Thursday, April 29, 2010

Give me the green

I love the colour green. Not forest green, unless it's the real thing, but crisp, yellowy greens. Apparently it's a calming colour. And it's been said that green lovers are smart. Would be nice if that was true, now wouldn't it! (I've decided to run with it.) So what is it about green that makes me sing? It encompasses so many diverse and amazing things - many of my favourites, actually. Like spring, and new life. Greener living, and how it's become a trend! (Possibly the first trend I'll follow, too.) Then there are the vegetables, fruits, and herbs. How green signifies nutrients. And I am sure there is some sort of psychological reason as to why we go on green when approaching a set of lights. Green is not only comfort to me, it is life. In the case of these Thai Rice Noodles, green is crisp from fresh lime, and hot, oh so hot, from the jalapeno peppers I threw in without first deseeding them. Um, perhaps not so recommendable when feeding children under 10 years of age. I do love treating myself to a little heat once in a while, though!

This is a simple, yet stunning rice dish, which satisfies those ethnic food cravings I seem to get. There's not much prep to be done, making it a quick, veggie filled, healthy dinner option. Toss in a cup or two of cooked, shredded chicken or a pound of ready-to-eat shrimp for a meaty upgrade.

Thai Rice Noodles
Serves 4 - 6

3/4 - 1 lb medium-thick rice noodles
3 tbsp fish sauce
3 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp soy sauce
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1 jalapeno - deseeded when children abound, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 tbsp peanut oil
2 cups snow peas, ends trimmed
1 red pepper, thinly sliced
1 handful roughly chopped cilantro
1/2 cup almond slivers, toasted (in a dry skillet, over med - high heat, for about 3 - 5 minutes)
1 - 2 limes, cut into wedges

Prep veggies.
Cook the rice noodles according to package directions. Drain and rinse.
Stir together the fish sauce, sugar and soy sauce. Set aside.
Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over high heat. Add the oil, then snow peas and red pepper.
Cook while stirring for a couple of minutes.
Add the green onion, jalapeno and garlic.
Continue stirring, cook until the vegetables begin to brown and the garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute.
Add the sauce, swirl it around the pan, then add the drained noodles and combine well.
Take skillet off the heat, add in the nuts and cilantro, reserving a few for garnish.
Serve immediately, with lime wedges.

Friday, April 23, 2010

From then to now!

Isn't it incredible how the sense of taste brings with it a sense of memory? This, to me, is yet another reason why I adore food. In my late teens, I made cream cheese and bagels to pay rent. A minimum wage job, yes, but I never disliked being there. A standard kitchen aid mixer now looks funny to me - as I've worked with models 10x it's size when whipping up pounds and pounds of cheese.

Oh cheese, how you make my world go 'round! Be it expensive or common, I don't discriminate. There's a special little place in my heart (and tummy) reserved for stinky cheese, too. And one day, I just know it, I will love goat cheese, and possibly eat it every day!

We sold about 15 different flavours of cream cheese at the Cafe. Could be more, but certainly not any less. I'm actually quite curious how much I, on my own, ate (inhaled) while working there. It was free, after all, and I was a student, with bills. And still, I only have fond memories of Caramel Apple, Herb and Garlic, Sundried Tomato with Feta, and Roasted Red Pepper. Did you know you can stir just about anything into the creamy white stuff? So today when I saw my bulk amounts of cream cheese in the fridge (thank you Wegman's), I thought - surely I can remember what I did to create cream cheese heaven, oh, 12 years ago. It may not be exact, which is OK - we don't want to have any copy right issues anyway - but this Spinach and Feta Cheese was always my favourite. I think I did my memory justice.

Spinach and Feta Cream Cheese
1 brick or tub Cream Cheese (8oz or 226g)
2 green onions, finely chopped
1/2 cup crumbled feta
pinch of white pepper
1 cup frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed as dry as possible
Combine well. Slice bagel. Spread on bagel. Close eyes. Mmmmmmmmmmmmm!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Little incentives, big flavour and a fun show!

