let’s talk about expectations.


The lovely and romantic dinner I had envisioned for Valentine’s Day didn’t quite come together as planned: I bought all the makings for boeuf bourgignon, and in my fantasy it was going to bubble away contentedly on the stove, filling the house with good smells, while my beloved and I sat in front of the fire and ate cheese, drank wine, and – I don’t know, talked?

Of course that’s not what happened (I’m not sure how I managed to overlook our children when I concocted that fantasy). We did have a lovely day, replete with chocolate (and chocolate-y) kisses, as wonderful and romantic as a Sunday in February with two tiny children can be; but by about three o’clock that afternoon, I realized that the boeuf bourgignon was never going to happen.

And I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but I was quite disappointed for a moment. I felt (however briefly) that I had failed to live up to the day’s expectations of me – or my expectations of the day. All of that joyful family time diminished slightly because I felt that things weren’t happening as I had hoped.

Still, I rallied: we opened the good wine that I had bought to cook with, and I made a simple soup with the highest-quality beef broth that was also intended for the bourgignon. We ate our cheese and baguette with the soup, and the bubbly remains in the fridge, awaiting its opportunity.

Why, you may wonder, have I chosen today to tell you about a meal that happened nearly two weeks ago?

Well, I made that soup again last night and it was delicious. Everyone in our house is under the weather this week, so I put it together in a bit of a rush, not expecting much – but it was a perfect simple soup, hot enough for comfort on a cold night and hearty enough that no one was left feeling hard-done-by (which can happen with a soup supper around here).

I’m guessing I’m not the only one who could benefit from lowering her expectations this weekend. These are the dying days of February; the Olympics are drawing to a close. Spring’s celebrations still feel significantly far off. In our part of the world, it’s snowing more than it has all winter.

Best to huddle in and not plan too much. Keep expectation to a minimum, and the joy to be found in simple things may take you by surprise.

Simple Barley Soup

The first time I made this, I used a wonderful and expensive organic beef broth. Last night, I used chicken stock, which is all I had on hand, and not one of us (including the soup) was the worse for it. I also realized after I took the above photo that I had forgotten to add the mushrooms, and that the sprigs of fresh thyme I had intended for a garnish were still in the fridge. Ah well. Life, as they say, is not lived in a lab.

1/2 c pearl barley
1 1/2 c water
1/4 c olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
2 large or 3 medium carrots, chopped (yes, those are carrot flowers you see in the photo, but really, just chop them to a uniform size)
2 large or 3 medium parsnips, chopped (see above)
a handful of sliced mushrooms
1/4 c white wine
1 tsp dried thyme
5 c broth (dealer’s choice)
2 cloves garlic, minced

Place barley and water in a medium saucepan over high heat. Stir well, bring to a boil, cover and simmer until most of water is absorbed and barley is quite tender, 30-45 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add onions and cook until golden, stirring frequently so they don’t burn. Add carrots, parsnips, and mushrooms, and cook, stirring, until onions are deep golden in colour, about another 5 minutes. Add wine, stirring and scraping up any brown bit stuck to the bottom of the pot. Add thyme and broth. Bring to a simmer, then cover and lower heat. Cook until vegetables are just tender, 10 minutes or so, then add cooked barley and garlic. Cover and continue to simmer until vegetables and barley are tender, 20-30 minutes.

Serves 4-6 as a main course, with bread and a salad.

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are you talking to me?


I recently read a blog post in which the author, also a mother of young children, had had a cold. In her post, she talked about how she’d listened to her body so she’d know how to help herself recuperate; and then she described her lunch, which consisted of something along the lines of steamed beet greens, tempeh and sesame seeds with a bowl of sliced oranges and a glass of soy milk on the side.

Well.

I marvel that there are bodies out there telling their people to eat like that. My own body, on a day last week when I’d been laid low by a virus myself, demanded a bacon, avocado and goat cheese sandwich on a croissant for lunch. Granted, it was a whole wheat croissant, but still, a far cry from the self-healing fare described above.

It’s comforting to think that I’m not the only one whose body speaks to her from a slightly less lofty place: my running coach, who is also a mother and leads such a busily giving life that it puts mine to shame, called me last week on the morning we were set to go out together and said, “I’d like to tell you that I’m sick and can’t run, but the truth is that I have a raging hangover.” Wisely, she stayed in bed that morning.

After hanging up the phone, did I consider the needs of my own overfed body and head out for a run on my own?

