Thursday, December 17, 2015

The pleasure of giving

It's 3h30 am. I finished some pie dough, cleared up a mess in the kitchen (I'm far from done) and dragged my feet towards the stairs when I remembered (thanks to the notes sticking all over my cupboards), that little Évangéline wanted to give her teacher a card and a treat tomorrow. She received a pretty card form her teacher yesterday and a little present. She received a few treats from her friends too. I'm always touched by this. Of course I often forget about it myself. Thanks to my notes though, I headed to my cupboards instead of bed and started to improvise with what I had.

Earlier she found a blue sparkly bag that was used for her sister's first communion. It's been around for a while (still in great shape). She also helped herself to a box of cards I bought (when I felt like I was on top of things). She chose a nice one with a big red cardinal on it. She then asked her father to write a message to her teacher. She was quite good at dictating the letter! ;) Marc kept it simple though. Then she signed it and even wrote Mme Lynn on the envelope with a little sticker for the finishing touch. I was impressed. This happened while I was rushing and working on dinner at the other end of the room. I told her that I would assemble a few biscotti I made and some chocolates (leftovers from our advent calendar) and put them in a tin box for her to give.

(There should be a photo of a card with a cardinal here... Too tired to transfer, imagination is better!)

I quickly realized that there weren't any boxes. At least not small ones. I looked and looked. Then I found this Ikea plant pot that was taking space in my pantry. It was supposed to be in the basement with other items that will end up in a garage sale but it was holding tape and string in my kitchen instead. It wasn't very good at its job. So I grabbed it, cleaned it up, put biscotti in it and filled the gaps with chocolates. I secured the whole thing neatly with cling wrap, took some tissue paper to wrap around and in the blue bag it went. Done! It even looked better than expected. A candy cane gives a bit of colour.

I suddenly felt pretty excited about the whole thing and here I am writing about it. It's nice to give little presents that say "Thank you", or "I care". Madame Lynn happens to be a great teacher and my daughters love her to bits. I'm just glad we can show her. Now if only I could buy her a bottle of wine before school starts! ;)

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Fizzy Fuzzy Navel: A tradition I can get used to

This used to be enjoyed at my husband's parents' house during the holidays. They still serve it but for the last few years we started the tradition here in our own home. It caught on quite fast. Nothing like saying: "Fuzzy Navel?" to get a smile on your partner's face with a big "Sure!" or "Yes please!" I love the fizzy drink, the clinking of the ice cubes, the orange juice mingling with the peach Schnapps... :)

We enjoy it during the prepping weeks leading to Christmas and definitely enjoy it on Christmas morning with fresh coffee and Panettone.

You can google for the official recipe but this is how we do it.

Choose a glass of your choice. I'm not picky. Put in 6 ice cubes or less (only 3 were used in this one). Pour in 1 1/2 oz of peach schnapps. Okay I'll be honest, when I do it, I use 2 oz which fills this Elvis shot glass nicely (about 3 tablespoons). Add orange juice to about 1 1/2 inch below the border. Top it off with club soda (the fizzy part). One day I will have to try it with champagne. Stir, stir, stir. Then drizzle a capful of peach schnapps on the surface (don't stir). Personally, I love that last touch and miss it when it's not done.

Take your 80s drink and go sit somewhere quiet or lively. Enjoy.

Putting me first

Earlier today...

Those raspberries should have been for my little Évangéline. Her older sister took some to school for lunch. Évangéline's class was having a cheese pizza that day and her sandwich box was already full of thick Lebanese cucumber slices, grape tomatoes, Kalamata olives and cheese... Her favourite things. Considering that she also had a cherry yogourt and a full apple for snacks, I felt like she would enjoy the berries later when home.

Well maman never gets any and I've been fighting a cold for 2.5 weeks (I'm finally getting better), so I could use the little boost of vitamin. :) She doesn't know. What you don't know doesn't hurt right? Also I happened to have a bit of cream so here we go! Our little secret.

Thinking of me for a change. It's not so bad.

