dough overnight and continue in the morning if you want to have the bread for breakfast. If you do you will want to take the dough out of the fridge and let it warm up for about 30 minutes before continuing. )

Butter a 9"x5"x3" loaf pan. Whisk together the sugar, cinnamon, and cardamom. Set these aside.

Deflate the dough. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out with a rolling pin into a rough rectangle about 12"x 20".




Use a pastry brush to spread the melted butter over all of the dough. It will seem like a lot of butter but try to use it all.


Sprinkle with all of the cinnamon and sugar* mixture. 


Cut the dough into six even strips across the width of the rectangle.


Stack the strips on top of one another and slice the stack into six equal slices again.


Arrange the dough squares in the loaf pan like you would put cards in a card-file - standing up. 


Cover with a towel and let rise in a warm spot for about 40 minutes or until almost doubled. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 350 F. When the dough has risen bake in the oven for 35 minutes, until the top is very brown. (If you take it out when it is golden brown the center may still be undercooked.) Remove from the oven and let rest in the pan for 20 minutes (or if you are just too impatient like we were - about 5 minutes). Loosen the edges of the bread with a knife and invert the pan onto a clean board. You can use a plate to turn it right side up if you want but again we were too anxious to tear into it so it was served upside down - nobody seemed to mind a bit.



We had a great time together with this bread - both making and eating it. Deacon and Aubrie did most of the work with only a little direction for each step, making this a super baking project to do with kids (or for beginning bakers). Everybody felt so successful. Did I mention how absolutely delicious this is?


* In these pictures we were using white sugar but brown is much better.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

8 months ago I wished daily for a how-to manual. 'How to Grieve and What to Expect' with a subtitle of 'Mothering the Grieving Family'. I didn't know how to do what I had to do and frankly wasn't terribly sure that I could do it. Some days were harder than others but of course even those days ran out of hours and usually when the next new day began there would be a little more sunshine. Gradually I began to become accustomed to our new reality. One day I was putting something away and realized - totally out of the blue - that I felt like I could do and had been doing what needed to be done. That I had been blessed with the ability to do it even though I was uncertain that I could. And then, smack! I was blindsided by grief. Again. 


One thing I have learned is that there is no rhyme or reason to grief. 


I woke this morning to find that Eden had shared this quote on her blog*. It is one of my favorites from Merin's journals. 

"Life is so crazy and unpredictable. Kinda nerve racking but exciting. The important thing is to be humble, to try to follow Heavenly Father's will, to use my agency wisely. Life only happens once and I need to remember to enjoy every minute of it! To be positive." 
-Merin's Journal Entry  June 9 2008 

The quote is the essence of Merin. I think of it often - grateful for her sweet wisdom, grateful for her. Grateful too, to know that she would want us to be happy here and now. And grateful that I am...even though I miss her.


* I had been awake for a long time last night and during that wakeful time thought a lot about what I have just shared. It is uncanny how frequently Eden and my thoughts and emotions coincide as we have shared this experience of grief. Uncanny but very comforting.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Home Again

I really hate moving - as in moving house. We have done it many times, to new neighbourhoods, new cities and even new continents. I dread the work involved and the inevitable adjustments but there are some great advantages - new friends being top of the list of course. And then there is the wonderful feeling of 'home' in more than one place. I love returning to Japan for a visit - the smells, the tastes, the sights are all so comfortable and welcome. Then Vancouver - another home, with different comforts and attractions. I just returned to Calgary (currently home) after spending almost two fabulous (rainy) weeks there. I love Vancouver, rain or shine, and feel fortunate to have lived there and to have reason to return often. What do I like so much? Well, I love.....










and a very, very yummy baby with carrots on his face!

To paraphrase the famous Julie Andrews song - "these are a few of my favorite things". It is by no means an exhaustive list - I don't think you really want to know about all the people and places. It is very good to be home again but I am already looking forward to the next trip 'home' to Vancouver, to the people and places I love.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Price of Motherhood

A couple of weeks ago I picked up a book called The Price of Motherhood by Ann Crittenden. It was on a clearance table in the bookstore for a ridiculous price and the title was so provocative that I simply couldn't not buy it. In odd moments since the purchase I have thought - what is the price of motherhood and how would one compute it? What is the value of nine months of pregnancy? or the price of loss of sleep? How about the hours of agony during childbirth and the inevitable hours of anguish during adolescence or illness? Can a price be put on the frustration of dealing with a willful, irritable and irrational toddler (or 15 year-year-old)? Or for what price would you give up your youthful figure?

