Thursday, April 28, 2011

easter weekend in sarnia

Our Easter weekend wasn't exactly the most food-centric. However I did capture this adorable moment Owen decided Great Grandma's angel food cake looked delicious even before its final coating of whipped cream!
Really, this whole weekend was about Owen and all the changes we've been seeing. As a parent you find there are just some weeks your baby/toddler seems to grow more in one week what you'd expect to see over the course of a month. Here are some of the new discoveries we had over the weekend.

While staying at the hotel, Owen showed us that he wants to walk Hot Tot and has been picking up her leash. So he took her walks up and down the hotel hallway. For anyone who's crazy enough to be 'those' people who stay at hotels with babies and dogs, you learn pretty quickly that you've struck gold when you find a way of keeping the two occupied simultaneously.

This was Owen's first moment walking on the grass. I know, strange to think. But Owen learned to walk just as it got cold, so we never had him playing in the yard. He spent the first 3 minutes getting used to the feeling of it.
Before long he was free as a bird!
I always said Owen's going to be my roller coaster buddy. He's a pro with the swings which we discovered at the tender age of 6 months, but now he's on board with slides. 
 Over and over again. He started out sliding with our hands guiding him down the slide, but soon enough we just let him rip right down.
 Then there's the playground equipment he needs our assistance with.
Owen's convinced he's a master at the stairs. As you can tell I'm not as comfortable as he is with this, especially outdoors.
But he's a cool little cucumber at the playground. Looks like we have an upcoming spring and summer with lots of playground fun!

We were so pumped about taking him to the animal farm since he's now calling animals by name and sounds. We expected to see him full of wonder with all the animals he reads about. But it wasn't what we expected at all as he seemed quite bored with the whole experience. Instead he loved to chase the nasty Canadian geese around. 
Geez, we could walk 10 steps to the Welland Canal Parkway and get the same experience!

I had trouble imagining how Owen would take to an Easter Egg Hunt. Our Easter Egg Hunt plan was to hide his Batman eggs in plain sight, give him his soft basket and see what happens. What could he possibly do without chocolate as motivation? I thought he'd pick up a random egg, put it in his mouth and then chuck it. 
Much to my surprise, he got right on the idea of the hunt and picked up every single egg and in minutes they were all in his basket. 
 Then he dumped it and did it all over again.
OK, I'm not going to play innocent here, all along I said that I'd reward Owen with one chocolate Easter egg. A Reese Peanut Butter Egg to be exact. One taste and he was in love!
Traveling with a toddler and dog is not for the faint of heart. Owen's passed out pose here pretty much sums up how we felt come the end of the day Sunday. But it was an awesome weekend!

I don't keep a baby book and I guess this blog as the closest thing we have to one. In a few short weeks Owen will be a year and a half. But within just this past week we've seen Owen begin to sing songs with lyrics "mama & dada", dance up a storm, eat his whole meal with a fork, move onto a booster seat for meals, travel up and down stairs by himself (kinda scary, but he's quite successful), play with puppets and toys on his own using his imagination (even giving them voices). It's lots of fun watching him grow and it all feels so perfect just in time for spring!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

happy long weekend!

I had a lot of people wishing me a good long weekend today. Which is nice because I can't claim to celebrate Easter in the true fashion this holiday was first observed. My version of Easter is a agnostic, pastel decorating, egg hunting, spring flavour celebration. This year I have three memorable recipes which I made in the past week to celebrate Spring/Easter.

This is Spring-Vegetable Couscous with Chicken. We had a half of a left over rotisserie chicken which worked perfectly into this dinner making the prep quick. There are very few ingredients needed with asparagus and peas as the vegetables. I was afraid it would be bland but with that final hit of parsley salt and pepper at the end you need nothing more. Great warm, perfect cold too.

The second recipe we had this week was Linguine with Asparagus and Eggs. I was working on artwork for Cora's Breakfast & Lunch when this image brought to mind this dinner from the most recent issue of Everyday Food.

 Linguine with asparagus and eggs really is a sort of eggs benedict flavour inspired dinner.  

I love making poached eggs because there is a lot of leeway to obtain a soft boiled center - which is what you want. The liquid yolk helps to create a creamy sauce (not that butter and parmesan need much help). This dinner is quick, easy and tastes so perfect this time of year, we absolutely love it!

Finally, I couldn't let an Easter go by without making Carrot Muffins. I'm still not sure what the difference between a muffin and cake is. I just assume when the recipe calls for oil and includes fruit I consider it as a possible muffin (i.e. - allowed for breakfast!).