No, dear reader, I did not. I stayed home and made muffins and ate more than I should have while flipping through the latest Bon Appetit.

Pumpkin Spice Muffins

The soaking method for the raisins here comes from what I consider the best banana bread recipe ever; if rum seems too much, feel free to use water! Also note the lack of sugar in this recipe – I prefer to use apple juice concentrate, but brown sugar may be substituted.

1/3 c golden raisins
1/4 c rum
2c whole wheat pastry flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 scant tsp ground ginger
1/2 c grapeseed oil
3/4 frozen apple juice concentrate, thawed
3/4 c canned pureed pumpkin
1/4 c plain yogurt
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 c chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners, or use 12 silicone muffin cups (I have never used these, but I hear they are fantastic!)
In a small saucepan, combine raisins and rum. Bring just to a boil then remove from heat and cover until raisins are plump and liquid is almost absorbed.
Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and ginger.
In a second bowl or large jug, combine oil, apple juice, pumpkin, yogurt, eggs and vanilla.
Stir wet ingredients until dry until just barely combined, keeping in mind that less stirring makes for lighter muffins. Stir in drained raisins and walnut pieces, if using.
Divide batter evenly among muffin cups, and bake 16-18 minutes, until muffins are risen and golden and a tester inserted into the centre of one comes out clean.
Makes a dozen.


balance.


I’m all about attempting balance in my life these days. If that statement has the whiff of the broad-swath, take-no-prisoners, tomorrow-I-start-a-new-life New Year’s resolution about it, you’ve caught me out: January 1st, 2010, four and a half months after the birth of my second child, slightly nauseous from the lack of sleep and the things I was constantly putting in my mouth to compensate, I decided it might be time to take things in hand a little, or at least attempt it.

Order from chaos might be asking a bit much of my life these days, but a little balance? That seemed like a pretty reasonable goal for the new decade.

Six weeks in I’m nowhere close to achieving it, of course, but I’m taking refuge in the little things: I balance the fact that I am only drinking wine on the weekends with eating chocolate nearly every day. In deference to the fact that I’m breastfeeding, I’ve managed to resign myself to drinking decaf coffee and avoiding all things dairy – and that includes butter, yowch! – but I can handle that, because there is always goat cheese.

And if all else fails, I have engaged a running coach, ostensibly to help me shed some post-baby flab, but mostly because I feel that any amount of overindulgence can in theory be balanced out by lots and lots of cardio.

Recently, my friend Alysa came by on a Tuesday night, and we shared a bottle of wine after all of our kids went to bed. Alysa is the kind of person who really knows how to make things happen, whereas I tend to fantasize about things happening while flipping through cookbooks.

Alysa cooks food that her husband sometimes calls “too healthy to be tasty;” I cook food that causes my husband to murmur wonderingly that we’ve managed to exceed our daily recommended fat intake in a single serving.

About two thirds of the way through our bottle, we both confessed to a secret desire to start a blog.

Our divergent approaches notwithstanding, both of us love food and believe that there is no better place for friends and family to gather than in the kitchen, or around the table; and so, by the time we had finished our wine, Alysa and I had decided we’d start a blog together.

As in elsewhere in our lives, despite our differences, the hope is that some kind of balance will prevail – and if not, a little chaos in the kitchen never hurt anyone, did it?

Welcome!

Chocolate Cookies for Balance
My daughter and I made these together the other day to calm a craving – so yes, they’ve got chocolate in them, but also whole wheat flour (healthy!), brown sugar (unrefined!) and dried cranberries (antioxidant!) so fit the balance requirement nicely – or at least that what I’m telling myself…

1 stick (1/2 c) soft unsalted butter
1 c lightly packed brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1 egg
1 c + 2 tbsp whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 c cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 c chocolate chips
3/4 c dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Line a couple of baking sheets with parchment.

Cream together butter and sugar (I use my Kitchenaid fitted with the paddle attachment) until fluffy. Beat in vanilla and egg.

Combine flour, cocoa, and baking powder in a separate bowl and stir into butter mixture in three additions until blended. Stir in chocolate chips and cranberries.

Drop batter by tablespoonsful onto prepared pans – I got a dozen cookies per pan.

Bake 12-14 minutes, until cookies are slightly dry around the edges. Cool 5 minutes or so on pan before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes about 24 cookies, depending on the generosity of your spoonfuls.