Monthly Archives: June 2010

Food invades my dreams

Last night, after finally reading the Christmas issue of Food and Wine, I dreamt about chicken and pot roasts. (And, oddly, moving in with my cousins, who for some reason had endless supplies of make-up samples and a really weird huge house.) Talking about food makes you want to make more food. Photographing food makes you want to make your food prettier. Reading about food makes you want to make your food more unusual, more noteworthy. I wish I were making Pork, Mushroom and Squash Pot Pie instead of Chicken Pot Pie (with canned mushroom soup) and make it look just as delicious as it does in the magazine. I wish I could make my own recipes, understand what spices go with what food, what veggie goes with what meat and when to stop adding chocolate or garlic or salt.

Today’s recipe is an old family favourite, always delicious, always bad for you. It’s an Edna Staebler recipe, so of course it really schmecks. The name is terrible though: she calls them Funeral Cookies. Her explanation for the name?

Not a bit funereal but the quickest thing to make and take to a suddenly bereaved friend who might need to have “something on hand.”

See? Desperately in need of a rename.

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Salmon instead of chain restaurant gourmet

When M suggests a date night to use up his gift card to Milestones, I hesitate, so not ready for a meal in a nice restaurant. I’m not wearing any make-up, I’ve just barely changed out of my pajamas, my hair is flat and boring, I am feeling far from attractive. Besides all that, I need material.

Sad, isn’t it? My blog dictates when we go out for dinner and when we stay in so I can make something awesome. Not really actually. Remember what I was saying in my last post? We’re cheap. Date night next week.

(Besides, it’s kinda like every night is date night… last night, after supper, we enjoyed a glass of wine together and watched a hilarious Canadian movie snuggled up on the couch.)

And these were totally worth staying in. Maybe M made the final call because he was excited about what I was planning?

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Brown Sugar and Vanilla Coffee

Considering what I have to share this morning, I think I need to do a quick overview of what my food philosophy is.

I went to the library yesterday looking for a cookbook filled with delicious foods I might want to make. The library was half an hour to closing, so suddenly the pressure was on to find something good because they were getting close to chasing people out. Next one I picked up, I decided I would take. I ended up with this one. When I got home and flipped through the recipes, I only found one or two that I had a remote interest in making, and the ones that did look interesting, I wanted to modify quite a bit. The biggest problem? Most of these recipes are significantly outside of the budget M and I have set out for food. Most of the appetizers were made with seafood. There were a few chicken recipes that I might try. But even the pork recipes weren’t regular pork. Pork tenderloin is not particularly cheap! And steak? Not on the menu, except for special occasions. The book is filled with ingredients like grapeseed oil, sea salt, and vanilla beans. I wouldn’t even begin to know where to find some of this stuff in the grocery store! This book is meant for a foodie.

And I am not a foodie. Perhaps this is because I grew up directly in the food industry and developed opinions that go directly against those of foodie culture. I’m not particularly insistent on using natural foods, though I still look for the blue cow on my ice cream and would for my cheese if it weren’t already so expensive. I won’t buy anything but Ontario apples, and if the strawberries aren’t Canadian, I won’t buy them. But all that has nothing to do with carbon footprints: I’m just trying to support the industry that raised me and got me through university.

You may have noticed a trend. Let’s put it this way: M and I are normal people with only a single income at the moment (my job hardly counts: I still have yet to hear about when I’m supposed to be working next) and a well-taught ability to stick to a budget. When we go to the grocery store, we may spend 5 minutes deliberating over three different brands of bagels, comparing the cost to the quality and trying to find the best balance between them. More often than not, our decisions land on the side of cost: we’re willing to take a hit in food quality as long as it’s cheap.

M is more this way than I am. A lot of the blogging I’ve been doing about food lately has probably come out of a response to his ambivalence about taste. Instead of having chicken strips and perogies every night because they’re cheap and easy, I’ve been going back to the beginning, the unprocessed foods, keeping the pantry stocked and some frozen veggies in the freezer for back-up.

I guess all that comes down to this: I want cheap, but I want tasty too. I don’t want spaghetti every night: I want to be able to learn to make new things and develop a better understanding about how our food choices fit into our budget. If that means using margarine instead of butter or No Name cheese instead of Black Diamond, I’m completely OK with that.

