Claire in Vancouver

hotel bear

In February Jeff had to go to Vancouver for training so Claire and I tagged along. His classes were in the Vancouver public library, so we stayed next door at the Westin. While I would generally prefer a little boutique hotel off the beaten path, it was wonderful being right in the thick of things. I broke out the Ergo carrier for the first time since the fall and Claire and I trekked all over downtown Vancouver and Gastown. We found our way to the ocean and she found a beautiful smooth rock that perfectly fit her fist; she put it in her mouth and tasted the salt and carried it with us. We found a walled Chinese garden, we wandered through boutiques, we ate sweets and met another mom with her baby at Pure Bread. We met my brilliant art historian friend and Etsy genius, Jessa, at the Vancouver Art Gallery where she works, and she walked and talked us through exhibits of Cezanne, and modern Chinese art.

[Note: I found this unfinished post from last year and decided to put it up. We’re prepping for our next big trip with Claire: Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, next week. She adores planes and airports now, so this should be fun. I’ll just add the one Golden Rule of travel with little ones that I learned on the Vancouver trip: always fly in a nursing-friendly top or dress. Claire caught the flu from friends’ children and spent the entire flight from Edmonton throwing up on both of us or screaming. She was only okay while nursing, but I had worn a dress that I could only nurse in if I pulled it up to my neck. So I sat in the plane bathroom and nursed that way for most of the flight. Will never make that mistake again. I now always fly in one of the Boob Design dresses. Worth every penny.]

 

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Pizza Dough and the Impossibility of Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza

Recently I decided to get over my intimidation and bake bread. I found a recipe in my trusty Martha Stewart Baking Handbook and it turned out fabulously. So I got cocky and got out Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza, by Ken Forkish.

My husband gave me this book for a gift (after some broad hints) while we still lived in Ottawa, while I was still working on my thesis, and before we had Claire. A world away. I carried it with me everywhere and read it like a novel (the opening story of Forkish’s founding of a French bakery in Portland does sort of read like a novel). I was fascinated and inspired. And completely intimidated. Poolish, levain, biga…I thought I knew a lot about baking but all this was new to me. Scales, tubs, proofing baskets…I didn’t even have a cast iron dutch oven (I also broadly hinted and got this for a gift — or sort, as my poor husband inadvertently got ceramic instead of cast iron and oval instead of round). In the end, I read the entire book and never baked a single loaf of bread.

Fast forward to today. Claire was napping, I was feeling brave, and opened Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast to¬† see if maybe the pizza crust was doable. The intro to the pizza section said “use any recipe from Chapter 3.” I flipped to the first recipe and the first step was “Feed the levain.” Shoot. What was the levain and how did I make it, let alone feed it?? You also needed a 12 quart tub — I wasn’t sure what that was and how big it was, but I knew I didn’t have anything like it.

I looked in the index and there was a “Same Day Straight Pizza Dough.” I flipped to that. The suggested schedule said to start the dough at 10AM if you wanted pizza sometime after 6 because it needed a 6 hour rise time, then shaping into balls, then another 2 hour rise. It was 3:00 when I read this. It also called for 7 cups of flour. How much pizza dough did I need??

Defeated, I googled “quick pizza dough” and found a recipe on The Kitchn site, a site that has never failed me, for thin crust pizza. They describe it as “the very best thin-crust pizza dough for a home cook on a weeknight,” and let me tell you: they are not kidding. It whips up in minutes and bakes like a dream. And only calls for 2 cups of flour. The longest part was the five minute kneading time. I found myself watching the clock while kneading and then stopped and just enjoyed the beauty of a simple, nurturing task in a rare silent moment.

I haven’t given up yet on Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast; it has become for me the Everest of cook books. Someday I will read it all again, buy all the stuff, and attempt it. But I might wait until Claire is in kindergarten.

Vegan Chocolate Earl Grey Pudding

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After a long summer hiatus, I’m back to blogging and have been baking and cooking up a storm.

While I’ve been loving Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook, and plan to review some recipes from it soon, today I thought I’d do a quick post during Claire’s nap on a fabulous little chocolate pudding recipe I found in our local paper.

  1. Steep Earl Grey tea bag in 100ml of boiling water for about 10 min.
  2. Wrap 300 grams of silken or smooth tofu in tea towel and squeeze as much water as possible from it then combine with tea and one tsp vanilla and blend until smooth.
  3. Melt 100 grams of dark chocolate with 5 TBsp maple syrup over double boiler. Add to tofu and blend again until smooth (I used a salted dark chocolate so I would add a pinch of salt here if you’re using another kind).
  4. Chill for at least an hour and garnish with grated chocolate and Maldon salt.

This comes from Anna Jones’ A Modern Way to Cook — a book I have to check out, even though I am drowning in cookbooks. I love the title: I’m becoming increasingly persuaded that the truly modern/sane/progressive approach to food must be plant-based, not animal-based. More on this soon…

2015: The Year of Doing Less.

ggs

Shortly before Christmas, our Moms’ Network had a Christmas party: 15 mom and 15 babies. Potluck lunch. Cookie exchange optional. I opted in for the exchange. The night before, Claire miraculously went to sleep at 10 [we’re now sleep training so she sleeps closer to 8 or 9, but 10 was good at that time], so I started baking and enlisted Jeff’s help making a butternut squash soup. I picked a favorite Christmas cookie my mom makes every year.