They were very good too! :)

Thursday, December 10, 2015

A tasty soup 3 ways

I've been fighting a nasty cold for a while. Chills, fatigue, migraine, sore throat, sinus infection, lungs burning, coughing, hacking... Yada yada. It's been progressing for 2 weeks and a few crummy days. Not fast enough. I would like to move on! One positive thing that came from it is this soup I made when I was at the peak of my misery. That day I had to skip a pottery class and if you ask my husband, I was a grizzly bear about it. I was also hungry. I just wanted to curl up with some hot liquid and comfort food rolled into one. I had been obsessing over soup for a while and even though my husband wished I left the room, I wasn't going to lie down until I had some.

An old rutabaga, carrots, 2 celery sticks, onion, garlic, a few handfuls of baby spinach, a couple of potatoes, canned goods like tomatoes and chickpeas and a couple of sausages gave me plenty of options.

I couldn't bother to fuss over the details. I just washed, peeled, chopped and tossed vegetables in my pot as I went. I worked as fast as my aching body allowed and just went with the flow. It was painfully slow. Some olive oil went in the pot followed by chopped onions, celery, peeled and chopped carrots... I moved like a zombie in the kitchen but it started to smell good. I kept adding things like garlic, potatoes, rutabaga... Each time talking myself into it because it was a pain to peel, chop or cube but I knew it would be worth it. I barely took the time to let the vegetables colour on medium high heat. I just added water, salt, pepper, a bay leaf, brought it to boil, turned it down to a simmer, put the timer on for 45 minutes and considered crashing.

I should explain that this started as a simple vegetable soup. Kind of French (or what my mother would have made). It would have been simple but good with a little knob of butter to stir in my bowl. As the smell stimulated my senses though, I decided to make it more hearty. It went sort of Italian. I added tomatoes (chopped them roughly in a bowl to collect the juice). Chickpeas followed. Garlic, smashed and chopped jumped in. Oregano, a rind of Parmesan... The hardest part was to coax myself into thawing 2 Italian sausages found in the freezer, to fry them furiously in a hot hot pan and to slice them (still half cooked because I couldn't bother to wait). I knew it was worth it the moment I added them and their juices to the soup. Things were looking good! I reset the timer for an other 30 minutes on low. Then I crashed.

When the timer went off, my husband, who held the fort, served the girls a bit of soup but left it on the burner! I can't say how long, maybe a couple of hours but no panic! It was on low heat so this definitely enhanced the flavours by the time I got up to check on it. I simply added an extra cup of water to loosen things up brought back to boil and then simmered for 10-15 minutes. That evening I ate my first batch with a drizzle of olive oil and a ton of grated cheese on top. No parmesan left. All I had was strong white cheddar. It rocked!

The next day I decided to wash and add 2 generous handfuls of baby spinach leaves as I reheated the soup. I added 1 more cup of water and hot pepper flakes. The girls were not going to eat this 2nd round. It tasted even better! More cheese... By lunch time, I was fully bloated and in Heaven. I couldn't wait for the last serving and ended up having it for what was too early for supper. Think more "afternoon snack" :) I skipped the cheese, added some cumin, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, harissa, water and extra salt to soothe my throat. What I ended up with is what you see in the pictures. A nice fragrant soup that went kind of Moroccan. As I was getting ready to eat, the sky cleared up and the sun hit me with it's last warm rays of the day. I moved the bowl to the other side to get the sun on my back. Of course I took 3 more pictures. It was the last bowl. It looked so pretty, warm and inviting. I dived in, scraped it clean, mopped it with bread... So Good. To the last drop. I still sat there 5 minutes later, still feeling sick but so content.

