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Tuna Noodle Casserole

November 12, 2012

Working full-time has brought some balance to my life, though at times it feels like the scales have tipped too far to the career and personal growth side, away from the nest-tending and child-rearing side.  One of the things I miss most about being home is having time to prepare a meal from scratch.  My home baking is often compliments of my mom, or Mrs. Thrifty, and I eagerly scan magazine articles titled “a week of 30-minute meals” at the library and in the grocery store lineup.  This is a meal I can actually get on the table after working all day, picking the kids up from after-school care and taking them to soccer, then arriving home with half an hour to feed everyone before running the bath-books-bed gauntlet. 

450 g (half a large bag) rigatoni, cooked until al dente

1 can tuna, drained

1 can condensed cream of celery soup

1 c cheddar cheese grated

1 c sour cream

1 c frozen peas

Preheat over to 350 F. Stir all ingredients except 1/2 c of cheese together in a large casserole dish.  Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and bake for 20 minutes, until heated through.  Serve with cut-up veggies or a green salad to ease the guilt of this out-of-a-can meal.

Beef Stroganoff

November 12, 2012

When I was a kid, my mom made Meatball Stroganoff, and now that I think about it, meatballs might be easier for kids to eat than the strips of sirloin here.  The recipe below comes from Whole Foods, who have a great suggestions on keeping your grocery bill down (a constant struggle for me) and healthy snack ideas.  This is one of those recipes that makes cooking feel like a sport – everything happens at high heat for a short time, so you have to have everything ready and move fast so nothing burns. You can put aside any stress and just focus on the task at hand, and the result is so delicious.  Mushrooms remain one of my least favourite foods, but I think this dish was my gateway meal to appreciating them.

1 lb beef sirloin, cut into thin strips

2 Tbs canola oil

1 medium sized yellow onion

2 Tbs butter

6 mushrooms, quartered

1 Tbs tomato paste

2 tbs flour

1 can beef broth

1/4 c sour cream

1 tsp dijon mustard

2 tsp lemon juice

8 oz egg noodles

Season beef with salt and pepper.  Preheat skillet over medium heat. Add oil and raise heat to high.  Add the beef and saute until just cooked through, 4-5 mins.  Transfer meat and juices to a bowl and set aside.

Add a bit more oil to the pan and saute the onions until soft and caramleized, about 7 mins.  Transfer onions to the bowl with the beef.

Add butter to a saucepan and melt over medium-high heat.  Add mushrooms and saute, stirring to coat with butter.  Add tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.  Stir in flour and cook for about 1 minute.

Cook egg noodles according to package directions.

Pour broth into saucepan and whisk constantly unti sauce is smooth and liquid comes to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and stir

Thai Steak Salad over Soba

September 24, 2012

My cookbook shelf is full of books that contain one recipe that I really love.  In an effort to pare down, I’m going to post my favourite examples of these one-hit-wonders, and leave room for the 5 cookbooks I couldn’t live without: ReBar, the 3 Whitewater cookbooks, and Bonnie Stern’s Essentials of Home Cooking.

This salad is quick, delicious, has lots of veggies, and everyone in my family will eat it, so it gets repeated a lot on the menu plan.  It’s adapted from “Feeding the Whole Family” by Cynthia Lair, which is well worth borrowing from the library for the theory on nutrition and whole foods, but hasn’t had as many recipes I love as I had hoped.

 

Marinade:

1/3 c lime juice

1/3 c sesame oil

1/3 c packed fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

2 Tbs sweet chili sauce (or 2 tsp sambal oelek, for adults only)

2 tsp honey

1 clove garlic

1 tsp fresh ginger, minced or grated

 

1 steak per person

1 package soba noodles

3-4 c salad greens

1/2 cucumber, sliced

 1/2 c sugar snap peas

2 carrots, julienned

1 avocado, sliced

Combine marinade in a small bowl.  Pour half in a resealable bag or container, place steak inside and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.  Save remaining marinade to use as salad dressing.

Preheat over to 400 F.  Heat a cast iron skillet with 1 tsp sesame oil.  Brown steak in skillet for a few minutes a side, season meat with salt and pepper and transfer steak to oven for 7-10 mins.  Don’t overcook as the meat will continue to cook after it’s removed from oven.  (You could also just bbq the steaks.)

Prepare noodles according to package directions and toss with a little sesame oil.

Transfer meat to a carving board and slice thinly.  Toss greens with veggies and remaining marinade and divide among plates.  Top with soba noodles and sliced steak.

