Monday, February 28, 2011

Reading Tea Leaves

You will meet someone tall, dark and handsome.

(That's always true.  Who doesn't know someone who's tall, dark and handsome?  I didn't marry him though.)

You will marry someone strong.

(He's always surprising me by being strong.  It's handy when the yard needs tilling or a tub needs yanking out of the bathroom.)

You will marry someone who likes his drinks strong and dark.

(True. Beer, coffee and now tea.  This tea-leaf reader is onto something now.)

I was given this lovely container of loose tea leaves.  I don't actually like black tea, but Beth does and Yvon does a bit.  And I liked the packaging.  It's purdy.

And the little vacuum  packed bags of loose leaves were also nicely packaged.  But that's as far as I got towards actually trying the tea.  I just liked the packaging. 

But this weekend Yvon made some of it and thought I'd like to try it.  Yuck!  Very dark, very strong.  I like my teas fruity and weak.  (And that's not what you want a tea-leaf reader to say.  "You'll marry a man who's fruity and weak".)

When I cleaned out the teapot this morning, this is what I found. 

I've never seen whole tea leaves before.  I was wondering why I didn't need a strainer, but wasn't curious enough to look in the pot.  That's kind of cool. 

From the mound of leaves on the plate though, I now know that these little vacuum-packed bags hold a lot, and next time we need to try it with less than a full bag, or use a much bigger pot.  Less strong and dark for me. 

Sunday, February 27, 2011

What's been for dinner?

While everyone was away last weekend, I took the opportunity to go out to a neighbourhood Indian restaurant, a place the kids wouldn't enjoy.  They made me wheat-free roti which was nice of them.

I love these little deep-fried cheese balls drenched in honey, but I limited myself to three and made myself eat some fruit too.

And I ate leftovers, but I got to eat in front of the TV because I didn't have to set a good example for the kids or be sociable. 

And I made the best homemade mac-n-cheese with white wine (in the sauce and in the glass).  Again, I watched a movie while eating.  What luxury!

With the lack of computer this week, I didn't bother with pictures, but we still ate and I added to the meal plan.  I do still like the plan, but I have to be more flexible.  And maybe communicate to Yvon what the plan is, because he defrosted (and we all ate) ham for lunch this weekend, but it's on my plan for tomorrow's quiche!  I'll think of something else I guess.

Tonight's meal:  taco salad.  Tacos were always my go-to meal when the kids were really little and sometimes went days without meat.  Taco meat would get a bit of protein back into them. 

It's also the meal that alerted us to the soy allergies that Beth and Alice have.  The "taco feeling" was what Beth called the feeling she'd get on her tongue.  It was finally traced back to the soy protein in the seasoning mix I used to use.  Now I mix my own, minus the soy.

We spent 3 hours swimming this afternoon, and that contributed to their appetites as well.  It will probably help them sleep too.  It will definitely help me sleep!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Back from the doctor's

Okay, it's back from the doctor's office, but I'm not entirely trusting of it at the moment.  That virus made me a bit nervous. 

It's been a busy week, even without a computer though. 

After my lovely weekend alone, a friend called to break the news that her daughter-in-law passed away during the weekend.  Now I can't stop thinking of her and the family she's left behind.  Even though I didn't know her well, I know her family well and my eyes keep tearing up for them.

Sometimes funerals are full of happy thoughts and memories of the deceased.  This one will be more along the lines of it being too early, she was too young, there should have been 60 more years of life to live, etc.  It's going to be a tough one. 

Pray for the family and for her partner in particular.  He's too young to be in this very adult role and my heart goes out to him.   Read this

Monday, February 21, 2011

Family-less Day

My laptop (with all access to work files, homework assignments, ability to watch movies, listen to CDs, etc.) is currently at the doctor's with a nasty virus. Well, I'm hoping it isn't that nasty that it can't be cured relatively quickly without harm to some of it's functionality and files.

However, no pictures for now and limited posting because this old machine is SLOW!

I've just had the most lovely weekend that I've spent in a long time. And it's all because I've been alone. All alone! I celebrated Family Day by kicking my family out and it's been great. I can't remember when I've had three days without them and without friends too. I don't want people to think that I never get away. Once a year I get to go to Kelown with friends and spend days drinking wine and eating yummy picnics.

But this is different. I eat when I want to eat. Sleep when I want to sleep. Clean when I want to, play the piano, I even picked up the cello again. And maybe the lack of computer was even a good thing.

