Tuesday, August 28, 2007

One skillet dinner & a bowl of soup

Last night was an empty the fridge / use up the leftovers kind of dinner. On the weekend, I'd made these tasty pork chops and had one left over. I'd also steamed a bunch of new potatoes and had some of those. Sliced and browned up the pork chop and potatoes in a big skillet, added peppers & onions, threw in some steak spice and tossed it all together with lots of fresh chives. Served it with some peaches and cream corn on the cob.....dinner's done in 20 minutes. I love having lots of bits and pieces in the fridge, all available to make a fast and healthy dinner on a weeknight.

I think I've mentioned how much I love soup. I LOVE it. I love making it, smelling it, eating it. But it has to be good, and absolutely has to be homemade. There's just so much good stuff that you can fit in a bowl. My son, thankfully, takes afer me when it comes to food- he will eat anything. Now he loves soup too :) The other day I made our favourite broccoli soup. There was bowl left in the fridge and last night he had it as a pre-bedtime snack....how great is that???? I hope this lasts and he doesn't slide into being a picky eater......

Ethan's Broccoli Soup
This makes a big batch, around 12 servings. It freezes beautifully.

A splash of olive oil
2 onions, chopped
3-4 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 heads of broccoli, cleaned and cut up into chunks and florets
2 potatoes, peeled and chopped small
1 can white kidney beans, drained and rinsed.
2 litres of chicken or vegetable broth
Salt & pepper
Tabasco sauce
Cheese for sprinkling (optional)

Saute the onions and garlic until soft.
Add broth, broccoli, potatoes and beans. Bring to a boil.
Reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are soft, around 20-25 minutes.
Remove soup from heat. Use a stick blender to puree the soup. Add milk to achieve desired consistency. For a more chunky consistency, only puree half the soup.
Add salt and freshly ground pepper (I like white pepper), and a few splashes of Tabasco to taste. The Tabasco isn't meant to add lots of heat, just to brighten the flavour.
Reheat for serving and sprinkle with cheese if desired.

Life lesson

Cancer and its treatment is an all consuming thing I'm learning....both for the patient and those around them- it affects everything and everyone. I remember this from my father's relatively, and perhaps mercifully, short fight. At the time, my mom provided most of the hands on care and my sister and I were the peripheral support, the cheering section, if you will. This time around, with my mom, my sister and I are 'it'. There is support from friends but I think it's family that takes on the bulk of it. I've had a lot of time to think lately, about what's important and how to deal with the anger and frustration that has threatened to consume me at times. I'm trying to find something here, a lesson maybe? It's been almost 3 months since my mom's tests started, two months since we got the final results, one month since her surgery and now we're almost one week into 18 weeks of chemotherapy treatment. Through it all, my mom has remained relatively strong and maybe even somewhat detached from the whole ordeal. She has instinctively gone into what I call the "dance while you still can" mode of thinking. She has seized every opportunity to be happy and enjoy what she can, when she can. She has not buried herself in reading and researching and worrying about this disease (that is for my sister and I to do), which would be her normal reaction. She has probably had private moments of sadness and despair, but we have had far more laughs than tears. She is even suprised at herself in this regard. And I have seen a whole new side of my mom, and I like it.

And it's got me thinking....about my own struggles with life in the last two years- the adjustments to motherhood, the isolation I felt in E's first year of life, the struggles with my own health, the chaos of life sometimes, the juggling/balancing act I must perform (and have grown to resent) everyday just to get everyone fed, clothed, to the sitter's and to work, the never-ending renovations in the house we bought on a whim- not knowing just how time consuming or expensive a new baby would be, the precious little time my husband and I have together, the worrying over my son that keeps me awake at night. What I've come to realize is not rocket science, and perhaps should even be obvious. What I've learned now, finally, is that everything I have is precious and I am lucky overall, and really, I'm not that badly off. I used to know this, feel this, but somehow it had gotten lost. I am looking at everything with new eyes these days, and weirdly, at this stressful time, for the first time in a couple of years, I am somewhat at peace. And, I too, am enjoying every moment of happiness right now, seizing any opportunity to laugh and taking whatever time I can to play with my son- sucking up pure unadulterated two year old joy, to sit with my husband, to chat with my friends and stay connected with the world. Dishes, laundry, home renos, even work be damned. I know the months ahead will be hard and sad, but I think feel strong enough to deal with it now.