Thinking big can be intimidating. I certainly shy away from situations which put me out of my comfort zone. Well, until recently. I have discovered pushing myself, starting with baby steps which gradually get bigger with every new challenge, also comes with equally big rewards. So, when I put out my 100 member challenge, I felt pumped! Only a day later I found myself pleading with my husband to please... help me out! Again, this challenge isn't so much about the actual number, but rather about creating a community of people eating fresh foods and enjoying the process. I would love to hear about your local food possibilities, about the changes you have made with your food choices, and all the excitement it brings. And, as a little added incentive, I have thrown in a reward of $10 in itunes! The winner will be chosen randomly - once my 100th post is completed. That's just 10 more to go! Help me achieve my goal, because I am looking forward to getting to know you better...

I love trying out new foods on my family. Almost as much as I love figuring out how best to work with a new fruit, vegetable, or in this case, jalapeno pepper. Hot peppers sounds so dangerous, so mysterious... I find myself feeling mischievous - as though I am a child (ok, teenager) playing with fire. It's possible I don't get out enough, but I must tell you - hot peppers are fun!

Besides, it's spring - what a great time to give our ovens and slow cookers some rest, pull out our best knives and biggest cutting boards - fresh is in the house! For anyone in a dinner time crunch, this is that time of year to finally cook from scratch, and possibly receive a standing ovation, too.
Cilantro and lime are beautiful together. Add in a hot pepper, you've got yourself some flavour. Here's a recipe for my home made salsa (no excuses to buy the jarred stuff anymore). You'll feel proud of yourself after making it (all of 10 minutes later), I promise.
Tomato Salsa
Combine and chill for an hour before serving:
3 medium tomatoes cut into 1 cm dice
1/2 cup finely diced red onion
2 jalapeno peppers, finely chopped (try Serrano peppers if you dare!)
1/2 cup fresh finely chopped cilantro
1 garlic clove finely chopped
2 tsp lime juice (about 1 lime)
2 tbsp tomato paste or ketchup
1 tsp salt

Maybe we'll see each other at The Good Food Show in Toronto this weekend?

Monday, April 19, 2010


How's that for a welcome? Imagine yourself reading this while visiting a friends' home for the very first time. Kids in tow. With muddy boots. Kids that might break something, and may be picky about the food put in front of them. All those pretenses of being perfect and having angels for kids would be out the window, no where near your thoughts. You could relax, have a seat, sip on some coffee and enjoy a little togetherness. Is that even a word?

I love community and everything it encompasses: if you've run out of eggs, I've got some for you; if you go on holiday, I will keep an eye on your home; if you require an hour, bring the kids over; if you are alone at dinner (or not), let's eat together; if you need to cry, that's ok - I'll cry with you; have a reason to celebrate, let's party!

I want to thank all of you who read my words. To me they are simple, but they are always real. I don't know all of you readers, but I sure wish I did! So let's create a little community, right here on Sprout. We all have something to offer, and a whole lot to gain. I am getting quite close to my 100th post, (wow!) and would like to celebrate by getting to know you better. If you don't already officially follow me, I would be so honoured if you did. A little challenge to myself is to find 100 "followers" by my 100th post. Not because it's all about me, or Sprout, but because it's about community. I would like to feature you the reader, right here, perhaps as often as once a week, or even monthly. I strongly believe everyone has something to offer! So please, if you would be so kind, join me and let's Sprout together.
To learn how to follow this blog and what following means, use this link:

Thursday, April 15, 2010

All natural, super healthy - GRANOLA

I've been making my own granola for about a month now. I very much look forward to granola day! As it bakes in the oven, my house smells amazingly cozy and inviting, but best of all - this granola is packed full of healthy goodness. For about 10 minutes of prep, that's a pretty big pay off! This recipe is inspired by Cheryl, my lovely tree tapping country friend, and is changed every time I make it, according to what is kicking around my pantry. As you can see in the photos, I don't always add dried fruit - my favourite way to enjoy this is stirred into plain, organic whole milk yogurt, with some fresh strawberries or bananas. If you are using dried fruit, cut up about 2 cups of a variety of fruits, like cherries, apples, and apricots into raisin size pieces. Raisins and dried cranberries do not need to be chopped. Add these to the granola after baking, once it has cooled thoroughly.
Once again, this recipe is a guideline only - as long as quantities are correct, you can change it up in many ways. My granola this week, for example, contains no nuts, because I wanted to pack it in school lunches. The nuts do add incredible flavour and texture, I would suggest them if you aren't planning on sending any to school.