I get many hours to myself during the week when the kids are at school, but in the back of my mind I'm always counting done the hours/minutes until they come home. If I go out, I have to remember to be back home by a certain time. And even if I have a full day alone, I'm trying to cram in enough stuff that I can relax a bit too. You can't actually rush relaxation. It doesn't work that way.

So on the first day I slept in until 8:30. That's not late, and that's the latest I slept all weekend, but the lovely thing was waking without an alarm clock or the sound of others moving around the house. I opened the curtains and woke with the sun.

I also went to bed earlier than usual. That was unexpected. I think I missed my family most in the evenings. The night is long without them. The first night I went out for dinner (ate food they wouldn't have liked) and then went to Rosa's to watch a movie because it was really weird to be alone in the house like that. By day 2 I was better. I launched into projects and finished a dress and blouse in one day.

And now they are coming home. They should be enjoying the museum in Wetaskawin right now and maybe I should go to our museum this afternoon and go through it at my own pace. What luxury!

But I'll welcome them home too. I think I'd be mighty lonely if this lasted for long. Three days is not long though. I'm thinking that I should do this again next year. Happy Family-less Day!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Falling from the plan

I'm way off the plan now and all because we missed the potluck on Saturday.  The plan is apparently too tight, relying on leftover meat from previous meals.  Lots of meals rely on other meals happening as planned. 

Whatever.  We still eat.

Chicken and hot sausage in a creamy sauce, mashed potatoes and salad. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Weird potato balls

I really dislike Tuesdays, starting at about 3:30.  It's gotten a bit better since January, but this is how it usually goes.

At 3:30 I start looking out the window and watching for the girls, as if seeing them two minutes before they arrive at home will make things go more smoothly.  It doesn't help, but I sort of brace myself a bit.

I have snacks ready for grabbing on Tuesday and my mouth frames the words before the door closes behind Alice.  "Leave your coat and boots on - it's piano lesson day!"

No one likes Tuesdays. 

"Do you have something quiet to do for an hour, Alice?"
"I don't have a book!  I've finished them all and now there's nothing to read!"

Library day is Monday and by Tuesday she is always done her books.  We do still have books in every room in the house, but we go through this every Tuesday. 

"Find a book, any book or some crayons and paper and let's go." 
"Beth, are your fingernails trimmed?  Have you done your theory? Grab your books - let's go!"

Within fifteen minutes we have to be in the van and if the traffic is perfect we can make it in time.

Then we quietly sit for an hour while Beth plays the piano.  I always have a book, but usually my head is resenting that I've been dragged away from supper prep.

We get home between 5:30 - 5:45.  Before January, I would run in the house and grab some heated suppers for Laura and I (Yvon would have been home for about 10 minutes, enough time to take something out of the crock pot and fill bottles with milk) and the two of us would continue on to her choir practice, eating in the van and always be about 15 minutes late.  Oh, so relaxing.  Luckily Laura recruited two new choir members and now one does the drives three girls to choir and I only have to pick them up and deliver them to their homes.  That now gives me an hour at home to actually sit at the table with my family to eat. 

Tuesday still has to be a crock pot meal or we'll eat very late.  Tonight:  crockpot chicken, carrots and corn, apple sauce and odd potato dumplings. 

They were kind of good actually and a first time thing for us.  I picked up a soy-free, wheat-free processed package.  It was an add-water and boil affair.  I'd be willing to try it from scratch next time. 

And this is Alice's plate again. 

Besides being symmetrical, I can't remember what she said it was.  A face maybe?


This weekend we went to Arizona. 

And to Australia.

 And to Spring.

I'm planting some things under my lights today.  Because spring will come again.  It will.  Occassionally I feel it in the air and in the light that's returning to the late afternoons. 

Dinner last night

Nothing special, but I was doing some work yesterday and I finally managed to fit a walk into my day.

And it was Valentine's Day.  That means many parents send their kids to school with plates of cupcakes and cookies to share with the class. 

And two of my girls get a box of Smarties from the teachers desk rather than risk an allergic reaction to some lovely homebaked and well-meaning gift.  Smarties.  Peanut free and nothing special. 

So I sent them to school with their own treats that were safe and better than Smarties. 

I'm glad I anticipated that this year, because sure enough, I got a call from the school.

"Alice's class is enjoying Tim Horton muffins to celebrate.  I called the shop and they said they don't know the ingredients.  Can she have one?" 

Don't they have to have the ingredients in the building somewhere?  I would have thought so.  However, she still had her decorated goodies in her lunch bag and was happy to eat them instead.  Yay me!

