Saturday, March 26, 2011

Veggie gardening confidence boost, I assure you!

I'm a sandwich gal. A lot of good stuff can be fit between two slices of soft bread. And since I ended up with far too many sprouts for our small family, I gave a bunch away, then packed as much as I could into my Brie, Tomato, Sprout and Dijon sandwich. Next time I will start with about 1/4 cup of seeds, rather than half. I wonder, too, if staggering growth between the three tiers is a smart idea. That way we could enjoy a steady fresh supply of sprouts every four days or so. I can add sprouts to any sandwich, salad, or even dress up a pasta dish or BBQ steak, they are versatile, full of nutrition, and so could find a spot on many of our plates. Try marinated and grilled whole portabello mushrooms with roasted red peppers and sprouts on flax bread. If you like goat cheese, and a bit of that. Lunch doesn't need to be peanut butter and jelly anymore. Try sprouts! Tiered sprouters like the biosnacky can be found at health food stores or online. But a mason jar and some cheese cloth will get you started immediately - simple directions here.





If I can grow sprouts, anyone can. My kids think I'm pretty neat.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


There are some prayers I pray very quietly, skipping words altogether, and only thinking the rest. These are prayers I know God hears (when does He ever not hear our prayers?!), ones He loves, ones I pray often yet appreciate only much, much later. They are prayers of growth, heart searching ones, lamps shining into the utmost corners of our hearts. My faith is huge when I pray these, I know God hears me even though a little bit of me wishes he'd choose to ignore as I am well aware that He's not going to send change by dropping it in my lap, but by sending me a situation, I am sure you know what I mean. If only I had this kind of faith when I am praying other prayers, ones for healing, direction, and wisdom.

Let me take you back a few weeks.
The day before we were due to leave for a sun-filled, bone-warming March Break family vacation, following three days of intense rainfall and snow melting, our worn out roof decided to give up life and leak, right into the master bedroom.

Let me take you about a year back.
We finally paid off debt, we were free, we never wanted to get back into such drudgery. For a year we lived comfortably, mostly playing catch up. A couple of months ago we finally arrived at a stage in life where we could begin saving. Saving for a roof, saving for future education, for retirement.
The roof to leak at this time, was simply put, bad timing. A year from now would have been much more convenient. But it wouldn't be so, thank GOD we have Him to turn to. My husband and I both put worries aside, deciding to do what we could, and expect God to pick up from there. We arranged for large, water sealing tarps, we checked into home insurance, and lined a slurry of contractors to give us repair quotes. I'd like to say God put a check in the mail to pay this horrific bill, but it would not be so. He must be up to something much grander.

Then today happens. Mountains of laundry awaited me, for the second day in a row, after an unfortunate head lice incident my daughters brought home from school. I was just about to tackle the last two loads when my washer stopped working.

I immediately went to God, after informing my husband, who didn't seem as discouraged as myself. Doubt and an issue with trust arose from the depth of my heart, and was brought to light. I felt angry, I wondered where in the world God was, why, with a roof needing repair, He would allow another repair or, worse, a large purchase to enter our lives. I tried calming myself, I continued to clean, I read a good book, then I decided to pray the unthinkable - "You fix the machine, God!"

I'd like to say He did. And I can.. After a few failed start up attempts during my angry moments with God, red lights faintly flickering but losing energy quicker than a pregnant woman walking up a flight of stairs, I gave the machine another shot, turning knobs in all directions (no, I did not hit or bang on the top of the machine, we all know this doesn't work!), slowly, suddenly, life began sputtering back into the machine. Red buttons flickered brightly, and I heard that beautiful sound of water gushing into the drum. Coincidence? I think not... Since I had prayed that very morning for God to show me corners of my heart in need of an upgrade.
And, just to top it all off, the previously broken buzzer works at the end of each cycle again, too. Not bad for a machine that's been dying for the past long while. I wonder if my clothes will come out whiter and brighter?

