the joy of cooking.


My boy loves to eat.

He’s really, messily into it, in a way that neither my husband nor I remember our daughter being.

In fact, I spent a bemused dinner hour a few nights ago spoon-feeding my three-and-a-half-year-old daughter the same pasta that my nearly-eight-month-old son was happy shoveling into his mouth unassisted.

That she was eating that pasta at all was down to her being willing to try it only because her brother seemed to like it so much that curiosity got the better of her – not curious enough to pick up the spoon and feed herself, mind you, but enough to agree (with a certain indulgent air) to give it a try for Mama.

And yes, I did consider that a victory.

I know that in time the other shoe will drop, and our boy will become, at least for a while, as picky about what goes in his mouth as our girl is at the moment, but for now, we’re happy to take advantage of his willing palate with dishes like this one.



Morroccan-ish Chicken

I think the secret ingredient here is the ras al hanout, which is reportedly a blend of over 20 spices and goes a long way toward adding authenticity to my attempts at Morroccan cooking, about which I know not a great deal. I got my little jar, made by a company called The Epicentre, from this great store in our neighbourhood.

I also think this would be a great slow cooker recipe, but as my kitchen is not equipped with that particular fabulous appliance, I can’t be entirely sure.

3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp each coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp ground sumac
750 g boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 medium onions, diced
a 2″ piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
a 796 ml (28 oz.) can San Marzano tomatoes and their juice
juice of a lemon
1 tsp ras al hanout (see note at the beginning of this recipe)
8 dried apricots, finely chopped
1/2c canned coconut milk, plus more if needed to thin sauce
fresh coriander leaves, for garnish

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a large, heavy ovenproof skillet with lid, heat olive oil over medium-high heat.

Stir together thyme, salt, pepper and sumac in a large, shallow dish. Add chicken thighs and turn to coat with spices. Add thighs to hot oil in pan and brown well, turning once, about 5 minutes or so per side. Remove thighs.

Add chopped onions to pan and cook, stirring frequently, until golden, 7-8 minutes. Add ginger and garlic and cook, stirring, a further 2-3 minutes, until very fragrant.

Add tomatoes with their juices and lemon juice, breaking up tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon as you stir. Add ras al hanout, apricots, and coconut milk. Stir well.

Return chicken to pan. nestling the thighs into the sauce a little bit. Bring to a simmer, then cover and transfer to hot oven.

Cook about an hour, until chicken is tender and the house is filled with lovely smells. Serve over couscous and garnish with coriander leaves.

Serves 4-6.

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mama down.




Is there anything worse than the flu bugs you get from a baby?

I know, I know, of course there is.

But at this moment, eyes and nose streaming, ears clogged, throat raw, sleep-deprived and generally miserable as I am, I am finding it hard to keep some perspective.

In fact, I am so miserable that there is really only one thing I am willing to eat – and it is pictured above.

This silken, soothing custard is the ultimate comfort food to me, and my childhood dish of choice when anything really unbearable came my way.

Give me this, and some hot water with lemon and lots of honey (no whiskey, I promise), and I may live to see another day.

Baked Vanilla Custard
adapted from the Laura Secord Canadian Cookbook

2c milk
1/2c sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
a sprinkling of nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Boil a kettleful of water. Lightly grease a one-litre ovenproof dish.

Combine milk and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat and whisk until milk is very warm (do not bring to a boil, or you will have a curdled mess rather than a silken dreamy thing to eat) and sugar dissolved.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together eggs an vanilla. Pour milk mixture into egg mixture, whisking constantly.

Pour custard into prepared dish, and sprinkle with nutmeg. Place dish in a roasting pan and place in the oven; pour boiled water into the roasting pan, until it reaches half way up the sides of the custard dish.

Bake 25-35 minutes, until almost set. Remove custard from roasting pan and leave it to cool, in its dish, as long as you can. It might be marginally better cold, but I never get that far.

Serves two greedy people.


gratitude.


My baby has been unwell for a couple of days now.

I’m grateful that it seems to be nothing serious, just a bad cold and a bit of a fever; and although it has resulted in such an astonishing lack of sleep at night (even for us) that I have been stumbling through my days woozy and disoriented, I’m less bothered about that than one might expect.

I am actually a little bit grateful, because in the long nights and (even longer, frankly) days that he’s not been feeling well, he and I have been stuck together like glue.

I love everything about holding him so close, constantly – and it’s a rare treat given that he is my second child and my affections, considerable though they are, are (necessarily) usually divided between him and his sweet sister.

I’m grateful to have had some extra moments to inhale his sweet-apple scent and wonder that he won’t take a soother – so unlike his sister! – and that he gets panicky, just like I do, if he doesn’t have one foot uncovered in bed.

I am also grateful because as I write this, he is asleep.

He stayed asleep (mercy!) when I slipped out of bed.

And the rest of my family is still sleeping, too, giving me an unfettered moment to enjoy a luxuriously hot cup of coffee (I’m on decaf these days, but the placebo effect is remarkable) and make everyone pinwheels for breakfast.


Cinnamon Pinwheels

When I was growing up, we had pinwheels for breakfast when we were out of eggs so pancakes or muffins were not an option – because we never knew when they were coming, these resonate in my memory as the best kind of treat. The recipe, of course, is Gwenn’s.