Tasty whatever you want to call it soup

3 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 celery sticks, chopped or sliced
2 large carrots, peeled, chopped or sliced
6 cloves of garlic, chopped or sliced (when sick, bring on the garlic)
1 small rutabaga, peeled and cut into 1/2" cubes
2-3 potatoes peeled and cut into 1/2" cubes
8 cups of water or broth of choice (expect to add more later)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 Bay leaf
1 can of chickpeas (19 oz)
Can of tomatoes (28 oz)
2 Italian sausages sautéed till brown, then sliced
1 tsp dry oregano
Baby spinach (roughly 2 handfuls)
1 Parmesan rind (optional)
Lots of cheese to grate over your bowl with glee (I used strong white cheddar)
Hot pepper flakes

When I opted for a Moroccan vibe I skipped the cheese and added the spices below to the leftover in my pot before reheating. It was enough for a generous bowl.

1/2 tsp cumin
2 pinches cinnamon
1 extra cup of liquid
1 pinch cayenne pepper (or hot pepper flakes)
Harissa to taste (a knob stirred in the liquid)

In oil toss the onion, carrots, celery, cloves of garlic on medium high heat. Cook a few minutes to give colour. Add potatoes, rutabaga 6 cups of water or broth. Stir and scrape bottom. Add tomatoes (roughly chopped with all the juice), the can of drained chickpeas, a bay leaf, oregano, salt and pepper. Meanwhile sauté 2 Italian sausages (if you have them), in a pan till nice and brown on high heat. Remove with tongs and slice. Add them and juices to the pot. You can go ahead and add spinach now or later. It will get thick and hearty. Add extra cups of water if necessary. I added at least 2 more. Let it simmer for at least an hour then let it rest to let the flavours develop. Reheat again if necessary... You decide. If your hungry, eat! :) It will be better the 2nd time. I served it with loads of strong white cheddar grated finely in my bowl. It was amazing. A full meal.

The Moroccan finish
This was done with the last of the leftovers. The one shown in the pictures. It was getting thick. I loosened it up with a ladle of water, threw in a few pinches of cinnamon, some cumin, cayenne pepper and a bit of Harissa. Brought it back to boil then turned heat down to simmer for 10 minutes. The flavours were amazing together an cleared my throat nicely.

I could have eaten this all week but by day 2 and 3 meals later (for 2 people), it was gone.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Crafty moment

This little craft is certainly not related to the Holidays but holy crap it's cute!

A week ago, my youngest girl took a toilet paper roll and randomly asked me to help her make a bat. I keep the paper rolls out of the garbage to burn in the wood stove and occasionally keep some for crafts. I guess she saw one and remembered that we made little critters out of them before. Now why did this feline lover ask me for a bat when a cat would have been just as easy and less Halloween-ish so close to Christmas? No clue. I just went along with it.

I was sick and not feeling very crafty (or patient) but I knew this would be easy. She asked me how to bend the top for ears. I showed her that if you push down on the top edge of the roll it will bend on one side and then to repeat on the other side to create that crescent shape. We could have done the same at the bottom for cute stubby legs but she didn't care for that. She was ready to draw a face but struggled with the pencil's light lines so I allowed her to use our big Sharpie. I'm fully aware that with kids that can be lethal but she was good. Then she asked me to add lashes.

For wings, I didn't look far. The house was cluttered with things all over the place and I spotted a pile of mixed papers on top of a pile of laundry on top of a chair. Yup! On top of that paper pile were wrapping paper scraps from a birthday party we just had for my oldest. Perfect! Sometimes clutter has perks. The paper was sweet and a bit random with it's pattern. Just like my little one's request. She wasn't convinced though and wanted plain paper. "But that's too hard to find!" I said. I tried to sell her on my idea. I bent the paper in half cut a shape that resembled a bat's wing, opened it to show the 2 wings and propped them behind the bat with a little "Taddaa!" It was love at first sight. The paper made it look whimsical and more fun. All it needed was a bit of tape in the back and a second "Taddaa!" (this time with a confident smile). Maybe we'll add a little red hat to show that we are aware of the season.

I swear she played with that thing for hours! Worth the few minutes I spent on it. She made it flap it's wings (wrapping paper beats cardboard for that) and she propped it all over the place. I took a pic of her "new pet" propped on the lamp and next thing I know she wanted to pose next to it. It went on for a bit...  :)

*Update* Thanks to the red glossy cover of a tiny notepad, a felt snowball from a long lost ornament and lots of tape, we have a Christmas bat! I didn't tell her. I'm going to see how long it takes for her to find out! ;) If she finds it offensive, the hat is easy to remove. I'm having way too much fun with this and isn't that the point?