My mom's first chemo treatment was not so bad, even by her own admission....the nurses were upbeat and friendly, and we had a few laughs. There was disappointment on not being able to get the pic line in (bad veins, or perhaps just uncooperative that day) but we decided to go ahead with the chemo anyways, using a more risky injection approach. I think it was important to start as my mom was mentally prepared. So far she has been queasy and tired, which is to be expected. There were a couple of days of feeling like utter crap (she used more colourful language!). No hair loss yet.....but perhaps it is as stubborn as her? She has been able to go out a bit and visit with friends. Every day should be a bit better now, until the next treatment.

The picture, by the way, of Oma (my mom) and Ethan was taken earlier this year, at the Butterfly Museum in Cambridge.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Feeling a bit melancholy and a bit manic (hence the cooking and late night posting) these days, as my mom approaches her first chemo session. Tomorrow is the day :( We're all a bit scared and sad and mad that we're going through this once again....it's only been 5 years since we did it with my Dad. A bag of mixed emotions, that's me. My Mom is awesome, and brave, and strong, and while I hate to see her go through this, I know it's the only choice she has. I, we, need her around for a long time to come. There are grandchildrens' weddings to attend, I've told her, so she'd better make it through! She just laughs and shakes her head. One step at a time I guess. We will make it through somehow- many others have and so will we. By the first week of December, the chemo will be over, and the healing can, hopefully, begin.

Tomorrow morning, we'll go to the hospital and she'll have a pic line put in, and a couple of hours later the first chemo treatment will start. Lots of sitting and waiting I suppose. That's okay- lots of time to catch up and chat....something there has been precious little of these past few months. Hopefully the side effects will not be too dreadful- we're hoping for the best, but truthfully, planning for the worst. So, my friends, start directing good energy, big prayers, whatever your thing is....our way.

A Big Bowl of Lentils

Fall is in the air. I've felt it the past couple of days. That has me thinking of soup! I love soups and stews...could live on them really, and perhaps I should. Last night I made a huge pot of curried lentil soup- all night in the crockpot so the house reeked of curry in the morning. Sometimes I feel sorry for my co-workers.....ha ha....I must really stink!

This is basic goodness in a bowl.....virtually fat free, full of fibre, good protein, low cal, lots of taste, very filling, super easy to make, freezes beautifully. Doesn't get much better than that! Play around with the spices....cook with your nose on this one- the better it smells, the better it tastes.

Curried Lentils
3 cups of red lentils, rinsed and drained
5 cups of water
1 large spanish onion or 2 medium white onions, sliced thin
oil for frying
1 heaped tsp cumin seeds
1 750ml can of dice tomatoes
Approximately 2 heaped tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp turmeric
2 tsp garam masala
3/4 tsp cayenne pepper, or more if you like it really hot
OR instead of the previous 3 spices, use a couple big spoons of hot curry paste...to your taste
A few handfuls of spinach
Lemon wedges for squeezing
Yogurt, tomatoes, cucumbers and cilantro for garnish

Put the lentils and water in a crockpot or a large pot.
Fry the onions in oil, on high heat, until golden and browned.
Reduce heat to medium and add cumin seeds. When they're slightly toasted, add the other spices or curry paste, ginger and salt. Stir them around until you have a thick fragrant paste.
Add the tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes.
Scrape it all into the pot, stir and cook for 8 hours on low.
At end of cooking, add spinach and stir in. It will wilt and turn bright green.

Serve in big bowls, squeeze a little lemon juice on the lentils. Garnish with yogurt, cucumber, tomatoes, cilantro...whatever you like. Maybe even a tart apple? Dig in, slurp it up.....enjoy!

The Zoo

Last Friday's trip to the Toronto Zoo was great....beautiful weather, lots of happy and playful animals (so much better than when it's hot!), lots to see. E loved it, we loved it...it was great day away. The polar bear was a big hit......he's retiring this fall and there are no plans to replace him. So nows your chance!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Things I Love

A fun diversion on a blah-for-me day......