Anyway, this was supper.  Beans, rice and pulled pork with an apricot BBQ sauce that Beth said was so sweet her teeth hurt.  And that was a good thing apparently!

And Alice said that I'd promised to photograph her plate sometimes.  She made a food tree to share with you.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

What's for Dinner...and again

It was not on our plan, but if I didn't have a plan neither of these meals would have pulled together so easily.

The plan was to go to a potluck dinner with the church, but at 4:30 our volunteer (and much appreciated!) plumber was still not ready to leave. I had SO hoped to have my first bath in the clawfoot tub last night, but the tightness of the space made installation of the plumbing much harder than anticipated.

In any case the roasted potatoes were planned, so all I had to do was steam some brocolli, cut off some pork from the meat planned for Monday and make a few sauces. Red wine and mushroom gravy (for the adults) and creamy sause made by Laura for the brocolli. It was all yummy.

Although I wasn't originally thrilled with this ranch dressing earlier in the week, it's been great on our food this week. Good to have on hand.

Tonight the huge pork shoulder in the crock pot was still not cooked to soft perfection, so we ate leftovers.

Wilted cabbage, fish, creamed corn and the rest of the roasted potatoes with pineapple spears for dessert. The ranch dressing was stirred through the cabbage and was really, really good. Even the kids needed no prodding.

I'm liking the meal plan so far. Tonight I'll have to plan a week to tack onto what I've already done.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

What's for Dinner

My menu plan said to make tartar sauce but I got lazy.  After all, what is tartar sauce?  It's basically just relish and mayo mixed, so I just put both on my fish. 

We were missing two children at dinner tonight, so I didn't even get any complaints about the fish.  Yay!  We really should eat fish more often but I hate the whining that goes with it.  (Oo, maybe a white wine sauce next time!)

There really were not enough veggies with the meal, hence the fruit.  Sometimes it's just easier and it's still the same food group.  I just realized that I grew nothing in this meal.  Not very local, I'm afraid.   

Friday, February 11, 2011

What's for dinner

I went to the library for the first time in a while this week, taking out two new cookbooks. One was a gluten free one which used a lot of weird flours. I'm probably not going to use that one because I prefer to use a GF flour mix that I've made and I can't make the conversions well with this.

But the other was about creating cheap dinners under $5. I didn't get it because of the cheapness, but usually those ones are also about easy meals, meals for families without a lot of time. And I was right.

The costs are all US and meat is definitely more expensive here. Also, you can't buy local or butcher-shop meat for those prices ever and for some things I'm trying to buy a bit more responsibly than simply paying for the cheapest cut of meat at Save-On. Have you watched Food Inc. yet? It turns you off the big agri-meat. The reality is that we can't afford organic local grass-fed either, but I'm trying more often to buy at our local Dutch deli who at least knows the farmers he buys from and a bit about their practices. And he doesn't rely on poorly paid, poorly treated employees to cut up the meat. He does it himself.

Anyhow, some of the ideas in the book apply to the way we live and cook though. There are all sorts of tips and references to growing your own veggies, or stretching your meat, using leftovers. That isn't just being cheap - it is smart and good for the environment and your health.

Seeing my menu plan on paper inspired me to try new recipes and not do too much of the same-old stuff. Today's menu: Potato Pizza and honey glazed carrots.

I had help. It was so scary to watch her grate the potatoes, but she didn't hurt herself and she has to learn anyway. And maybe it helped her to try the weird pizza.

It looked great and smelled good and was easy to make. But Pizza Hut it was not.

We all agreed that the grated potato crust with egg to hold it together would make a great breakfast. It was like eating hashbrowns, eggs and sausage. Don't get me wrong - it did taste good, but I don't know if it was really pizza.

I had a conversation yesterday about Spaghetti Squash. I don't mind it, but when you serve it with spaghetti sauce and meatballs, it's pretending to be something it's not. It's still squash. It may be a noodle shape, but it shouldn't be passed off as a noodle. It's deceiving and your brain expects something different. Serve them on the side with butter and garlic and it's good. Call it spaghetti and it doesn't work for me.

So the menu tonight was really Cheesy Hashbrowns with honey glazed carrots. And it was good.

And I really want to take the books back to the library because they found bedbugs in some of the books at that branch. Ew, ick!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Last Night's Dinner

Okay, I'm still playing with this "Blogger in Draft" thing and I'm not totally convinced it's a good thing. 