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Advent calendar fun! The sequel!

So it's that time of the year again. 6 days ago we were on the ball (yay) and pulled out the old wooden advent calendar to fill up. Ha! I make it sound like we've been doing this for years with my "old wooden calendar" comment but it did feel like we tried (and failed) for ever. Last year we decided to change that. We pulled it out early, bought all the items in one shot which I admit was a lot of fun (after our first failed attempt). You can read all about it here and see the kind of treats we got. When the season was over, I put it away on the top shelf of the pantry right next to the Easter eggs, snowflakes garland and Valentine heart decorations. It was a dead space turned Holiday decoration storage. No more looking around. It instantly made it easier for the future years.

Now here is a peek of what I added last night! I think I was more excited than the girls!

I will admit, this year I was a bit slow. I was busy with other pressing matters like renewing expired passports and recovering from a cold that slammed me. I succeeded with one but I'm still sick. It's a struggle. I decided to take it easy, cover a few days and deal with the rest later. On an errand to the pharmacy I noticed a sale for small Lindt chocolate balls. I decided to start with that and grabbed 2 bags (milk chocolate and white). Perfect! I also found forgotten sheets of stickers in the depths of my dresser. The girls never saw them, the stickers were bought on sale during the summer and were cheaper than the dollar store! I was going to surprise them with little love notes for their lunch boxes when September came. Sadly, I forgot. Making up for it now! :) They're loaded with cute critters. I also had some leftover stickers from last year's advent calendar and a few mini rainbow candy canes. All set! :) I will definitely make a run to the dollar store to get some cool washi tape, some candy rings, barrettes and stuff for crafts. Anything fun but cheap.

Most of all, I wanted to make a few handmade items to hang in the tree this year. For the hearts, the girls often commented on the pattern on my PJs. It's a simple pattern made of hearts shaped out of candy canes. I never really thought about it. They're just cozy flannels but the girls love the idea and I was reminded once more last night when we said goodnight. It inspired me to use our leftover candy canes for a cute idea I saw online. Easy! Heat the oven to 250˚F, line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, set your canes in a heart shape (I overlapped mine) put in oven for 10 minutes, take out, press together a bit to secure and voilà! A pretty thread attached to it turn it into an edible tree decoration! :) I can't wait to see their faces tomorrow when they find them.

The best part? They both fit in the little space of the calendar box! Woot! Meant to be!

I was pretty satisfied and ready go to bed but I felt like I was on a roll. So I tackled the second idea I had. Earlier that week, I was trying to clear up my dresser that collects everybody's clutter. I found a handful of acorns (souvenirs from a day at the park with their father) among rocks, feathers and twigs. 2 of them still had their little hat on so the idea just popped in my head. What if I drew a cute little face on each and tied a coloured thread to hang them in the tree? I got excited (always a good sign) and made a quick sketch on a list that was already made so I wouldn't forget. It sat there for a while waiting.

Last night my plan went into action. I was a bit nervous to ruin their acorns at first but honestly I know they forgot about them. They get lost. All. The. Time. This was a good idea and THEY TURNED OUT SUPER CUTE! All I needed was: 2 acorns, pretty thread (dollar store), a fine Sharpie (the same I used to fill those passport forms) and some paint to make rosy cheeks. A steady hand helped too.

Here the little acorns with the coloured threads. Blue for Évangéline and green for Geneviève. Their favourite colours. I tied a knot around each stem and used a drop of crazy glue to secure the threads on the stem of each acorn.

Then I made a happy face. The kind they like. A fine Sharpie made this easy. I might have to reapply and secure with varnish... Time will tell. A bit of white and red paint was mixed together and applied with a Q-tip for the cheeks. Pretty simple!