Soap! Check out this great soapery- http://www.oliviersoaps.com/. We found it tucked away on the east coast of New Brunswick, while away on vacation. It's a great little company and their products are really really nice, and after using them for a month, I've noticed a difference in my skin- smoother, softer, and best of all, no weird reaction (my usual story with a new product). We hadn't intended to visit, but a summer storm sent us looking for a diversion just as we arrived at our intended destination, Bouctouche (also lovely and we did eventually make it there). Olivier makes all natural products based on olive oil. They make a great lip balm which can also be used on burns, scrapes, etc. Colin's been using the shaving soap, complete with an old fashioned brush and he's loving it....lasts forever too! I can also highly recommend the Dry-Sensitive Soap and the Lemongrass Exfoliant Soap.

Soup! I love soup....eating it, making it, finding new recipes for it. Check out http://www.soupbase.com/ for delicious soup bases and flavour concentrates, especially the MSG free Minor's Soup Bases. These aren't your standard oversalted boullion cubes and they're way better tasting than the canned or boxed broth. Best of all, you can make only as much as you need and the paste lasts 2 years in the fridge. This is the next best thing to making it yourself....and who has time for that?

Fabric! Just found these two sites, both for fabric....tons of beautiful fabric! I have swatches on the way from http://fabric.com/ ....where I possibly may have found my elusive green fabric for E's room. Then I found this site http://www.designerfabrics.ca/shop/scripts/ which is Canadian, located in Toronto. Looks good, although I haven't ordered anything yet.

My feet! Go to http://www.europeanspaproducts.com/ for all kinds of spa products, including my favourite foot cream by Gehwol. Prices are the same or better than at a spa or salon, and you always get lots of free samples with your order. All orders $45 or more ship free, and I usually have an order at my door in 2 days. It's a Canadian company located in Richmond Hill. Why drive anywhere when it can come to you??!

Shoes.....comfortable, yet fashionable. If you don't have a retail store near you, this isn't a bad option http://www.aerosoles.com/.


Sunday, August 12, 2007

Sunday Dinner

I like Sunday dinner. I like the idea of having one time during the week when you're guaranteed a special meal, unrushed, in good company, whether it be family or friends. I love spending the afternoon in the kitchen, chopping, cooking, baking and prepping for the week ahead. Sometimes there's a treat ready in time for afternoon coffee. These days I don't often have the luxury of an all afternoon kitchen session, but I'll take what I can get! I think I was probably meant to have a much larger family, because it seems that's who I'm cooking for. We're only a family of three (me, Colin and the boy E) and usually my mom is here on Sundays. So, if you're in the neighbourhood on a Sunday, drop by for dinner....there's always lots of food! I usually try to make something special, or new....sometimes it's good, sometimes it's just okay.

This evening's dinner was good! I tried another recipe from Super Natural Cooking....this time, Millet Fried "Rice", which is pretty much a classic fried rice but using millet instead of rice. For the unaware, millet is a grain most often found in birdseed mixes in North America, but is actually a staple food of almost a third of the world's population. It's really good- nice texture, slightly crunchy and nutty tasting- and chock full of magnesium......see, you learn something new everyday! If you're still leary, consider that Colin, king of all things unhealthy and super refined, said "hmmm, it's actually pretty good....not rice, but good". Then he doused it with the usual slop of soy sauce that must apparently accompany anything that is of even slight Asian influence. Sigh. At least he tasted it first, this in itself is progress. Then he packed leftovers for lunch. So, I guess it passed the test.

Also on the menu- Hoisin glazed chicken breasts with sesame seeds and a mixed green salad with Asian sesame dressing (Renee's- highly recommend it!) and roasted chickpeas (store bought...I haven't gone that far yet...but really, how hard can it be??!!). Dessert was a woefully unhealthy Peach Crisp with vanilla frozen yogurt...but so good and the peach season is short!

Here's my Peach Crisp recipe....

Peach Crisp

10 cups of peaches, peeled and sliced
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/3 cup brown sugar, less is fine if fruit is sweet
1/3 cup white sugar, less is fine if fruit is sweet
Heaped 1/4 cup flour
1 tsp cinnamon

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup butter

Preheat oven to 375F

Toss peaches with lemon juice. Mix remaining filling ingredients and toss with peaches until fruit is coated. Place fruit mixture in large greased pan.

For topping, mix flour, sugar and cinnamon. Cut in butter to form crumbly mixture. I usually do this in a food processor, but you can also use a fork. Top fruit with crumbs. If you have too much, just freeze the leftovers for your next crisp.