Now, to the bit of deliciousness that I have to share this morning: Brown Sugar and Vanilla Coffee. Coffee connoisseurs may turn up their nose when they see this recipe. Usually, I have real coffee. We even have a really good coffee maker we got as a wedding present. But this morning, I was out of ground coffee and, believe it or not, I actually don’t mind the instant stuff. We usually have a bottle for back-up when we do run out of the ground stuff. So, I found this recipe!

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Fresh bread, straight from the oven

Last week was kind of a crazy week. I had two convocations to attend: my own on Thursday and M’s on Saturday.  Because it was so busy, the cupboards were looking a little bare, especially of bread product. A perfect chance to pull out my bread recipe and get my hands dirty.

This recipe is one of those things that ties me back to home pretty strongly. There was a period of time that my mom baked all our bread. It was the only time I saw her hands without rings: she would take them off and put them someplace safe, on the windowsill or the lazy susan.* I asked her to teach me how to make bread when I was in my second or third year of university. I don’t think I’ve ever ruined a loaf: making bread is so simple, probably easier than most realize.

My recipe, while originally taught to me by my mom, came from Food That Really Shmecks by Edna Staebler. And because she’s awesome, I have to share what she says about this bread and baking bread in general:

Bread-making is a grand thing to do. Kneading is a kind of revelling: it makes one feel like a primitive, pioneer woman–unstarvable, self-sustaining and joyful. …

Do I seem to be trying to talk you into making your own bread? I hope you don’t mind. I simply enjoy making and eating it so much myself that I’d like everyone else to have the same pleasure. If, then, you can hardly wait to get started, I assure you again: you are ready for one of the great satisfactions of a lifetime. Good luck.

Food That Really Shmecks, 153-154

Edna Staebler is one of my food idols, not because of her cooking (it’s all Mennonite cooking, so nothing terribly exciting or out of the ordinary in my opinion) but because of the delightful rambling she throws into her cook books. Now, on to the recipe and my own rambling attempt to explain how to bake bread.

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Did you find everything you were looking for today?

I ache all over. I officially have 5 hours of retail experience. Awesome.

Baby clothes are so cute.

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Almost Spaghetti Cottage Cheese Pasta

We bought a cute patio set for our balcony with our Canadian Tire gift cards, so M and I are once again eating at a proper table some days. Besides KD, this was the first real meal to christen the table.

What with the tomato sauce and cottage cheese and mozzarella I thought it would taste a lot like lasagne, but it was just no replacement. It was tasty, but not tasty like lasagne. The mozzarella topping was good though, delicious really, and it doesn’t take much more time than the spaghetti it tastes a lot like, so it is still worth trying out.

Also, it has onions in it. I like chopping onions, even though they make my hands smell for a couple days afterwards.

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Sour Cream Biscuits

I love it when M’s friends come to visit. It’s nice to have people in the apartment, especially people that he, being kinda shy, is completely comfortable with. But I don’t always have much to say. They talk engineering stuff all the time, things about snow load, and rebar,  and missing concrete walls, and calculations and things I have no knowledge or thoughts about. So, while they talk about pipes and design drawings, I write blog posts.

These biscuits need a little more trial and error. I over-baked them: the recipe called for 12-15 minutes, but 10 would have been sufficient. They were slightly dry and a little too dark. But, I think with a second attempt, I may be able to get something a little tastier. They were extremely simple though, and potentially a tasty crust for a pot pie. They would have gone well with a soup. But that’s not what we had for supper.

Try them if you wish, but I guarantee nothing about the quality of this recipe.

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Mom’s Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

My life has settled into a routine of sleeping in, lazing around, maybe applying for a few jobs, watching TV, and doing some reading (mostly amazing food blogs these days, like this one). For some reason, finding motivation to get into the kitchen is a lot easier than, say, finding motivation to think about writing the novel I keep thinking I should write. Hence, all the food posts lately.

Everyone’s mom or grandma or great-grandma made oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. They are delicious and easy. I’m not sure where my mom’s recipe came from. Making them always reminds me of home: not the new home that my parents have been in for the past 5 years, but the old house. I remember leaning over the counter to scoop a fingerful of cookie dough before my mother could slap my hand out of the way. I remember eating them right out of the oven, because that’s the way I liked them best: hot, so hot the molten chocolate chips would burn my tongue.

I’m not sure where my mom’s recipe came from. I copied it at some point in my second or third year of university, but I can’t remember what recipe book it came from. Mom?