Day two for Sprouts: so much growth in just 24 hours, reminds a bit of my growth, too. The prayer of a righteous man avails much. Sometimes, it fixes washing machines.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Sprouting Headquarters

Weight for weight, sprouted seeds contain more nutrients than any other natural food known to man - enough to rival even the best supplement pills available. They contain high concentrations of valuable enzymes, proteins, mineral substances, trace elements and natural vitamins. Sprouts also contain excellent fiber that is beneficial to the intestines and regulates the digestive process. Since they grow right up to the moment they are picked, practically no nutrients are lost. (source)

It's Sprouting, Day 1.
By the weekend we should be enjoying a fun combination of organic alfalfa, radish, and broccoli sprouts. I borrowed this biosnacky sprouter from my mom, feeling very grateful as it has many great childhood memories of watching daily growth attached to it. The waiting game between seed time and harvest in an outdoor garden can test the patience of just about any child, but when sprouting, action starts almost immediately! I soaked half a cup of seeds for 8 hours, and then gently spread them in the sprouter trays. The bottom tray catches excess water and is very easily removed twice a day when I pour 1 cup of water into the top tray. The water slowly dribbles from tray to tray, perfectly moistening each seed.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Good-bye, old man Winter

Shout with me, if you will, a big good-bye to old man Winter! I can not tell you how joyous I feel at the thought of the world around me coming to life again. You probably don't feel much different, I would imagine, unless you live for Winter sports, then, I am sorry. Apple Streusel Crisp is a dessert/afternoon snack I begin making at the first sign of Fall, continuing right through Winter, after which it is put aside, so I have something to look forward to, later that year. It's been a staple in my kitchen for at least 11 years, a number I find amusing, as I don't feel I've been around long enough to use such a thing. Royal Gala are not your usual baking apple, yet I prefer them, I love my apples super soft. Crispin or Granny Smith apples are great if you prefer apple chunks to hold their shape.

Apple Streusel Crisp

Serves 6


6 tbsp cold butter

1 cup oatmeal, rolled

3/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup all purpose flour

1 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp salt

In a medium sized bowl, cut the cold butter into small chunks, add oatmeal, sugar, flour, cinnamon and salt, using fingers, incorporate the dry ingredients into the butter until it resembles a chunky, coarse meal. Place in the fridge while preparing the apples.

Apple filling:

3 lbs Royal Gala apples (about 6 - 8)

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp dry ginger

dash each nutmeg and ground cloves (optional)

1 tbsp all purpose flour

1 tbsp cornstarch

Preheat oven to 350 F. Peel, quarter, core and cut apples into even slices (about 3 slices per quarter). Cut slices into 3/4 inch cubes. As you cut the apples, place them directly into a glass or ceramic baking dish, about 8 x 11 inch in diameter. Once all the apples are done, evenly stir the brown sugar over them. Then add the spices, flour and corn starch. Take the streusel topping out of the fridge, and layer over the apples. Place on the middle rack in the oven, and bake, uncovered, about 1 hour, or until apples are soft. Serve with yogurt, milk, whipping cream or ice cream.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Vegetarian night

The last time I kept a diary, I was in grade 8. I quickly learned that no matter where I hid the thing, inquisitive little sisters were sure to find it. Today, I write a rather different weekly journal, one I am happy to share with anyone who cares: I keep a weekly menu. This normally includes five dinners - one that gives us a good variety of proteins and grains. I then load everything up on veggies. If a special breakfast is needed for the weekend, I jot that down, too. Lastly, I make a list of baked goods, sweet or savoury, also breads, which will be made to get us through the week healthfully. Writing down the book with the recipe and the page number makes things even easier. If I am using printouts, I put them all in one easy to find spot.
At times when I don't use my journal, we spend more on groceries and eat more junk. It's a lose-lose situation overall. So I make a point of taking a half hour each week to plan ahead. There's never a scramble when dinner time comes around, I know exactly what's in my fridge and I can even prepare for the next day, if chick peas need soaking or meat needs thawing.
When I am feeling less creative or I'm too busy to look through cookbooks, I flip back in the journal to weeks gone by for dinner ideas, remembering favourites and passing on flops.