Bake 30-45 minutes, until fruit is bubbling and top is golden. Remove from oven and let stand for 10 minutes or so before serving. Serve warm, with ice cream.


Saturday, August 11, 2007

Designing, decorating and dining....

I'm so excited! I scored at FabricLand today......got almost everything I need for E's new room, either on clearance or sale. First project is a valance which will be made of 9 overlapping and staggered panels of fabric- check out the sketch:

My inspiration is coming from a great fleece blanket I got at Costco- it's really cuddly and I love the colours: navy blue, medium blue and chartreuse / lime green. So, the panels will be a dark denim, a lighter denim and a still-to-be found green, all piped in white. If I can't find the green, I may have to settle for a white denim and applique something green on it. Moira....any of the green I need in your fabric stash???? I only need a yard or so.

Then I found this super soft green fleece with a dotty texture which I'll use to make some throw cushions for the bed. But the best score by far was the clearance bin denim which you can kind of see a corner of in the picture. It's a navy denim with several rows of fringe sewn right in. It'd be great as a skirt or a big bag. But for my boy, and only because he's so cute and I'm in a generous mood today, I'm sacrificing it to make some floor cushions. I hope he appreciates it. (Realistically, I know he will value these floor cushions as much as his father would....which is to say not at all....just one more decorative obstacle to toss out of the way! So, these are for me, yes me, who likes floor cushions, and throw cushions, almost as much as I like bags). I'll use the blanket to make a duvet cover I think. I still have to settle on a paint colour...leaning towards a navy like our room, or maybe a medium blue? This is going to be a fun little project!

And, my other big purchase this week was Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson. Yes, it sounds healthy and it is. But it's a taste good kind of healthy! All part of my plan to improve my health (again) and drag those around me along, read Colin. E already eats everything, so he's not a problem. Did you know that you can hide almost any kind of vegetable in a pureed soup? Or a chili you make lovingly for your husband, who thinks it's just lots of meat and beans? I've been doing that for some time but I've already gleaned some new tips from this book :)

Last night I made Shredded Grean Beans with Lemon Lime Zest & Snipped Chives. Totally yummy. I like green beans anyways, but this way of cooking them was great and totally different. Try them, love them.....

Shredded Green Beans with Lemon Lime Zest & Snipped Chives

3/4 pound of green and/or yellow beans, tops and tails trimmed

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or clarified butter

2 tablespoons water

Grated zest of 1 large lemon

Grated zest of 1 large lime

1/4 cup chopped fresh chives

Fine grain sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Slice beans diagonally into roughly 1.8" thick pieces, like tiny angular zeroes.

Heat olive oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Add the beans and stir until coated with oil, then add the water. Cover and cook 2 or 3 minutes, until the beans are brightly coloured and tender; give the pan a good shake midway through to ensure even cooking. Remove from the heat and stir in the zests and half of the chives. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve garnished with the remaining chives.


Wednesday, August 8, 2007

A brand new life

Introducing Blake Jacob Powell.......

This evening we went for a quick visit to see our new one day old nephew. He is a beautiful, perfect and peaceful (for now!) little boy. Welcome to the world sweetie!

It's a happy day!

Today I received some wonderful news. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law are in receipt of a brand new healthy baby boy! I have a new nephew! J & A have been trying for years to have a baby and turned to adoption about 1.5 years ago. Yesterday at 2pm they got a call telling them that there was a baby for them and were they ready for him? So, by 8pm last night, they had him home. He was born early in the morning on August 7 and weighed 7lbs10oz, which is almost exactly what my son weighed. So, tonight I will scrounge through the mountain of baby boy clothes and paraphernalia currently being stored in our house, and tomorrow we'll deliver it and have our first visit. I'm so excited and teary and happy :) Who knew I was such a sap!

Monday, August 6, 2007

"Look Mama, I'm making lemon juice!"

.....um, sure you are E! Just keep stirring. That's the boy wonder helping me make white wine sangria.....he did not get a taste, no matter how much he begged, I promise. Do not call the authorities! He got his own mocktail of juice and "bubbly" in a special cup so he wouldn't feel left out.