However, I did get my meal plan inserted.  Can you even read it?  I'm hoping it expands when you click on it.   The idea ot to organize myself and get food out of my head a bit.  Some days it seems like that's all I think about.  Not that I'm actually eating all day, but I'm think about it alot.  What do I need to prepare?  Do we have any meat in the freezer?  Are we eating the food I preserved or are we buying stuff we already have?  Other days I don't think about it at all and suddenly the kids run in the door from school with "I'm starving" out of their mouths before the door fully opens and I have nothing ready or planned.

Hopefully this will help.

Wednesdays are "Red Meat" days because we host a vegetarian's daughter on those nights and she relies on vitamins for her iron instead of the meat that makes her mother ill to prepare.  It's not a moral issue, so she's happy to have her daughter eat red meat every time she's in our home. 

Hamburgers and corn.  In the fall she helped us shuck the corn on the front lawn.  The kids would race each other.  Shuck three ears of corn, run around the house, and shuck three more.  "Farm games" she called it.  Now she gets to eat the corn she helped us prepare. 

I made ranch dressing for the first time from a Pioneer Woman recipe.  It was fine, but not fabulous.  And my carmelized onions turned out to be mostly burnt.  One of my burners is much hotter than the others and I regularly burn things that need to cook slowly. 

This is the GF version.  Long hamburger wrapped in lettuce leaves.  The kids had standard round burgers and buns. 

Our mocktails after school today look more appetizing really.  Lemonade, apple juice and variations of the two mixed with a grape on the side.  Laura likes making pretty drinks and we like drinking them. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

My Favourite Sites

Because I want to encourage you to spend as much time on the computer as I do, I thought I'd share my favourite blogs with you today. I've discovered a few new ones lately and just updated my list in the sidebar.

Here are the ones I've either subscribed to or check daily:

Diary of a Middle Aged Gardener

It's not that I can't just pick up the phone and talk to Rosa. I do that too, but I like to read her blog and see her perspective in pictures as well. Combining our two blogs, you might get a better idea of what I'm doing right now (If she's seeding, I'm likely to be doing it too, usually a week or two later because she leads me in all things gardening. If it's a snow day for her, it's a snow day for me, etc.)
The Greenhouse Diaries

Tamara is Rosa's sister. She's hilarious and creative. I don't travel or create videos or work as hard as she does or decorate as she does, so we don't share much. But she's entertaining and I admire what she does with/for her family and with the creative energy God gifted her with.
Deep Cover Day

And this is my sister. We don't communicate as often as we think about each other, and through our blogs I feel like we're a bit closer to knowing what's going on in each other's lives. She is also amusing and we think alot alike.
The Angry Turtle

This is also a relative (my nephew's wife on Yvon's side of the family) and I believe I met her once, although I don't remember doing so. I do feel like I know her now through her blog though. She is creative and crafty, a young mom of two kids. She has a great Christian perspective on life that I admire.
Dinner with Julie

This is what I'm going to try this year, but it will never be as amusing or pretty as Julie's dinners. I like that she likes simple foods too though, like kale, potatoes and chocolate chip cookies. She's one of those people who write honestly about life and you might hear me talk about her as if she's my friend. We're never met. I want to be able to cook like Julie.
Home Joys

This is a new one to me. Gina is a Mennonite woman in the US who seems to be travelling the same path as I am in terms of food, gardening and knowing your food sources. Like so many bloggers, she homeschools and lives in the country. I've been reading through her old posts as if it's a good book. She also brings religion into her posts so naturally.
An Avenue Homesteader

This is another new one. She doesn't post as often as I'd like, but when she does it seems relevant to me. She lives, gardens, cooks and shops in my city. She's motivated me to do some gardening on my big unused concrete driveway this year. Maybe potato bins or raised beds.
Down to Earth

I talk about Rhonda-Jean as if she's my friend too, but she is many steps ahead of me in terms of recycling and living simply. She lives life very deliberately and doesn't waste energy or money on things that are not important to her. She lives in Australia though, so our gardening is very different and therefore our "eat in season" foods are different as well. Far fewer lemons in my diet. Sigh. And if you like her, you'll like her peeps too. They run a forum that I can spend lots of time on.
And that's it. Those are the sites I go to most often for amusement, knowledge, recipes and links to similar sites and people. What are your favourites?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Dinner Plans

Hmm.  I wanted to show you my new thing but this weird Blogger change isn't letting me insert the image. 

I've been trying to put in a few more paid hours this year and so far that has been the case.  However, I'm finding that it means I might have to be a bit more organized in other areas of my life in order to still accomplish the same things. 