Combine in a large bowl:
6 cups rolled oats (no substitutions!)
1 cup sunflower seeds or any other seed, like pepitas (which I used for mine this week)
1/2 cup sesame seeds, or something else like unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup ground or whole flax seeds
2 cups slivered almonds, or change it up with any other nut - I love to use pecan pieces

Mix together:
1 cup real maple syrup or honey
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp real vanilla extract

Add the maple syrup mixture to the oats. Combine until everything has been coated with the syrup.
Preheat oven to 300 F. Spread the granola in stone or glass baking pans, about 3/4 inch thick. I use two pans, sometimes three! Place them all on the middle oven rack, should they not all fit, use the next rack down as well, and rotate every 20 minutes top to bottom. You need to set your timer for every 15 - 20 minutes anyway, to stir the granola, this ensure even crisping. Total bake time is about 50 - 60 minutes, or until granola is golden and crisp. Do not over bake though!

Store in airtight containers, like mason jars, and do not refrigerate.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Case Study

It's a beautiful spring week day, which means I am spending loads of time out in the yard with the kids, digging for 'fossils' in the sand box, pulling weeds, and sitting on the patio with a cold drink. And unless dinner is prepared on the BBQ, it needs to be made in a flash - I don't want to miss any warm, energizing sun rays! The number 1 misconception of cooking from scratch must be the unavoidable involvement of processed food. I guarantee you, this doesn't have to be the case, fresh is just as fast, but one hundred times tastier. I apologize for yet another pasta dish - it seems as though pastas, breads and soups are what I get excited about, probably because I am confident any home cook rushed for time can make great, fresh food without a ton of time spent (except for the bread, I suppose!). The reason I decided to write about this particular pasta dish is because I have been making a rather similar one when I only have about 20 minutes to spare. This Jamie Oliver version truly knocks it out of the park, and I found it to be an interesting case study in using spices (cinnamon with tuna?), as well as fresh lemon and herbs (I am crazy for these!). There is always that question of, how do I know when to use what herb, when do I add it, and what can I add to bring out the flavour even more? Practicing with existing recipes can open the window of opportunity to create your very own signature dishes.

All the credits for this recipe go to Mr. Jamie. Knowing his passion for passing on a recipe, I am sure he won't mind me passing this one on to you.

Lazy Afternoon Pasta
Serves 4

Olive Oil
1 red or white onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 - 2 fresh red chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
1 level teaspoon ground cinnamon
a bunch of fresh basil, leaves picked, stalks chopped
1 x 28oz cans good quality plum tomatoes
2 x 10oz cans good quality tuna in olive oil, drained and flaked
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lb good quality rigatoni or penne (I used seashells)
zest and juice of 1 lemon
a small handful of freshly ground grated Parmesan cheese

Heat a good splash of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan a cook the onion, chili, cinnamon and basil stalks on medium to low heat for 5 minutes until the onion has softened and is slightly sweet. Turn up the heat and add your tomatoes, tuna and a good pinch of salt. Break the tomatoes up using the back of a spoon, then bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring often. Taste for seasoning, adjust with salt and fresh pepper if needed.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a pan of boiling salted water according to package directions. When al dente, drain the pasta in a colander, reserving some of the cooking water (about 1/2 cup). Toss the pasta into the tuna and tomato sauce with the roughly torn fresh basil leaves, a glug of olive oil, the lemon zest and juice and Parmesan, mix together well. Loosen the pasta with a little of the reserved pasta water if needed. Check the seasoning and serve immediately.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Year of the Goat

I am not an avid reader. My bookcases are full - not surprisingly - of cookbooks, decorating and hosting books, and a stack or two my favourite magazines. Still an exciting part of my life is searching through mountains of books at our local book clear out depot, where I can fill a good size box for $30. Last time I was there, I meandered down the novel section, one that is very unfamiliar to me, and to be honest, one which doesn't keep my attention. I'm a reality kind of girl. Sometimes, however, these two worlds come together and create stories my way - true stories, about life's journeys, by inspiring people that make me want to better myself. "The Year of the Goat" is one of these.