Fresh Peach Pie

September 17, 2012

This recipe is so amazing, and delicious. Pie-crust creation intimidates me, and we are avoiding wheat in this household anyway, so this fits the bill in so many ways.  My friend Stephanie shared the recipe, and thinking of her awesome laugh and great sense of humour increases my pleasure in making this desert.  It tastes just like summer.

Base:

1 c ground almonds

1 c shredded coconut (I use unsweetened)

1/4 c sugar

1/4 c butter

Preheat over to 375 F.  Mix coconut, almonds, sugar and butter.  Press into a pie plate with fingers. Bake 10-12 mins.

Filling:

1 c sour cream

6 Tbs icing sugar (divided)

1 tsp orange juice

1 tsp vanilla

3 peaches (blanched, peeled and sliced)

1 c whipping cream

Whisk together 4 Tbs icing sugar, sour cream, orange juice and vanilla. Pour over pie crust.  Cover with peaches arranged attractively (hmmmmm). Whip cream and fold in remaining 2 Tbs icing sugar.  Cover peaches with whipped cream.  Chill both the pie and yourself.

 

 

 

Winds of Change

August 21, 2012

It’s been so long since I’ve written, and my brain is in summer mode, just kindof jumping from one thing to another, and I’m devouring Irma Voth and loving Miriam Toews’ stream-of consciousness writing, which reminds me of the writing style of one of my favourite bloggers: Not-Calm dot com, so I just haven’t put any thoughts to paper, but have been getting that kindof antsy feeling like time is speeding up and I want to capture recent memories before new ones are superimposed.

The Big Guy is away on a mountain biking trip (I’m jealous, but proud), the Big Kids are away this weekend (I’m sad, but resigned) and the new program of having Baby sleep once a day is working great, so I’m halfway through my two hours of mid-day “me” time before the “stay within arm’s reach so Baby doesn’t do any permanent damage with his exploring, fearless nature” program ramps up again.  Oh, he’s delightful, and oh-so-cute, but he is a quintessential boy.  I have given up trying to capture his antics on film, because twice in the time it’s taken me to grab the camera he’s launched himself onto his head from 1)his wee rocking chair and 2) the stroller.  He reminds me of a dog with the need for wind in his face and adventure ahead.

The change on the horizon is that I’m going back to work.  I’ve been mulling over my thoughts on that subject for the last couple of months, and my feelings are way too complex to try to sort out right now.  The bigger change is that I have a new boss, and I’ve been offered my dream job (a promotion, I guess) but my new boss has no idea I’m pregnant,  so I have, like, 6 months to earn another maternity leave and create the changes I’ve always dreamed of where I work, and help the other staff weather a whole bunch of other changes in our operations.  I think I’ve become a little change-averse since the big shakedown of 2009, so I’m trying to have some perspective.  Change can be good.  One day at a time.  Try to go with the flow instead of swimming against the current.

Thank goodness the exhaustion of growing a tiny person has abated, and the nausea is pretty much gone.  My appetite is back with a vengeance, and I am enjoying the love affair with food that this part of pregnancy brings.  I crave strong-flavoured foods, to really stimulate the enjoyment of eating: olives, artichoke hearts, chutney, pickles, and salsa.  I scramble eggs straight from the coop with a bit of feta cheese and fresh tomatoes and chopped basil.

Having enjoyed a few weeks solid of camping and travelling, interspersed with weekends working, some things in the garden passed their prime before I could harvest them.  I am the proud owner of a whole bunch of broccoli and spinach seeds, so all I can do is practice my seed-saving and maybe save myself a few bucks next spring.  The peas were a big hit, again, in straight Sea Soil, eaten straight off the vine for months.  For a while when nothing was appetising, I lived on snap peas and strawberries straight out of the garden. 

I planted three batches of tomatoes, and wouldn’t you know it, the straggly ones I bought on sale at Coombs in June are doing the best.  I made a mistake with the ones I sheltered in early spring in the greenhouse – I didn’t transplant them to bigger pots!  By the time I put them out they were so rootbound they flowered way too early and didn’t set fruit – either it was too cold or the pollinators weren’t out yet.  Lesson learned.  I’ve pinched all the flowers off the remaining tomato plants so they can concentrate their energy on the green fruit that’s there.

The rest of my hopes are placed on squash plants that have tiny, green acorn and butternut squash.  If we get a long, mild fall they may flesh out and ripen to make good eating.  There are also watermelon and muskmelon (cantaloupe) plants in the greenhouse, as an experiment, but so far they have flowers only, no fruit, so I think it’s too late to expect anything there.