In case you can’t read that:

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What are you doing?

Some of my cook books:

The Joy of Cooking is a kitchen staple. So much more than a cook book.

Cooking Made Easy is one of the publications by the Dairy Farmers of Ontario. See the little blue cow? I love making stuff out of this particular cook book, but when I do it’s certainly not cheap or particularly healthy. Every recipe is full of delicious cheese, yogurt, and milk. This is where the manicotti recipe came from.

Somehow, I ended up with about half the “Company’s Coming” series. I am certainly not complaining.

I like cook books. Even if I don’t actually use them very often.

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Our home

Our apartment is three rooms of tiny. After applying for interesting jobs this morning, I tidied the whole place in the time it would have taken me to do just my bedroom at my old place.

While I’d rather you all just come visit so you can see the place yourself, I know that’s not practical for everyone who reads this, so let me give you a virtual tour of our first home together.

The Kitchen, Dining Room, and Living Room

Yes, all one room. When I first walked into this apartment, my heart sank a little at how small these three rooms combined were. For some reason, I was in a rush to have an apartment and had already gotten used to the idea that we would take the place. Even before I saw it. The building was wonderful, the location perfect, and the price tag decent considering what we got.

Taken from one step out on the balcony. You can see our front door.

You might be asking where the dining room went to. It’s right there. Right infront of you. See those two chairs? And that bit of open counter? Welcome to our dining room. When guests come over and I cook delicious food (which I will, if you come visit!) I set up a “serve yourself” system there and we eat off our laps in the living room. It’s by no means ideal, but we’re hesitant to buy even a small table, because any space a table takes up is space that is gone. We don’t want this place to start feeling cramped.

We had a little difficulty furnishing the place, but, if you have a good eye, you might be able to tell that Ikea was our friend. Since we don’t have a lot of floor space, we resorted to using the walls as best we can. The TV stand is filled with those little white boxes that look like shoe boxes but look much better and cost a few dollars. They help hide our mess. One of these days we’ll upgrade that TV to a flat screen mounted on the wall. Think of the space that would open up!

The kitchen was another place we (well, mostly I) struggled. There are three useful cupboards in the whole place. (There are two more: one I can’t reach at all, and the other is filled with the ventilation for the stove hood.) The open concept is nice, but it means we lost the potential for at least three more head-level cupboards. And, since there’s a dishwasher, we only have one suitable for pots, pans, casserole dishes, strainers, bowls, and crock pots. Then, there’s the four drawers of various sizes beside the stove. One head-level cupboard went to dishes, one to food. See a problem? One cupboard is not enough space for all our food, especially the pantry supplies, things like baking supplies, the multiple kinds of pasta that fills our cupboards, bags of potatoes, the cat food… We needed more space. So, the kitchen extends into the entryway closet where we put a cheap set of shelves from Ikea. It’s not ideal, but it works.

The Bedroom

While the living area is pretty close to what I would call finished, the bedroom… it’s getting there, but there’s one major detail that we still need to figure out. Bedside tables. We don’t have any. So, instead, we have one big plastic bin we used for moving on one side and two smaller ones stacked together on the other side. Yes, this needs to be taken care of. We might be due for another trip to Ikea very soon.

Our closet situation is not the best in this apartment. There are two closets in the whole place, plus a tiny room for the washer/dryer. The closet in the bedroom just a little bigger than my last closet, a closet I shared with exactly no one. And it’s not like M doesn’t have any clothes. We bought matching (aren’t we cute?) dressers from Ikea for whatever needs folding and the set-up is good enough for now. Someday, I would like a closet that has space for our dirty clothes too, so I don’t have to see them all the time.

The Bathroom

It’s nothing special, really.

It contains a really big mirror, two litter boxes, and a lot of unorganized crap (no pun intended. Seriously). It needs help. Maybe that’s tomorrow’s project.

It’s also really warm because of all those light bulbs along the top of the mirror. I have no idea what kind they are, but they always make me feel kind of feverish, especially if I’m blow drying my hair. The bathroom is probably my least favourite room in the whole apartment.

There. That’s where we live. I spend most of my days sitting on the nice black leather couch from the Brick, pretty much our only piece of furniture that we bought new from somewhere other than Ikea, doing nothing, like a lump. An unproductive, useless lump.

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