The author is not only a woman my age, but has a desire to leave behind a fast paced life (not that mine is overly fast) in the city and live simply, enjoying and treasuring everything around her. One major difference might be that I do not desire to become a live stock farmer. It's the life style I am after. As my girls continue to grow, and are both just about ready for full time school, I had always imagined myself with a day job, plenty of shopping on the weekends, and super cool vacations. But stop, I've made some discoveries: An hourly wage does not tempt me so much, I'd rather spend my morning baking bread. Shopping is fun, what can I say, however my new motto is, Buy Only What You Need... and use what you buy. My love for cotton and flowing skirts exceeds any desire for high fashion. Vacations sound fun, I haven't been on many since my childhood. An odd thing happened while reading through several all inclusive brochures: I felt bored just reading them. Sit on a beach all day? It's just not me. I would much rather explore different cultures through discovering the land, by the homes people live in and the food they eat, especially at special gatherings. I love to get my hands dirty, what can I say?

By no means do I intend to proclaim this to be the only way to live, it simply is what I have come to realize, my way. My dream house is not a mansion, but a humble, yet well built family home on a few acres, with a couple of dogs as my security system, and chickens to be chased around in the grass. A lush, successful vegetable garden would be nice. I'd like to call my style Organic Modern. If my Hannah Montana loving daughter would describe this, she'd call it - the best of both worlds.

Here is an excerpt from "The Year of the Goat" by Margaret Hathaway, which is right along the lines of what I have always desired for my family as we grow and change.

"As we make our visits, however, especially to those farms where children are being raised, we begin to think about what it is emotionally that a family farm provides. Working together, eating together, living together: this is a combination that from our earlier perch in New York sounded claustrophobic and gave us anxiety about our own plans for the road. But watching the dynamic between members of the families on working farms, our view is entirely changed. ... On a small working farm, everyone has a role, responsibilities, and, in larger terms, a place. People pitch in and help each other, knowing that every chore - however simple - is important. This isn't to say that living on a farm makes life's relationships easy, or that farm families are always cheerful, but on a very basic level it means that everyone engages with one another, in part because they don't have the luxury of hiding in their room with a laptop or XBox. There are animals to feed, eggs to collect, gardens to weed. And the people whose love and approval are most important depend on each family member to get this work done.

Karl and I both grew up in homes where chores were things like feeding the dog or making our beds. The only thing that depended on their accomplishments was, maybe, our allowance. The more farms we visit, though, the more we see that the fair delegation of real responsibility results in incredible family bonds. Watching families in action, we suspect that the feeling of urban disconnection that first led us to explore these farms might be completely eradicated by adopting this lifestyle."

Friday, April 9, 2010


Hello. It's me. What have I been up to, you ask? Too much thinking, probably, and certainly not enough sleeping. I feel much, much better today - smiling appears naturally once again, and I have become accustomed to a quieter house. We have received some good news (no rabies) but still, I can't help wonder, what and why. Most of all, though, I know going forward, when a friend loses their dog, I can offer a genuine hug, and know what they are feeling. Truly understanding someone is priceless.

I have to tell you, I have had some funny thoughts run through my head this week. Thoughts of never eating meat again, for one, as the reality of death hit a little too close to home. I also revisited life's priorities, and even though I feel for my situation they are right where they should be, new life was breathed into them. I haven't cleaned, or cooked for that matter, as much as usual. Instead, I have played one extra board game with my kids, or read them just one more story, but best of all, we just sat and talked. In a time where I felt like something really important to me was taken away, tighter knots were tied in other areas.