1c milk
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1c all purpose flour
1c whole what pastry flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2c + 2 tbsp butter
6 tbsp soft brown sugar
cinnamon, to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Combine milk and vinegar and let stand while you get on with the making the dough:

In a large bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Cut in 1/2 c butter until it is the size of peas and dough is crumbly.

Pour in soured milk and mix just until it clumps together. Turn out onto a floured board and knead gently 11 times (not more, not less. Seriously! This is the key to the success of your pinwheels!). Add more flour if the dough seems excessively sticky.

Roll dough into a rectangle about 14″x10″. Melt remaining 2 tbsp butter and brush evenly onto dough. Sprinkle brown sugar evenly over butter, and dust with cinnamon.

Roll dough up longwise, to form a cylinder, and pinch along long edge to seal. Cut crosswise into slices about 1″ thick.

Place pinwheels on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake 15 minutes, until golden.

Makes 16-18.


conventions.


Like many aspects of our life, my family’s weekday mealtime routine is a bit unconventional.

My husband works in the late afternoon and late into the evening, so breakfast is an extremely leisurely affair, involving baking, cocoa-drinking, story-reading, music-making, and, in good weather, a trip to the park or another outing of some kind to blow off some steam and get everyone stoked for lunch.

Lunch is the main meal of our day, and it happens in the early afternoon. The spouse who has not taken the kids out in the morning is usually the one who prepares the food, and once we’ve finished eating and cleaning up, and the kids and I have begun to shamble through the remainder of our day, my husband goes to work.

I relish our days together as a family, and I recognize that they are a luxury that not many families are able to enjoy, particularly in the fast-paced and expensive city where we live.

The corollary, that we worry about our finances perhaps a little more than some of our friends and neighbours, feels like a small price to pay for all of this time with our babies. They are growing at lightning speed, and soon enough (sooner than I care to acknowledge), the demands of a more conventional schedule will impose themselves.

The only slight drawback of our daily routine is that the evening meal my children and I have together tends to be a touch on the uninspired side: these days I rely heavily on French toast and cheese omelettes, roasted vegetables, and – more often than I care to admit – granola with applesauce.

This soup is one that is currently in heavy rotation on weeknights. It’s not overly glamourous, but it covers all of the basics; and it’s dead easy to make, which has its advantages at the time of day that every mother I know refers to affectionately as ‘the witching hour.’

Day’s End Alphabet Soup

I chop all of my vegetables in the food processor, and I aim for two cups of each. I always have carrots, onions, and celery on hand, which is why they are specified here, but I encourage you to be creative!

2 tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
4-5 carrots, finely chopped
6-7 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 tsp cumin seeds, coarsely ground
1 tsp celery salt
6 c low sodium chicken broth
3/4 c alphabet noodles

In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute 5 minutes, then add remaining vegetables, cumin, and celery salt. Saute until veggies are tender. Add chicken broth and bring to a fast simmer. Add noodles and simmer 6-8 minutes, until noodles are cooked.

Makes easily a couple of dinners’ worth.


girl food.


My daughter adores pink.

Not only is she enamoured of the colour; she is quite convinced that pink is for girls ONLY.

Whenever she tells us that, in her stern, unwavering 3-year-old’s voice, my husband and I duly remind her that there is nothing saying boys can’t also enjoy the beauty of pink, just as girls can sometimes be fond of blue, etc. etc.

While we try to be earnest and attentive when we have this conversation, and our aim overall is to discourage the division of likes and dislikes along gender lines, most of the time we’re content as long as we manage not to encourage it.

And in fact, to be honest with you, often our efforts even in that department are a little half-assed.

Last night, I made the roasted beets you see above. I may have mentioned that my daughter is not inclined to try new foods, and that vegetables are particularly problematic; so I thought I had hit the jackpot when I realized that beets are – yes! – a pink food.

Her eyes widened slightly when I pointed this out.

“Mama,” she said, “does that mean that beets are GIRL food? For girls ONLY?”

My answer came instantly and unflinchingly: “Yes, darling, they are.”

Beets for Girls ONLY

The above photo was taken without the goat cheese topping, because frankly the dish looks a little better that way, but I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you how much better it tastes after it’s been slathered in goat cheese, butter and fresh herbs!

2 bunches beets, peeled and quartered (reserve beet greens for another use)
1 tbsp olive oil
1/4c soft goat cheese
2 tbsp soft unsalted butter
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon leaves

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Toss beets and olive oil and place in a shallow oven-proof dish. Roast for about 20 minutes, until just barely tender.

While beets are roasting, mash together goat cheese, butter and salt until combined. Stir in tarragon.

Dollop goat cheese mixture over beets and continue to roast a further 10 minutes or so, until beets are quite tender and cheese it golden in parts.

Serves 3-4 as a side dish.


easter post-script.


This is the ham I cooked for the two of us, our 3-year-old, and our baby.

Delicious, yes!

Excessive? Possibly.

Never knowingly undercatered, I always say…


good intentions.

I had every good intention of making at least a portion of my Easter dinner in advance, to share with you here.

Sadly, that isn’t what happened, but I can tell you that the fabulous ham recipe I am using can be found here, and I am making these potatoes. There will also be green beans, possibly a salad, and whatever remains of this morning’s chocolate haul for dessert.

Now, a glass of bubbly and we’re off to join Alysa’s family to hunt for eggs.

Happy Easter!