A new family favourite was born today, one I changed to my liking by replacing some original components with chick peas for a complete all-in-one vegetarian dinner.

Chick pea and Vegetable Fajitas
Serves 4

1 large red bell pepper, sliced into 1/4 inch strips
1 small onion, peeled, halved and sliced into 1/4 inch strips
1 cup cooked chick peas
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp fine sea salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp canola oil
1/2 tsp fresh lime juice
6 - 8 8-inch whole wheat with flax tortillas

2 ripe Hass avocados
1/4 cup very finely chopped red onion (optional)
1/4 cup very finely chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 lime, juiced
Hot pepper sauce
salt and black pepper
Use a fork to mash the avocados, leaving it a bit chunky. Stir in the onion and cilantro.
Add lime juice and hot sauce to taste. Season with salt and pepper.
If the guacamole has to sit for a few hours, keep the avocado pits and push them right into the guacamole, this will keep it from oxidizing and turning brown. Put in an air tight container and store in the fridge.

To make the fajitas:
Combine red pepper, onion, chick peas, cumin, chili powder, sea salt, black pepper, and garlic in a bowl. Drizzle with the canola oil, toss to combine.
Heat a saute pan to medium high. Add the vegetables and cook until crisp-tender, about 5 - 7 minutes. Remove pan from heat, sprinkle lime juice over vegetables and stir to combine.
Spread some guacamole on each tortilla. Top with vegetables and chick peas, top with a little sour cream or my favourite, Balkan yogurt. Optional: shredded jack cheese, salsa, additional fresh cilantro.
Fold or roll up and enjoy.

Here's how I served it to the kids, since they love chick peas more than anything:
(By the way, the kids very happily, very messily, ate everything on their plates.)

And, for my husband, the please-make-sure-you-load-it-with-cheese guy, I did just that:

Monday, March 7, 2011

It's a wonderful life

There are so many things I love about this photograph.
Most obviously, I am quite certain my yellow lab is nothing short of eye candy.
Digging a little deeper, I easily find those one thousand words pictures can tell.
I am a mom. My house is not perfect, colorful toys have replaced stylish decorating accents. Because I am a mom, my Christmas wreath is still up in March, as kids grow out of shoes and clothes at lightning speeds, and the funds for that rusty metal moose head I've had my eye on are literally worn by ever growing not-so-little-anymore little (healthy) bodies.
Because I am a mom, I have time to bake bread, from scratch, the sweet smelling dough rising in a sunny spot beside the fireplace.
Because I am a mom, we can not hire pricey contractors to put in new floors, we've had to learn to do it. Yet as my kids zoom around on their new plasma cars, I feel satisfied.
Because I am a mom, my life from the outside in may not look perfect, but when you look a little closer, it's just that, and more.
I feel fortunate to be a stay at home mom in a culture where career is king. I'd rather not miss out on those many little things that make life what life should be.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Quinoa = Love

I have a naughty secret.

Today was my first time making quinoa.

That's not the secret.

I wanted to enjoy every bite of this adventure - since the little taste I had of the quinoa while cooking made me smile so huge - that without hesitation, I turned the TV on for my girls, pulled up a table and a couple of plastic chairs, and yes - I let them eat, by themselves, without parental supervision, in front of the TV.

Then, I poured a big glass of 2007 Riesling, plated salmon, baby bok choy and red quinoa pilaf with as much pizzaz as I could muster, dimmed the lights, and ate one amazing dinner, quietly, savouring every morsel. Paul was not home, he's working in the big city today, and traffic can be horrific around dinner time.

Three words. I love quinoa.

I'd like to say my kids loved it too, that when I returned to the family room, they were licking their plates and pleading for more. But it would not be so, not yet, anyway. One day, they too will savour every last bite. Since we'll be eating of it often from here forward.

Honey and Soy Glazed Salmon over Organic Red Quinoa Mushroom Pilaf with Steamed Baby Bok Choy
Serves 4

Begin with the quinoa.