And the girls…  We are down to 2 eggs a day, from 6 hens…?  Four of them are 2 1/2 years old, so they may be slowing down, especially since each moulted, then had a phase of being broody.  I would be exhausted too.  The new girls haven’t started laying, maybe their development is a bit delayed because they were deprived of baby food?  I gave up trying to keep the big girls out of the delicious mush I was setting out for the new ones.  There have been a lot of feathers in the run, and some serious itchy-looking behaviour, so I was convinced we had mites in the coop again, but I have been down there with a headlamp checking their feathery tushes and nesting boxes at night, and there’s no sign of the little red beasties.  I’m rubbing Diotomaceous Earth everywhere and sprinkling it liberally where they dust bathe and hoping to pre-empt the need for a pesticide application.

Rather than fret about what lies ahead, I’m trying to savour the memories of long days over the past two months that have been spent at the beach, swimming in the ocean, and travelling to even more distant isles than the one we call home.  There are two more weeks of camping, travelling, and unstructured play before school and work resume.  I plan to enjoy every moment, then take each new day as it comes.

Friends

June 21, 2012

When I was in sixth grade, a new girl moved to my small town in the Kootenays from Toronto.  She was into boys, and liked talking about who should hook up with whom.  She brought Roots clothing and an appreciation for George Michael to our school.  I remember feeling suddenly immature and insignificant around her.  I liked to go to my best friend’s house at lunchtime and make cheese sandwiches and look at her Sassy magazines.  We played with the next-door neighbor’s dog’s puppies, even though we were afraid of how the neighbor lady smoked and swore.

For some reason this new girl decided that my best friend and I weren’t cool. With another boy, she started spreading rumours that my best friend and I were lesbians, and that we’d been caught kissing in the girls’ change room after PE.  I hadn’t even kissed a boy, but I was pretty sure I would someday, and I wasn’t even remotely attracted to my friend, except that I loved how independent she was, and that I could be myself around her.

I’d like to say I reacted by ignoring the rumours and this new cool pack of mean kids.  Instead I did something I’m still ashamed of:  I picked on someone else.  There was another girl in our class, who wore her long hair in front of her face, and walked around with shoulders rounded as if she wished she was invisible.  She whispered answers to the teacher’s questions, and hid out on the playground during recess.  She had been homeschooled for most of her elementary years, and she was woefully out of touch with pop culture.  She had once admitted that her family didn’t own a TV, and kids liked to ask her if she’d watched the Cosby Show the night before, just to watch her turn red and whisper, “No.”  Her personal hygiene was lacking; I don’t think her parents had talked to her about puberty, or showering, and she usually smelled like b.o.  One day, as she walked by my desk, I made a big show to the cool girl of holding my nose and waving my hand in front of my face, exaggerating how much the shy girl smelled.  To make it worse, I wrote a note that said, “She stinks!” and passed it to the cool girl. 

Two awful things happened.  First, the teacher saw me pass the note, read it, and kept me after school to reprimand me.  Second, it worked!  The cool kids started to treat me differently.  A few days later I walked past them to get into class and the cool girl said, “Doesn’t she look good today? I really like that shirt.”  I didn’t get invited to hang out with them or anything, but I stopped being the brunt of jokes, having moved myself up a notch in the pecking order.

Many years have passed, and I’ve found healthier ways of fitting in.  When my first child was born, the loneliness of being at home forced me out to new-mom drop-in sessions at the Health Unit.  When another mom mentioned that she had a labrador retriever that she walked every day, I got up the nerve to ask if we could take our dogs and babies hiking together.  It turned out we didn’t have much more than that in common, but through her I met another mom, who’s a teacher, whose friendship I value to this day.  When my second baby was born, I built on my small success making friends and started chatting to moms at a drop-in playgroup who also had a toddler and a newborn.  Two of those ladies are still close friends today.  When I think back on that time, it was the happiest, richest time of my life.  I was included in a social group.  I had friends that got me, and we supported each other through all the tough stuff that goes with having new babies at home and a changing identity once you stop working full-time outside the home.

But separating from my ex took a real toll on my social life, then and now.  Friends that we had know as couples were divided in their loyalties, which put enough strain on our friendships that I stopped getting invited to do things as a family.  I meet new people now through school or extra-curricular activities, but when the invitations to get together don’t fit with my shared-custody arrangement, I’m reluctant to spill the beans about why, and lay all the sordid details on the table for analysis (What happened?  How did you cope?  How are the kids?  And those looks of pity framed by incomprehension.)   There have been so many missed birthday parties and dinner invitations.  When the other moms go to an exercise class once a week, or go out for dinner as a group, I don’t feel like I can expect the Big Guy to handle all three kids by himself, so I decline these invitations, too.  These opportunities to make connections with new friends go by, and the phone stops ringing, and time goes on, and I feel like we are on the periphery of a network of social connections that I can’t link up to.

