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Archive for the ‘food’ Category

Vacation update

I have not been online since my last post. In fact, I’m writing this offline to then copy and paste, so annoying is dial-up service.

 

I haven’t read a blog for over a week. And you know what? I’m coping okay, except I’ve run out of stuff to read up here. No computer time means much more reading time, and I didn’t bring enough books. I am catching up in my journal, though.

 

I do feel very out of touch, although I’m not sure that is a bad thing.

 

This week, we are at the cottage with our three kids and two of our nephews (I’ll call them B and C), who are 9 and 11 years old. The four of them – Maya, Asher, B and C – have remarkably similar interests and have gotten along without a major tiff for two weeks now. They spend every waking moment together, doing things as a pack. They are happy to include Boo when she wants to be (there are younger kids here for her to play with) and also include an 8-year-old girl from across the road when she is around.

 

Five kids is actually easier than three, as there are more play options, and since B and C find their younger cousin utterly charming, Asher and Maya are more patient with her too. The only thing that we find difficult – as I mentioned before – is feeding them, since there isn’t a picky eater among them. MominIsrael is right, kids who eat everything is preferable to kids who won’t eat, but it still pains the pocketbook. The five are voracious. We are constantly throwing enormous amounts of food at them. When feeding them dinner, I am reminded of the nature clip I saw years and years ago, where you see a hand holding a huge joint of meat from some animal like a goat or sheep. The hand lowers the joint into a large fish tank and the water boils with frenzied piranhas for a few moments, and then the hand lifts the joint, now cleaned of all meat.

 

I’m just thankful that mine have huge appetites too, or the shock of feeding them all would have been much worse. A couple of days ago, the mom of the kid across the street offered to make lunch for them all (beside the 8-year-old, she has 5-year-old twins). Pasta, she said, that would be easy.

 

My eyes bugged out when I saw the amount of pasta she’d cooked for them. It was enough to split in half and feed the two oldest. I braced myself, hoping the kids wouldn’t be rude about not having enough food. They were good, though. They all ate their share, then came home and ate more. Turns out that, like my kids, my nephews are used to eating meals at friends houses, leaving hungry and filling up at home.

 

I have no idea how large families feed everybody without being rich. I should point out that the whole lot of them, save one normal-sized nephew, are so skinny you can play the xylophone on their ribs.

 

I did not intend to write so much about food. I guess it is just that I’ve been forced to be preoccupied by it. What I intended to write about was that I love it up here. The loss of my beloved internet has been worth it. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but up here the kids get thrown back to my childhood, where they roam around all day playing, and their parents don’t always know exactly where they are. No schedule, no playdates, no parents.

They swim at the beach for hours. They hunt frogs. They invent elaborate games in the forested land behind our cottage. They collect rocks and wild berries. Sleeping all in bunk beds in one room, they whisper to each other long after bedtime, ignoring our half-hearted demands to be quiet and go to sleep.

 

We feed them, bandage scrapes, build bonfires and try to prevent them from emptying their rock collections on the couch, but other than that we hang out and read. It’s lovely.

 

 

It’s not all sunshine and roses – for me, at least. As I write, I am emerging from the pit of a 28-hour migraine. Today was spent lying in bed with earplugs and an eye pillow, throwing back useless drugs. I have no idea what set it off. I haven’t had one this bad in ages.

 

My own personal cottage-holiday ritual is to become ill or injured, so I should consider myself lucky this only wrecked a day. On different years, I have: recovered from carpal tunnel surgery; had an abscessed tooth (two different times and only on holiday here); had severe strep throat that took multiple courses of antibiotics to cure; had an ear and sinus infection so bad I spent the two nicest days of the vacation feverish in bed; had the Norwalk virus (‘stomach flu’); had the real flu; been pukey and exhausted from the first trimester of pregnancy (Asher); been crabby and exhausted from being in the last few weeks of pregnancy (Boo); and had mastitis.

 

Still, I’m not complaining, because at least when I get sick here, I have J to look after the kids. In fact, I actually planned the carpal tunnel surgery that way. Only once I got here did I realize that it was a little bit stupid because I couldn’t swim or play in the sand with the kids. It was still better, though.

 I hardly miss my garden.  