Last night we had friends over for sangria and snacks on the patio. It was a beautiful night, and we stayed up talking until past midnight- was fun to catch up and hear about their recent trip to Europe. Here's what we had....I made the White Wine Sangria, Roasted Eggplant Dip and the Avacado Feta Salsa, and Barb brought the cheese platter which included a wonderful creamy blue cheese with pears...so good!

On the home reno front, super-handy (if not always cheery) husband Colin is replacing all the soffits...slowly but surely. This project has not been without its obstacles, of course! Wrong coloured soffits were initially delivered, then numerous delays ensued. Then, the discovery of a carpenter ant nest that had devoured a good portion of a critical (and weirdly, structural, uh oh) piece of fascia board caused even more delay. Despite all that, the portion above the patio is essentially done, and it is there that I shall sit and pretend that it's really all done...while Colin slaves away on the other side of the house. On a positive note, since Colin annihilated the ant nest (and likely some of his own brain cells), we have not had one single ant come marching through the house. Hooray for pesticides......and I never thought I'd say that!

Sunday, August 5, 2007

A day at the beach

Saturday was beach day, because you have to go to the beach on a Canadian long weekend! We've decided recently that we need to stop working around the house so much and simply do nothing and having some family fun. Of course, doing nothing really means doing plenty of prep work so you can spend a few hours doing nothing! So, we spent an hour making a picnic lunch, packing up sand toys and beach umbrellas and suncreen and towels and everything else we'd possibly need for a day at the beach, or a week away if I'm honest about it. Then we spent two hours driving, with a couple of stops for traffic jams, coffee, snacks, my husband's never ending washroom breaks (I'm restricting fluids on these trips now!), and finally a line up to get into the Pinery. Then a trek up and down and up again across the dunes, and finally we're there! Phew.

It was a spectacular day....sunshine, wind, lots of big waves to body surf, sandcastles or "sandcakes", as my son calls them, to build.
On the agenda for today- a little home maintenance, a little cooking, and friends over for drinks on the patio this evening. I have some avocados begging to be made into guacamole, and white wine sangria calling my name.....

Friday, August 3, 2007

And so it begins.....

Today's the day.....I set up the blog a couple of months ago and then never got around to doing anything to it. Like so many other projects in the last couple of years....fallen by the wayside in a flurry of raising a kid, working, renovating a house, maintaining friendships and taking care of the assorted life crises that keep coming my way.....

So here we go....what's this all about? I'm not really sure yet, so this will be a work in progress. I just feel the need to write lately....and heck, why not put it out there for all the world to see! Maybe a bit on working motherhood and how maybe it's not all it's cracked up to be....how there's no way to keep everyone well taken care of and still take care of yourself so you can take care of everyone else. And so it goes. Maybe when I step back and feel a bit more positive, a bit on the simple joy of seeing that all the effort, all the stress and all the sleeplessness is likely worth it when you see your beautiful boy laugh and smile and he's healthy and good; when your husband tells you 10 times a day that he loves you (even though it gets on my nerves when I'm just trying to get something done so I can FINALLY sit down, deep down I know I'm lucky!); when friends and family sit at your table and enjoy the meal you've made and drink wine (usually too much!) and laugh like crazy people; or when you're pulling weeds in the garden at dawn so you can avoid the oppressive Ontario heat and smog and noticing that the yard you almost died landscaping (because of said heat, smog and godawful weeds!) is really really really beautiful. Maybe it's a way to stay connected with friends and a sister that I just don't see enough of, of letting people who are important know where I'm at, what I'm doing and why they don't hear from me that much! Maybe it's simply a way of tracking my life, and sharing my life, and making myself see that even though it's been stressful and sad lately, there really is a lot of joy. Okay, enough heavy stuff.....I really am a glass is half full person! For sure there will be pictures, recipes and stories of renos gone bad and good!

What am I about? These days, I work full time, try my best to be a great mom to my 2.5 year old son, cook, do laundry, garden, etc. and when I'm done with that I may bless my darling husband with some attention. We're neck deep in home renos and landscaping, I'm super-busy at work, and am about to immerse myself in duties at my son's co-op pre-school (not sure yet how I'll feel about being around all those kids!). I work full time at a job I love, or love most of the time at least. I love to cook and entertain, and I love making and creating- cooking, sewing, painting, crafting, garden, decorating, whatever- just wish I had more time!

Okay, now it's time to go converse with my husband for his alotted 10 miuntes a day :)