The photos were taken pretty late at night but I think the little acorns turned out pretty well! I even tested them out in our ficus tree. I think this will be a success and if not, oh well, I had way too much fun to regret it.

I plan on trying a few other things that won't require for me to shop. Most of all, I want to have fun with this. It's the kind of thing that relaxes me. So far so good! I loved the acorns so much I booted the candy hearts into the next slot and placed the cute little nuts there instead. We're decorating the tree today and this will be perfect for the girls to put in.

*UPDATE* the acorns were a huge hit! The girls kept cooing over them and kept thanking me. Tomorrow they will find the hearts. In the meantime, we're off to find a tree. Leaving you with more pics because it always looks better in natural light, the novelty didn't wear off for me and the girls are cute! Happy prepping!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Stop and smell the hibiscus!

Last Sunday, a pleasant and unexpected surprise occurred. I was feeling more tired than usual after putting the girls down. Marc usually covers this part after dinner while I clean up or take a moment on facecrack. I then go up and do the easy part (tuck them in, sing 2 songs and kiss them goodnight). It works for us. That particular Sunday was rough on the husband so I took over. I'll say this. Our kids really get wired and hyper as they get tired. We see the early signs around 5h00pm and things decline fast from there. By 6h00, we call it "the pumpkin hour". If I can manage to get dinner on the table before that, great! A blessing. The truth is, it rarely happens. We usually grind our teeth and count the minutes till bedtime. We're not bad parents, it's just that phase we're in. Right?

It doesn't matter who puts them down or if we do it together, getting the girls ready for bed is the equivalent of herding cats! The "get undressed and put on you PJs" followed by the "brush your teeth" routine is just so mind numbing. Every. Freaking. Night. That's 2920 nights of practice with our 8 year old!! Yet she and her sister always act as if it's their first time! It's like Groundhog Day again, and again, and again! So we repeat, raise the voice, physically guide them, remind them of what's going on, rinse and repeat till they stop straying or goof off and end up between bedsheets.

I don't know where his expression comes from but Marc usually confirms the accomplished mission by saying: "The girls are planted!" Like I said, I usually leave this to him. He has stronger nerves and Seargeant Bé (that's me), isn't pretty.

Back to Sunday, I'm getting to the point here. The girls were hyper and us adults were drained. It was still sounding like a zoo when I left their bedroom as I dragged my feet into mine. My plan was to resist the bed, recover for a minute, change into cocooning clothes, maybe grab a book and escape into a world of deep ocean, ragged island, secret passages and pirate treasure. Unfortunately, an annoying voice inside my head was nagging about the messy bathroom, piled up laundry, neglected dishes... You know the drill. I was sensing the pressure. Tension was rising. I just sat in my chair in a corner of our room (the only uncluttered one at the time), with my eyes closed and took a moment before deciding on my next move. I should specify that this corner, when tidy, is like my personal oasis. When sitting there I'm surrounded by plants that don't fit anywhere else, there is also a vintage pole lamp, a bit of artwork, a side table and lots of books. A cozy nook!

So there I was, zoning out, eyes still shut. When I opened my eyes, to my surprise, this beautiful red flower was staring at me right in the face and somehow went unnoticed! It came from my hibiscus who had seen better days during the summer. A gift from my father.

Stunned, I just sat there and stared at the beautiful bloom for a while. I even smiled. How could I not? My hibiscus was recovering from a bug infestation, it had lost so many leaves since the indoor transition and was slowly healing in our room. This flower was far from subtle. Not only it was repaying me for the care I gave, it was a sign (as clear as daylight), telling me to chill the fuck out (pardon my French). I studied it in the low light and eventually felt relaxed. From there I moved on to more comfortable clothes, went downstairs to join my husband on a cluttered couch and watched what we considered a fun flick before heading to bed. I guess that was my moment to stop and smell the roses. To enjoy what I had (quiet time with my guy) instead of stressing over obligations and building resentment. Plenty of time for that later! I just hope my tree reminds me more often.

Also, hibiscus don't smell but they sure are pretty! Here it is in it's full bloom the morning after. Such a gift! :)