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Did you know that if a dog eats lots of asparagus, he too will experience asparagus pee? J swears so, and he was the one who walked Jasper the morning after that rotten dog ate three-quarters of the plate of asparagus I had prepared for dinner. I was smart enough to place the hamburgers I’d just BBQed (all by myself, yay me) on top of the fridge, but I underestimated the appeal the veggie would have on the dog. Stupid me.

When I walked into the kitchen to see the almost-naked plate of asparagus, I was about to blame J, until I realized that even he would not suck back that many before dinner. And the children were still outside. Sad thing was, no one trusted him to have avoided slobbering on the rest, so Jasper got those for breakfast.

I made up for it today by buying way better asparagus and not giving the dog any (well, he expressed great interest in the raw, snapped off bottom bits, so I did feed him those, but he got none of the good parts). I’ve been reading Barbara Kingsolver’s new book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and have her to thank for the superior asparagus, although despite the delicious veggies, I’m not sure if reading that book has been a positive force in my life right now.

Don’t get me wrong – I loved it. It was a fascinating read, but I really didn’t know what I was getting into when I just picked it up on a whim because I love Kingsolver and the book was way cheap at Costco. I read the cover – how charming, she and her family decide to live off only what they produce themselves for a year and chronicle the adventure. Well, it was charming. It was hard not to drool as she describes the meals they had. But she sneakily slipped in all kinds of information about how we are going to hell in a hand-basket one more way.

The veggies we buy aren’t just full of pesticides, but bred only for their ability to last until they make the long trip from far away to here. They are mere shadows of the real thing with regards to flavour and have far fewer nutrients than their organic counterparts. The variety of food is disappearing and the best isn’t winning. Oh, she goes on and on and on.

It isn’t like I don’t already know most of what she said. Not only have I read books like Fast Food Nation, but my parents tended a huge veggie patch when I was a kid. They didn’t do it to lessen their footprint on the earth or for organic food. They did it because it was cheaper and tastier. I didn’t appreciate some of their choices. I hated the beets and chard and I think I didn’t like the green beans back then either. But I loved the peas, both snow and snap. And the carrots were probably my favourite. We’d pull them from the ground, give them a good wipe on our shorts and eat them without even washing. No wait, maybe the tomatoes were my favourite. There is nothing like the taste of a fresh, lightly-salted tomato sliced on toast for breakfast. And lunch. And a snack.

As soon as I had a spot of land to call my own, I began growing tomatoes. In my first house, I went for a whole wee garden, which was colossal flop. It was a great deal of hard work for about 4 carrots, thanks to the rainiest summer on record and a back yard that just did not have enough sun to pull it off.

When I moved to my current house, I was very pregnant with Boo and had been a bit scared off by my previous failures. I decided to concentrate on the flower garden, which is much easier. But I couldn’t completely let it go. I’ve always grown tomatoes and my kids love to keep watch for the first cherry tomatoes of the season. The first year, I over-estimated how many we needed and we were awash with the things. I couldn’t pay the kids to eat them by the end. But they still get excited when it comes time to plant the tomatoes in spring.

I also have container herbs and made an unsuccessful attempt at cucumbers. I don’t need to repeat the cucumber experiment because our next-door neighbour always over does it on those and passes them on. He’s an old, very over-weight, heavy smoker with a deep gravelly voice, with wild hair and permanent stubble. It is funny to see him beckon my children with a smokey, “Hey kids. Come ‘ere. I got something for you.” And he starts handing out cucumbers of all sorts. Not what you’d expect.

My mother’s good for zucchini – lots of it.

My point, as long-winded as it is, is that my kids and I know the difference between the anemic flavourless tomatoes, cucumbers and apples you can by at the grocery store. But I’d kind of put it out of my head that all that other stuff – the asparagus, the lettuce, the broccoli – is also a pale imitation, only I don’t know what the real thing is supposed to taste like.

Kingsolver tells of a friend who had no idea that a potato is the root of a plant, her point being that urban North Americans are so divorced from the source of their food that they have no idea what it is before it hits the supermarket shelves. My kids aren’t that bad. They know what it is like to put a tiny seed in the ground and harvest a big pumpkin 4 months later (I forgot to mention we do also grow a pumpkin plant each year.) We also are lucky enough to have friends with a small farm, so they’ve gotten to go potato hunting (it’s exciting, like a treasure hunt) and pull their lunch from the ground, bring it inside and prepare it.