This is Anna Olson's recipe from earlier this year and was published on her recipe testing site. It is different than her Carrot Cake recipe I made last year (which was published in the Bulk Barn flyer).

I'm glad that I made these as muffins because they were quite moist but not the most tender. I'm not sure if the density is from all the carrots or 3 eggs. I made my muffins with golden raisins and I'm glad I did because they weren't terribly sweet. I think it's expected that you'd ice them to account for that, but I can always do without icing. That's not to deter you from trying it, I'm just not sure it's an improvement from her previous carrot cake recipe.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

sick of being sick

I always thought that what we eat directly affects our health & well being. But I guess we all know there are factors way bigger than that that truly come into play.

If you keep up with my blog I've mentioned a couple times recently about being sick and I have to admit, Owen's been more sick than well since entering daycare. Those people with kids who've been through the daycare years nod with a knowing smile and all is well. But those people who have never had the experience of having to put their children in daycare are all too quick to offer advice and pass some pretty hefty judgement. 

2011 has been like a 4 month long trip to Six Flags where each and every virus sends us on a new and different roller coaster ride where we are helplessly strapped in and must endure. That's OK, because what can you do? People get sick, that's life. But recently I've had a barrage of comments and assumptions about my parenting that, honestly for once, I feel like I actually care what others think because it couldn't be further from the truth.

Some people wonder if we eat healthy - haha! I almost want to walk around with this blog link splashed across my chest so that they have a real glimpse into that assumption. I've heard that we aren't bundling him warm enough for the 10 seconds he's outside from the doorstep to the car. Oh, there are many more which are beyond ridiculous that make me chuckle. But I'm at the point now that I'm not sure I can laugh about it. I can't help but be offended because I spent the first year of Owen's life nursing him with the knowledge that breastfeeding helps build your baby's immune. And I'm frustrated that with all my devotion and heart to all the proven details, I have a kid who seems to not only catch every bug, but really goes down for the count once he's infected. It's really hard to see your child in pain and suffering.

But at the heart of the matter is that I'm almost starting to feel really guilty about having Owen in daycare. And I guess this is just a 'welcome to the working mom's dilema'. To maintain my career and status in the workplace I must continue to work. I actually LOVE working. I get a lot of personal satisfaction out of my career that falls just short of being a mom. Which is a blessing, I know. I feel that being a mom, wife and artist simultaneously make me a pretty well rounded person. And I'm also lucky that I don't have a question in my mind that as I drop Owen off at daycare daily that he's getting the best possible daycare. But all those aforementioned rationale are quite selfish really. Does putting Owen first mean he should be home with me?

This living in a petri dish is a real bummer. Having to hear all the wonderful 'advice' from those around us as to why Owen's sick - well, when your baby is sick and you're sick, it's pretty taxing. Sigh. Luckily I have a blog to vent my frustration.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Thomas the Tank Engine birthday cake

Nuno really wanted to make a special birthday cake for our nephew Ronan's 4th birthday party. Ronan and his parents decided the theme was going to be Thomas the Tank Engine.  

To start Nuno did research on Thomas and devised a blueprint as to how he'd make this cake work out. He first had an acrylic skeleton built and a platform for the cake to stand on. Then Thomas' shape was 8 chocolate cakes I baked.

This is when the cake really started coming together.

Here is Nuno's work space but only really shows half of all the tools he used.

The final assembly happened at the party. 

Here are some detail shots of the finished cake.

Thomas' face is moulded Rice Krispie Treats with the top layer gum paste. Totally edible. Actually it was important that all the details could be edible including the chimney, lights, bumpers and details are candy and moulded gum paste. 

Ronan is a huge fan of Thomas and has even visited a real Thomas the Tank Engine, so the details on this cake were really important. 

Like these two gold whistles. Ronan noticed them and felt like it was really Thomas.

Thomas has coal in his tender. They sell chocolate rocks at Bulk Barn that worked perfectly here. 

Ronan LOVED his cake. It really was super cute to see his reaction to it. We have some film footage of it and I think I'll try and upload it.

Oh man, the first cut is the deepest. I don't know how Nuno could make this and then slice it, but it didn't seem to pain him. If it's any consolation it tasted great! The cake is a vegan chocolate cake with white frosting and fondant. It tasted like Jos Louis which is perfect for a child's birthday party.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

molten chocolate cake

In the middle of the week we had family over for dinner. Just hours before our guests were to arrive I realized we didn't have a dessert on hand. Instead of running out for a quick store bought carrot cake with Owen (which can be a real pain in the ass - if you have you have small children you know what I mean) I decided to check my trusty Everyday Food book Great Food Fast. I always wanted to try these Molten Chocolate Cakes and since all the ingredients are household staples (honestly, anyone would have these ingredients on-hand) I quickly made these instead. 