I realized very quickly that I had made a huge tactical error. Tradition dictates that the cookies be rolled into little candy cane shapes then iced after they cool. I rolled cookies until 1 in the morning, while directing Jeff with the soup. Then I went to bed. Then Claire woke up for her first nightly nursing session. First of 4 or 5. Needless to say, we slept in until 9. That gave me 2 hours to ice 60 cookies (40 for the exchange, 20 for Jeff’s office party), finish soup, feed baby, dress baby, dress self, get baby to nap, get baby to wake up from nap, get baby into car, get cookies into car, get soup into car, survive baby’s inevitable car melt-down, and get to party on-time.

Needless to say, I was late. I got lost on the way, turned a frantic U-turn because Claire was screaming and I was losing my mind, and the vat of soup spilled all over the floor of the car. The party was almost over when I got there. Most of the people participating in the cookies exchange were gone or leaving; I missed the thread that said people were going to bring the cookies all parceled out (mine were on a huge cardboard fruit flat), so no one was able to take mine home. My soup arrived in a half empty sloppy bowl and no one ate it because lunch was over. I begged one of the moms to take some of the cookies to the moms who lived near her, and I passed off the remaining soup on the host. There was also a collection for the foodbank; I had bought food the night before, and forgot to bring it. All in all: disaster.

The mom who had to deliver my stranded cookies showed up in a beautiful dress, with beautiful hair (as always), and little decorated jars of homemade hot chocolate in pretty gift bags for everyone. And beautifully packaged cookies for the exchange. I’ve written before about human extremes, and this lovely girl is a prime example. My go-to response when confronted with such a shining specimen of organizational perfection is usually to feel like a complete failure, but I quickly realized (while scrubbing butternut squash soup out of the car carpet) that the example I needed to look to was that of the mom who agreed to take part in the cookie exchange only on the grounds that she could buy cookies. This is a woman who knew her own limitations.

This all reminded me of the time in third year PhD when I was one of 2 lucky students who got that year’s tickets to the Governor General’s award gala at the Governor General’s residence (a mansion straight out of a Jane Austen novel). My friend Kate came to help me get ready, which really meant we sat in my kitchen drinking wine and eating olives for far too long and then trying out updos and falsies. I ended up standing on the street in Chinatown, at the last minute, frantically trying to flag down a cab — not an easy task during the dinnertime rush. When I finally got one, I sat in the back of the cab as it struggled through downtown Ottawa rush hour, frantically checking the time on my phone.

Looking kindly at me in his rearview mirror, the driver said: “if you rush all the time, you miss your life.” I never forgot that.

I usually end up rushing because I’ve tried to do one too many things. Doing one too many things is usually the result of trying to Do Everything. I don’t know what it is about parenting that can bring on the compulsion to do everything, but it was this compulsion that made me sign up for the cookie exchange, even though several of the other moms simply opted out and even though we were heading to my parents’ the next day where there would be loads of Christmas cookies. I don’t know why I stayed up icing cookies until 1 AM and then rushed around and stressed and cried. But I do know that that cookie exchange was the one thing too many that I should have skipped.

And of course the irony is that in trying to do everything, I did, as the cabbie said, miss life, or at least part of it. I missed most of the party (and, also ironically, the cookie exchange itself), and more importantly, Claire missed being in the group photo of all the babies at the party — it seems like a little thing, but she might have loved to have seen herself with all her little friends some day and now she won’t. But there will be other parties and other photos and other chances to do less, rush less, miss out on life less.

So here’s to 2015, a year of knowing limits, not doing everything, and living more.

Zero Waste

Today I took the recycling and trash to the bins in our parking lot and was depressed as usual by the amount of paper and plastic waste we generate. I do try to avoid over-packaged items, and we do recycle quite religiously, but we still seem to create tons of waste. And now that we’ve brought another waste-generating human* onto the planet, we really need to clean up our act. Which might be easier if we moved to Berlin or Denver, two lucky cities getting Zero Waste grocery stores in the near future. But since we’re going to be in Edmonton for a while, and I don’t see us getting our own Zero Waste store anytime soon, these are my newly-committed-to cut back on waste rules:

1. Bake more. Less packaging and processed stuff, and it just tastes better. I’ve been trying to get up the nerve to bake bread from Flour Water Salt Yeast

2. Garden more. Pictured above are of some zucchinis I grew with my neighbor in a front yard near us in Ottawa. The yard belonged to man who couldn’t be bothered to landscape, but he was happy for us to grow vegetables and herbs there. Front yard gardening is a fabulous new trend which eliminates the waste of water and other resources used to maintain a lawn. We have a very small yard and all I managed this year was to stick some cherry tomato plants in the front flower bed. I’m hoping to put in a raised bed this spring so that I can plant something in the backyard (pug territory).

3. Buy bulk. I truly admire the family behind Zero Waste Home, even if I really can’t entirely figure out how they do it. But I know bulk plays big part in their system; their collection of photos of bulk products in colourful piles in markets in Turkey is just gorgeous. Now I know the Bulk Barn is not exotic, but it does have quite a few organic products, as well as hard to find ingredients like nutritional yeast. And who doesn’t need an excuse to shop at David’s Tea more often? Those little foil bags are super easy to reuse.

I know there a gazillion more I could add, but the sleep deprivation is getting to me. Feel free to add your zero waste tips in the comments!

 

*I know, it’s dreadful to call my sweet little baby a “waste-generating human”. Admittedly, babies are not the most eco-friendly things in the world, and unless we set a good example, it’ll only get worse. But right now, all the waste she creates is entirely intrinsic to her survival. We cannot say the same, as much of the waste we create has to do with laziness (hello, frozen pizza for those I-don’t-feel-like-cooking-nights). Hating the thought of her drowning in all our trash someday is my biggest motivator to be better at this.