But on a regular basis, we eat shit. I’m busy and tired and usually don’t make the effort to shop beyond the supermarket. But Kingsolver and her stupid book gave me a little kick in the head and now I can’t do that any more. I’m not going to go nuts, but we are planting carrots as well as the tomatoes this year (and I’ve put in the asparagus, but that’ll still take a few years before we can eat it). And I’m mulling over where to move some of my flowers to start a decent little veggie garden for next year. This time I do have the sunshine I need. I just have to figure out how to keep Jasper out or we won’t get to eat a thing.

And I found out where the closest farmer’s market is. It isn’t very far. Still feeling like crap, I dragged myself out in the drizzle to see what they had. I brought Maya, who was very impressed. She wanted it all. There weren’t a lot of veggies yet, but I got local greenhouse tomatoes that were better than anything in a grocery store and the asparagus Jasper didn’t get to eat. Plus some lovely homemade bread and local honey. Maya bought fudge, of course.

My life has just gotten more complicated thanks to Kingsolver. But it was the best asparagus I’ve tasted in years.

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What’s that term when the weather reflects your mood? It’s stormy here.

Actually, I’m feeling much better now, which is why I am able to sit up and write. The past couple of days haven’t been pretty, though. The yucky laxative didn’t work! One dose, nothing. Second dose, nothing. Nothing but feeling like hell, all gurgly and headachy. I fell asleep at about 9 pm and was woken by J coming to bed at 11:30. I went to the bathroom then and finally saw some action.

I got up and spent pretty much all my time in the bathroom until I had to brave the snowstorm to get to the hospital for the test. I was afraid that things weren’t all clear, but what could I do?

I warned the technician, who said she’d take a regular x-ray to see and if I wasn’t cleared out enough, I’d have reschedule (and therefore redo the cleaning-out procedure). I decided not to cry until after she definitely sent me away. The fates were on my side, though, and I was okay.

This meant I got to have a barium enema. The queasy among you might want to skip down to the subject break, because this is my blog and I am going to complain on it.

I put on a surprisingly comfortable gown and lay down on the x-ray table, where the techie (who was very nice) took a big rubber tube and stuck it up my butt. She then squeezed 2 cups of barium up me. And then air, to ram the barium further up and open up my colon for a really good look. While she did this, the radiologist tilted the table up and down and required me to turn from my left side, to my stomach, to my right side, to my back, to my right side, to my left side, etc, in my little gown on the metal table, swirling the barium and air all through my innards. It sucked.

When it was finally over, I felt exactly as you would expect someone to feel with a belly full of air and liquid chalk. Blech. To top it off, they gave me a shot to relax my bowel and warned me that in 3 percent of people experience double vision after the shot. Three lousy percent! I put that right out of my mind, right up until I had to pay for parking with a big handful of twoonies and loonies and had trouble counting them, because there were suddenly a lot more than there should be. You know if it was 3 percent of people who get this shot spontaneously lose 15 lbs, there’s no way I’ve been in that 3 percent.

However, several bathroom trips and a good long lie down and I feel almost human. I’m even making soup. So far, all I’ve eaten is a hamentaschen.

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It’s Purim! Hence, the hamentaschen, which is a traditional Purim food, a fruit-filled cookie.  The kids all had Purim carnivals at school and, thanks to my own wallowing in yuckiness and general space-cadetness, we were in no way ready for. The kids all needed costumes and the two older ones had to bring mishloach manot (gifts bags of treats and fruit) to school to exchange.

After picking them up at school yesterday, we whipped over to the kosher section of our grocery store and met several other families from the school there and a teacher, so at least I’m not alone in my dopiness.

This morning was a bit chaotic, but we managed to send off King Ahasuerus (they don’t let you convert until you can pronounce his name, and here’s a hint – it is pretty much nothing like it is written), a chef and a doctor.  Thankfully, Asher has been King Ahasuerus every single year, we had kid-size doctor scrubs in the dress-up box for Boo and Maya considers bringing a spatula and wooden spoon to school costume enough.