Red Quinoa Mushroom Pilaf

1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
1 cup fresh crimini mushrooms, gently wiped and thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups organic red quinoa
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
freshly ground black pepper
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth


Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat until hot. Add the shallot and mushrooms, cook and stir until mushrooms are brown and shallots are soft.
Stir in the quinoa, salt, thyme, bay leaf and black pepper. Toast the quinoa while stirring, for about 3 - 4 minutes.
Add the chicken stock, careful for splatter as the saucepan is very hot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, covered for 15 minutes.
Remove quinoa from heat, uncover, fluff with fork, remove bay leaf and set aside. (Don't worry if not all of the chicken stock has absorbed.)
Let stand about 10 minutes - here's where you start the salmon.

Honey Soy Glazed Salmon Filets

1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1/4 cup honey
2 tbsp canola oil
4 skinless, boneless fresh salmon fillets (totalling 1 pound)
Make sure your oven is preheated to 350 F/180 C.

Prepare the glaze:
Combine soy sauce and ginger in a small saucepan. Bring to a gentle simmer, then add honey and stir to incorporate. Remove from heat.
Heat an oven proof skillet (cast iron or stainless steele) over high heat. Add 1 - 2 tbsp canola oil, enough to coat the surface.
Reduce heat to medium, add the salmon, presentation side down. Cook without disturbing until the fish turns opaque halfway from the bottom up. The fillets will be browning nicely.
Turn the heat off. Turn fillets over and quickly spoon glaze over them. Immidiately transfer to hot oven, bake 5 minutes.

While the salmon is baking, prepare the baby bok choy:

Steamed Baby Bok Choy

8 baby bok choy
1 tbsp olive oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
1/4 cup water

Trim the base of each bok choy, being careful to leave them intact. Remove any damaged leaves.
Heat a large skillet over med heat.
Drizzle the olive oil to coat the surface.
Add the chopped shallot, cook 2 - 3 minutes until tender.
Add the water and bok choy.
Cover tightly with lid and steam for 3 minutes.
Season lightly with a little pinch of salt.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Presenting... The kitchen/pantry/breakfast nook/heart of the home

Kitchens certainly don't need to be huge or fancy or expensive to be welcoming, warm and the best part of the home. A little personality, most often discovered when creativity trumps budget, ample storage and one decent work surface is all you need.

We used only basic big-box cabinets. I found the door handles at IKEA for 50 cents a piece. My fridge is small but huge in comparison to most used in Europe. I love bamboo for flooring, not only is it earth friendly, it is also warm and gentle on my feet (and knees), not bad at $2/sq ft. The counter is laminate, I haven't regretted my choice once, especially since we added gorgeous 2 inch glass and stone tiles as a back splash. We chose a more expensive tile and installed it as a border, which makes this an affordable way to add luxury.

I chose a less expensive floating island, which also adds more storage, for every day bowls, baking sheets and strainers. Plus the huge roaster I bought for Thanksgiving which fits no where else.

I like to keep my counters uncluttered - cooking is much easier when you can use every last bit of the counter. I do keep a cutlery container full of cooking tools close to the stove, this way everything I need is within reach.

On the other hand, I don't mind open pantries, it screams family to me, and that's what the kitchen is all about, isn't it! We eat here exclusively, except for dinner, the girls watch and often cook with me around the island, and I can help them with homework while finishing up the dishes. It simply works.

I do dream of a modern country home, I love panelled walls and am surprised how these 80's panelled walls, installed horizontally, turned out. Modern country in small town suburbia, done.

When the weather turns warmer, the girls and our pooch will have a little outdoor photo session. I am hoping for gorgeous face-only close ups to put in these large frames. I love simple, detailed close ups.

All kids adore jars with treats, I fill mine with organic dried fruit, instead of sugary cookies. (It's a big hit.)

My favourite and most used cookbooks are always close by.

Lunch bags live here too, as does cereal, the fruit bowl, and napkins. And I am ever so happy to get my aprons and kitchen towels out of my other cabinets and into pretty sea grass baskets.