So, when my marriage ended, I knew it would be hard financially, and I knew single-parenting would leave me tired and with little time for myself, but I didn’t  know it would be so lonely!  I’ve neither figured out how to hold my head high around the cool crowd of intact families, nor how to make friends that understand my current situation and accept me for who I am.  I haven’t been able to walk away from my responsibility to my Big Kids and leave the Big Guy in charge, when he finds them so difficult.  There must be a lesson in here somewhere, maybe about accepting who I am first, and letting go of expectations and the need to protect my kids.

I don’t know if you’ve read the Poppleton books, by Cynthia Rylant, but they are excellent.  In one story, Poppleton learns that eating grapefruit helps you live a long life, so he goes out and buys a bag of grapefruit, but he hates eating them because they’re so sour. Poppleton’s friend Hudson (a mouse) takes Poppleton to meet his uncle, who is over one hundred years old.  The uncle tells Poppleton the secret to a long, happy, life:  friends.  Brings me to tears every time.  Now if only I could learn this lesson of how to make friends all over again.

early summer

June 16, 2012

Dear blog readers, it’s been what, two weeks since I last wrote?  See, I’m still trying to figure this blogging thing out.  What is the point?  The point, for me, is to lay down little shards of brilliance (thanks Mom-101) so that maybe I can look back someday and see the mosaic that was my life, the good and the bad, the bright and the dull, and find some happy memories to roll through my fingers like rosary beads when I’m wondering what the whole point was.

Sometimes I’m paralysed by the words of Carmen Aguirre, who won Canada Reads this year, who, when talking about memoir writing, said, “Write to the common experience.  People, your journals are interesting to you and you only.”  So I feel like I have this obligation to review my writing throughly so that it is good enough for the consumption of you lovely friends and family, and also strangers, who check in to see what’s happening in my corner of the world.  Only sometimes nothing profound is happening at all.  Only, many very lovely things worth recording happen every day, that are the most profound, and the shards that I’m wanting to reflect on down the road.

Baby turned one.  In the last year he’s gone from a warm bundle snuggled to my breast or tucked in a bassinet to a wiggly, drooling beast, to a crawling, almost-walking, lovely personality in this family.  Two years ago on Father’s Day the Big Guy and I were kayaking south of Brooks Peninsula and contemplating being parents together.  One year ago the Big Guy held his wee son on his forearm at the Fire Hall.  Baby tried to find something to focus on in the high ceilings and shiny chrome and red metal, then found his daddy’s face.  Today our wee man is about to take his first steps, and yells his mantra, “DADA” while he practices.

I am working a bit, and thinking about my career a lot.  I know exactly what I want to do.  Trouble is, today there is no paying job taking kids outdoors and showing them the miracles that exist in nature if you slow down and look and listen.  There are options, connections I could make, proposals I could write, political waters to navigate and a reputation that I’ve built up over 13 years teaching kids outdoors that I don’t want to damage.  Sometimes I wish, as a friend recently said, that I could be happy just cleaning house and cooking and gardening and watching the kids grow.  And I am happy doing all those things.  But there is a part of me that needs to leave the world a little better; a gift I want to share with more than just my kids and friends’ kids.  There is also a part of me that craves a little independence, financial security, a backup plan.  I hope my wonderful partner understands that that has nothing to do with him and everything to do with me just being a little scared to have all my eggs in his basket.

And surrounding all that worrying and planning and trying not to want something too bad, and trying to find that balance between the real and the ideal (as the lady at the career centre told me), it is a cool, wet spring.  The spinach and peas are gorgeous.  There is food outside ripe for the picking.  The strawberry patch is full of luscious, pale-green berries. (I’m watching the crows watching them, and wondering how much to sacrifice as a penance to the one I killed with the van windshield last winter.)  There will be sunflowers, and hollyhocks, and garlic.  The new baby hens will start to lay.  We will sleep out on the deck under the stars.  We will go to Hornby Island, and Lasqueti Island, and Rathtrevor Beach.  The double kayak is locked up down at Blueback Beach for some summer-night phosphorescence-watching and ocean-meditation.

There. Those are the beads I want to finger slowly later, when step-parenting/co-parenting is particularly hard, or when our house is sinking under the weight of ravenous, hormonal teenagers, or when I’m working full-time at a job that is closer to the real than the ideal.  May I always be grateful for my innumerable blessings.