I think I’ll go lie down again. Maybe eat another hamentaschen.

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Comfort food

When I was a kid, I loved Pablum (I was a good Canadian girl). My mother intended the pablum for my baby brother, who was just getting the hang of solid food at this point, and annoyed her to have the7-year-old sucking it all back for breakfast, and she eventually cut me off. So it isn’t too surprising that my current comfort food (beside, of course, chocolate) is oatmeal.

What I really like is the slow-cook stuff, but I’ll settle for plain instant if I must (don’t like the one-minute stuff for some reason). In the summer, I add blueberries or strawberries. (Boo likes it with blueberries all the time.) In the winter, I add a generous sprinkle of cinnamon and brown sugar (which is how Asher likes it, with less cinnamon) . I always toss in ground flaxseed to really scrub those arteries out.

I believe most people who know me, would never imagine I’m an oatmeal sort of woman. Always keep ’em guessing.

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The new sweater is trucking right along, as I’m knitting when I’m lying down. Asher, who knows I am knitting one for him, spotted it tonight at bedtime and asked if I’d finished his. I told him no, that this one was just a bit of a break from that one.

He wanted to know who it was for. I told him for the baby our friends will be bringing home from China. I said, “Hopefully, they will bring her home in spring,” and he said, “Her? How do they know it is a ‘her? Do they know who she is already?” So I explained China’s one-child policy to him, and their tradition of women going to the husband’s family, leaving son-less parents with no one to care for them in their old age. And the resulting girl babies in orphanages, as parents try for a boy as the child they can keep.

“Are there any boys in orphanages?” he asked. I told him a few, and as far as I understood, they tended to be babies with special needs, like cleft lips or hearing problems. Why, he asked, are boys like that unable to support their parents? I told him maybe not, but maybe it was just that the parents didn’t have enough money to get their babies the help they needed, and that they hoped that by giving them up to an orphanage, they would get their clefts fixed, for example (we have close friends whose son was born with a cleft lip and palate, so Asher gets that one).

I had a hard time getting through this. It isn’t just the ‘weepiness’ I’ve been dealing with lately. It’s parenthood. Since I became a mother, my emotions are raw when it comes to anything to do with children and pain. I used to be tough as nails, but no more. Asher said, in his old-man way, “That’s heartbreaking. But it is amazing that you are knitting a sweater for a little girl whose sitting in an orphanage in China right now, and she has no idea. I can’t wait to meet her.” Then he flopped over, and went to sleep.

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Maya hates studying. She has a big French test today, so she’s been studying a lot. It hasn’t been pretty. She settles into studying by attacking which ever parent is trying to help her, and last night that was me. When I said, “It’s good you can say the answer, but we need to check your spelling, so I’d really like you to write it down, ” she said, with all the teenage nastiness she should not yet possess, “I’m sure you would like me to, but I’m not.”

It always amazes me that such nastiness can come from such a mature and sweet child (which, I suppose, is better than being amazed that such sweetness can come from a nasty child). Because once she’d gotten the studying over with, she kicked into her helpful mode. She got Boo into her PJs, as she had the night before, by promising all new, never before read stories!

When she made this promise last night, and I looked at her with bafflement, she disappeared and then reappeared in my room holding her French/English dictionary. Fearful of a tantrum from Boo, once Maya started reading definitions, I gave her a cautious glare. She said, “You will be amazed at the stories in here!” She then brought Boo to her bed and ‘read’ her 3 stories. One was about a girl who shrunk in the bathtub, slid donw the drain and discovered an entire undersea world down there. Boo loved them, of course.

Last night, she told Boo the story of two girls who had birthday parties planned for the same day. By coincidence, the girls in the story had the same names as two of Boo’s best friends. Then they realized they could have a joint party. I heard this from Maya’s room:

Maya: So they had to decide where to have their party. Can you guess where they decided to go?
Boo: Gymnastics? (her current plan for birthday, distant as it is)
Maya: The girls got together and discussed it, and finally decided that they would have their party at … gymnastics!
Boo: (leaping around the bed in excitement) I guessed right! I guessed right!

When I came to bring Boo to her own bed after her stories, she ran up to me with the French/English dictionary and said, “This is my new favourite book!”

Maya is very frequently a smarter parent than I am.

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