In just a few minutes the batter was complete, divided into ramekins and covered in the fridge on a baking sheet. Then in the middle of dinner I preheated the oven and popped them in. In merely 20 minutes there were ready to serve. 

And then we didn't eat them. The evening grew late too fast and with 2 one and a half year olds who were done dinner, we just moved onto a bit of pajama playtime and dessert just didn't seem to fit into the evening. And, to be honest, I was relieved because who serves a first time recipe to guests? Crazy people! I got nervous and figured it was for the best that we just let the night progress and not eat chocolate after 8pm *wired*.

So what happened to 6 molten chocolate cakes? I brought them to work today. 

20 seconds in the microwave and 




Intense, dark, rich chocolate heaven. They don't taste like cake - they really taste like truffles. I immediately regret not forcing everyone to enjoy them warm from the oven the previous night. But the office got a treat and everyone agreed these were divine. Then we all ran for the water cooler -  they are super rich.  But I think I will keep this recipe around for future dinner parties because it really is a quick, versatile crowd pleaser.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

mediterranean tuna noodle casserole

I have an adopted comfort food in Tuna Noodle. Years ago I'd visit my then boyfriend Nuno at his parent's home on Friday nights (meatless for Roman Catholics) and half the time there would be Tuna Noodle Casserole waiting. At first I wasn't sure if I liked it, but then I grew to LOVE it. I have my mother-in-law's recipe for it, but it includes cans of condensed soup and frozen vegetables which aren't the way I like to eat these days. 2 years ago I found this Mediterranean Tuna Noodle in an issue of Everyday Food and it's been a dinner staple around here ever since. Hands down, this is the Everyday Food recipe I've made most.

This Mediterranean Tuna Noodle is one of my last week on earth dinners. I can't say enough about how much I love to eat this. Of course it is creamy and carb-y, but the vegetables add a lot a whole new dimension of flavour. Red peppers, artichokes and spring onions don't really sound like something that you'd typically associate with a creamy tuna dish, but there really is something totally different and delicious about this recipe. I don't care how much fat and calories are in this dinner, it is worth it on every level. My only recent revision is with consideration to Owen now includes organic red peppers and skipjack canned tuna.
There isn't any possible way to make this look appetizing but it tastes so comforting. Given the choice of a cheesecake or this Mediterranean tuna noodle, I'd choose tuna noodle over just about anything.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

chicken with cornmeal dumplings

Chicken and Dumplings is not a Canadian meal. When I say that, almost everyone I know hasn't grown up eating it... or even tried it for that matter! Since discovering it, I stand behind it as something I think we will always go to as a dinner option. This is probably because I don't make meat pies and I don't like stew, so chicken and dumplings is the closest I get to those classics. It's rich and hearty, but the dumplings are light and airy, giving a really nice contrast in texture without getting soggy (like meat pie crusts). I just love it as does the rest of the family!
The most recent issue of Everyday Food had a Chicken & Cornmeal Dumplings recipe that is even more southern inspired than the original. Chicken thighs, Cajun trinity vegetable mix (excluding onion and including carrot), beer and tomatoes make up the stew along with a quick cornbread dumpling at the last few minutes of cooking was really different and nice.

Delicious meal, but a very labour intensive amount of chopping. This recipe is probably a once a year type of dinner and I think I'll still go to the Everyday Food Fresh Flavour Fast Chicken & Dumpling recipe because it's simpler and might be even more delicious.

Friday, April 8, 2011

banana fritters

When it comes to food Owen rules. He loves to try new foods and is a happy and confident eater. Over and above all other foods, bananas are his absolute favourite. He uses the word ‘nana’ to mean all of his food and drinks. Owen can eat a banana no matter what the time of day. His appetite for ‘nanas’ is so insatiable, one day we found ourselves out of them completely and he nearly lost it continually pointing at the spot on the counter where they should have been.

Boy did we learn our lesson, we now overstock our home with bananas. I don’t mind because as they ripen, any unused bananas go into the freezer and when I have enough I’ll make banana bread. This morning we had a major surplus of super ripe bananas that I decided to try these Banana Fritters.
As they were frying they smelled like french fries, but beyond the vegetable oil, there are only 3 ingredients - bananas, egg and flour. Believe it or not they are perfect as simple as they are, but for added sweetness we drizzled a little maple syrup on top.