In the midst of this, I visited with a truly amazing friend, and plans have been made to plant a vegetable garden together. In all honesty, it absolutely terrifies me, so any suggestions would be very much appreciated...! We're not planning on a small venture here either, as the garden will run along the entire back of my house. Did I say the entire?

Just for the record, our meat consumption will not come to a stand still, but I've certainly got that last push I needed to search the area for at least naturally raised meats. I would so love to go all organic, this however can not always be realistic at $13/pound for chicken breast. In doing what we can, I think we make an impact, we raise our voice to stop the suffering of our live stock, and we demand a better standard for our dinner plates.

As mentioned, my cooking this past week was not where it should be. I think for the first time in my life, I lost my appetite. So last night, as I peeled yet another squash and made it into soup - with a refreshed out look on life, I saw squash seeds in a completely new way! Sure they are smaller than pumpkin seeds, and there aren't a ton of them... but they are perfectly delicious and have value all on their own. My spark was back! A weight seemingly lifted off my shoulders, I took to cleaning and drying these little guys like they were the most important thing in the world. After a splash of olive oil, some seasoning (sea salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, garlic powder and dried thyme), and a good toss, I preheated the oven to 300 F, and let them roast away until perfectly golden and crisp. And so, a simple supper found it's love and I felt happy.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Pro Life

It's been two days - 48 and 1/2 hours - since we had to say good-bye to a friend and fun companion, our little 10 pound pup, whom I lovingly called Rox, who never failed to come when I called. Reminders of him are everywhere, of his LIFE - which brings a smile to my face but an ache to my heart. My daughter found one of his hairs in her breakfast this morning, to which she said, "Hopefully I'll find one tomorrow, too". Totally gross in an odd sentimental sort of way. My husband couldn't help but laugh a little as I felt the same while picking up the last dog poops in our backyard.

The part which troubles my soul is the guilt, could we have done more for him? We had to bring him home Monday evening after a full day at the vet's, even though he was not well, as the bill was mounting. He was in a safe place, we brought medicine for him, and I stayed with him for most of the night until I was emotionally and physically exhausted. The vet tells us no money in the world could have saved him, but the guilt of what if sits on my shoulders like a heavy brick. His suffering seems unfair, his life snuffed out too early.

My thoughts travel to Easter. Only hours after our tragedy - yes, small in comparison to the suffering happening all around us - we take time to remember the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. It somehow brings a deeper understanding of Easter's events to me. To see suffering, without being able to do something, can be, should be, difficult to digest. And yet God willingly gave his Son, the only one He had, to suffer a horrible death, for us. And although God could have stopped Jesus' suffering at any moment, He turned His back, because of His love for us, because of the new life that would be birthed. How much His heart must have grieved! How great His love is for us, for our LIVES, for them to be made whole.

The most shocking part about the events in the past few days must have been holding the keys of life and death in my hands. In one way it is humbling, in another it is far too powerful for me grasp. Reading "euthanasia" on the vet's bill sent shivers down my back. And yet God tells us that we hold the power of life and death in our hands, over our own lives, and the lives of those around us, through the words we speak and the actions we take. Perhaps we have taken this too lightly. Perhaps life has been undervalued.

We abort babies, yet save the whales.

Many Christians, myself included, have spoken up against abortion. And at the same time we have become disgusted with environmentalists, vegetarians, and PETA. For what reason? Can we not treasure both? In Proverbs it says, "The righteous regards (even!) the life of his animal". Our society may turn upside down the value of a fetus versus a whale. However, I think it's time for "the rest of us" to bring more opposition against the killing of our very own babies, and at the same time demand better living conditions for the animals God entrusted human kind with.

As this is a food blog, I am taking the time to say we need to do something about the horrendous suffering we put our cows, pigs and chickens through as they are pumped with outrageous amounts of garbage to make them bigger faster, so we can fill our plates with larger portions. I have often snickered at certain people who thanked their animals for their lives, just before slaughter. Please take a moment to think about this - what is so crazy about that?

Regard the life of your animal... I'm just sayin!