Eating is important to me, so I thought I'd start there.  Yesterday I made up a meal plan for four weeks.  That's a bit long and I'm sure it will change along the way, but I thought I'd try that and adjust as we go. 

I also thought that I might be more accountable if I journal about it here.  Rosa is going to do the same (it was her idea, actually) and we're going to blog "What's For Dinner" each day.  I'm hoping that I won't embarrass myself with night after night of KD or all starch meals.  Maybe we'll have some balance and I'll be be more deliberate about eating what I've grown.  Or maybe I'll be shocked at our portion sizes and learn something. 

So, here is tonight's meal:  An omelet-y thing with sausage and cheese and pork cracklings (from my last lard rendering), salad and gluten-free biscuits (for Yvon and I) and buns for the others. 

Notice the white eggs?  The ladies are slowing down and I had to actually buy some eggs.  I hope it's just a winter thing.

Having it planned in advance allowed me to prepare everything and put it in the fridge for a quick cooking between piano lessons and parent council meeting.  

The plan (if you were allowed to see it right now) also includes prepping things for the next day.  Tomorrow is burgers so I had to make mayonnaise today and defrost the meat.  Now that's done, I don't have to think about it tomorrow.  And the mayo was nice with our salad tonight, but a vinegary dressing would have worked too.

The GF biscuits (the first time I've made them) turned out okay.  Not awesome, but not overly crumbly either.  It's always an experiment at this point.

Beth thought it would helpful to all of my loyal readers (that's the two of you!) to show you what the non-GF version looked like.  It's only a difference of a bun, but it's a yeasty yummy bun.

So, if you're not into what's on my table, I'll still blog about whatever else is on my mind too, but I'll post those separately for easy skipping.  And I won't always be so verbose. 

Or maybe I will. 

Bear with me

I've been blogging for two years already and I've decided that the time has really come to add some labels. My "classic" template didn't allow me to do that, so I'm playing around with some new templates, replacing images and colors, and fooling around with HTML. There's a bit of guesswork involved for me, so I apologize for the horrible look at the moment.

And it may get even more horrible before it gets better. Sorry!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Creative energy

During the dark months of December and January I find I have no creative juices flowing at all. If Christmas and birthdays didn't occur to give me deadlines, I wouldn't create anything in those months. I'd just read, find new blogs and do the minimum to get us through each day. Each lots of sandwiches and eggs, pasta and potatoes and other no-think meals, do the launddry and make the bed.

There's something about the light in February that gets my creative energy going again.

February light started late last week already. Maybe it began earlier but until our new window was installed I couldn't see it.

Anywho, yesterday I got at the bathroom again (I know - will it never end!?) and clear-coated the hardwood. We're hoping to get some water hooked up this week since we were ready at Christmas already. This is the problem with relying on volunteer help. It's tough to nag when I know there are health things going on and family stuff and our project isn't exactly their top priority. Anyway, the floor now makes me want to move all the living room furniture out and do that floor too, but that's a bit more energy than even February gives me. That's a spring job when I can leave windows open everywhere.

After I did the floor, I allowed myself the rest of the day to sew. This is what resulted.

Yay! A new purse! My striped placemat bag (see this post) is looking pretty ratty and faded, my red wool one has a broken strap (see this post - and I know that the five stitches to fix the handle would have taken no time, but that wasn't what I was in the mood for yesterday) and it was time. I've had this fabric for a while, just waiting for my time and inspiration to hit at the same time.

It's got a long handle to cross my body and an exterior zipped pocket for easy hanky and epi-pen access.

The inside has another zippered pocket for things I don't want the world to see or to have falling all over the purse, a few pen slots and a couple of open pockets. How do Etsy sellers take such good pictures of their bags? It's tough to see any detail in this shot.

And it has a matching wallet! I love this and hope it works well. My last wallet lasted 12 years, but I don't expect that of this scrappy little thing.

The elastic loop is for a big button to close it, but I don't think I'll bother. Once I filled the wallet, the weight makes it nice and stiff and it will be a bother to unbutton it all the time. We'll see. It's there if I need it.

And it has a zippered section for money of the non-plastic variety.

After breaking two needles on the thick upholstery fabric, I realized that you can use a leather/vinyl needle and it goes through the layers like butter (almost). I still can't access my older strong Singer machine because of bathroom tools and stuff, so I've had to use my newer, less manly Janome for this project. It worked just fine once I switched the needle. Always something new to learn.