There are of course bits of parenting that are quite simple to put a price tag on. Those are the ones that can be and often are "hired out" so to speak. The chauffeuring, the cooking, the laundry, the tutoring - the things that others can do in lieu of ourselves, that may or may not make a difference in the final product. Those things are easy to calculate. Have the other things lost much of their value because we don't have any way to quantify them? 

If one is going to assign a price to motherhood though, how about totting up both sides of the balance sheet? What would you pay for a baby's first belly laugh? or that moment of exquisite joy when a new life is delivered into this world? Could there be any way to value a child's sense of wonder? the precious gift of their trust and love? What price watching any single moment of growth let alone the entire journey to adulthood and independence? What valuable could be traded for the sublime treasure of the nurture of another human being?

As I contemplate what I see as the balance sheet I cannot help but feel that motherhood may be undervalued in the market place and in our society because it does not generate an immediate return in terms of ability to purchase or consume goods. Perhaps though there is no monetary value precisely because there is so much of the role that cannot be bought or hired, that no power on earth can buy or pay for. I know that there is not even one single moment of my motherhood that I would exchange, change or give away - not even the painful ones. It is in each moment that I have paid for what I value above all else and what nobody can take away from me for it is exclusively mine - the love I have for each unique child and the love I know they return to me, along with the knowledge of their lives and selves. 

To be fair and honest I haven't yet read the book - at least not more than a cursory skimming - and I don't know what Ann Crittenden has to say. I suspect she places a lot more value on the role than perhaps she once did as the title of another book she has written is If You've Raised Kids you Can Manage Anything. This post is not a book review or in any way a rebuttal, just a few of my thoughts as I have considered the joy and honour of motherhood, and thought about Mother's Day. I do enjoy the attention of my husband and kids as they express the love they feel for me every Mother's Day. David has created a strong tradition of honouring me and yes, I love it. But secretly? you should know that every day is mother's day for me. I am so blessed.

Happy Mother's Day to every woman who has nurtured or hopes to nurture a child - their own or another's. Motherhood is a sisterhood. Celebrate! And the price of motherhood? Well, of course it is priceless ... as opposed to without value. Really, we all know that.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Hurray!!!!

Blogger has triumphed and I have had what was stolen restored. I am so happy, happy, happy. I would never have anticipated such a sense of loss if I had ever imagined that my blog could/would be stolen. I was ridiculously sad. It is after all, only my ramblings. But they are my thoughts and what is more personally ours than our thoughts, after all?


On another note, did you know that tulips are the only cut flower that continues to grow after it has been cut? These pictures were taken only a day apart - by the end of the week the stems had grown another six inches. Once you know that the flowers continue to grow it is fun to really observe the growth. Isn't the world wonderful?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Coconut Oil


If you were to google cocount oil you would find a wealth of pages to choose from. There are long lists of potential health benefits that are atttributed to coconut oil, in fact so many that it sounds suspiciously like good ol' snake oil - buy a jar of this and you will never have any health or aging concerns. Apparently it will fix every little thing that ever goes wrong from hair care to brain health. I don't claim to have any kind of comprehensive knowledge about the oil but the reading I have done has been enough to prompt me to use it and see what I think. And I think I like it. 

On first opening a jar I was surprised to find a very solid pure white substance. Surprised because oil to me is a liquid. Deterred, I put it back on the shelf and resorted to my favorite standby - EVO. But I kept reading tidbits about the health benefits and decided to give it an honest try. Initially I used it for the little bit of frying that I do - it has a very high smoke point and is considered the healthiest oil to use for frying. I was happy to discover that a very little bit goes a long way for frying foods - much less than say canola or olive oil. It does have a slight taste (as do all oils) but it is not at all a bad taste. For Asian dishes the taste is actually a real enhancement. But the use I am most excited about is substituting coconut oil for other vegetable oils when baking. I am still a huge fan of butter for baking - I know it is not a super healthy choice but I continue to believe that it is a much healthier choice than margarine -yuck! - and the taste cannot be beat. Of course, many cannot choose to use butter because of issues with dairy and then coconut oil becomes quite exciting. I use coconut oil in place of canola oil in my granola now and it is a really nice replacement - I think the granola is actually much better.

Anyway, bottom line is that I (currently) think coconut oil is a great oil to use and recommend that you google it and try it yourself. Who knows? It may in fact be the miracle we are all waiting for and if not, well, it makes great hand cream ;)

  
I am not endorsing any particular brand - this jar just happens to have been the brand that was at the store the last time I bought coconut oil. I can say that I like it though. Do buy the Extra Virgin Coconut Oil.