Cowgirl (or cowboy) Cookies and Caramel Corn. All ready to go... BAM!

Cowgirl (or cowboy) Cookies and Caramel Corn. All ready to go… BAM!

Recently my daughter was invited to a couple of birthday parties and without sounding anti-crap-gifting and while acknowledging that I am BRAND NEW at this whole birthday party thang, I decided to set a few intentions for her gifting. And these were:

  • keep it simple
  • get my kidlet involved in the process
  • gift something that is unique
  • keep the costs reasonable
  • create the gift with my daughter
  • ensure the gift would be inclusive for the child’s family

I thought about this long and hard (for so many reasons) and ultimately I decided it is important to teach my daughter that she can make things that are worth giving. I mean seriously, if we can “pay” poor people in other countries to make us packaged, plastic things surely we make things too… right? And if not, then WHOOOOOOAAAAAA… let me off this cray-cray bus. Like, today.

To begin, this is my shout-out to Google for always being there when my ideas need a global search. (It still stuns me how much I use Google. How did I gather this information before?  Books??  Nah.) My first search was typed, “cupcakes in jars”.  Nononononononono! FYI, this is an actual thing, where people make cupcakes in jam jars and no, I don’t know why. All I know is, making a cupcake in a jar IS NOT EASIER (or even more pleasant to look at) compared to baking them in paper cups (or silicone, if you’re fancy). So without delay next I typed, “recipes in jars”. BINGO.

Thinking like a 3 year old, it was pretty easy to hone my recipe search. Though I don’t know exactly how a toddler thinks, I can almost guarantee that kids are not interesting in making or receiving bean soup mixes or spice rubs or salty foot soaks (huh, how did that get in the recipe search?). Toddlers like cookie recipes and anything popcorn (after all it is the forbidden, choke-able food that all toddlers CRAVE) . It was super easy to find loads of recipes and most of them come with easy-to-print instructions. And if the recipe you find doesn’t come with this, seriously keep looking until you find one that does. Unless of course you enjoy rewriting recipes, which I do not.

The next step is to pull out all those unused canning jars you have kicking around. Oh wait, I don’t have those (does anyone?). So really, the next step is to go to your local Home Hardware Store (that is what we have in our community) and buy a flat of litre jars. They will seem big, but actually it is a squeeze to get the all the food ingredients inside. After you have the jars and the other hardware crap you need, head to your supermarket… ours is No Thrills, No Frills. Only pick up what you need and remind your toddler how awesome shopping is (remember you have to bring your kid, this is something you are doing together).  There is a good chance she will forget and turn to howling down the aisles and asking for EVERYTHING. Shopping for jars and sugar and flour is inspired, no?

Once you are home, really start to sell this “gift project” to your toddler. I mean, give it all you got. Even go so far as to use it as a bribe if you have to. You know, “after you brush your teeth and get your PJs on, THEN we can make these SUPER DUPER FUN cookie jars for your friends!!!!!” Then once your angel is clean, excited, and standing on her/his step-up stool, let reality set in, keep your cool and recall that toddlers don’t really understand how to carefully layer dry items into jars and they definitely are not down with putting all the M&Ms into them. Ok, no prob. All that means is, you will be the one putting the jars together, while your toddler gets all sugared up on chocolate just before bedtime. Yay.

Don’t let yourself get all worked up though, because in the end the jars look fantastic and your kidlet is pleased and proud. And so are you. Suddenly you feel like the Pinterest Mom you’ve always wanted to be! Win-win! And to keep that feeling, make jar recipes your new signature gift. Be firm, say to yourself, “everyone is getting these, at least for the duration of 2014”. Remember no one is actually getting a hand sewn banner or a chalk paint thingymado. Gosh, I hope I’m not the only one who has thought, “oh I should make this for so-and-so and so-and-so… what a cute idea.” A confession: most of my Pinterest ideas, remain ideas, but are still diligently pinned onto the appropriate board, never to be deleted.

One final note: keep in mind this gift is heavy and breakable, so package accordingly (which I did not do).




Last night I made a batch of uneventful apple chicken balls, that were so boring not even my carnivorous daughter would eat them (she did eat her french fries though). Needless to say I had an excess of leftovers and I had to figure out what to do with all these bland balls. So I figured, soup. And to make this idea even more perfect, it rained today. Actually I should say this more like: YAY IT RAINED!!! BAHAHA HEATWAVE YOU HAVE BEEN DEFEATED FOR TODAY!!! Yo, I’m so done with the hot hot heat. Soooo over it.

This morning off we went to No Frills for our weekly shop and my kid’s once-a-week opportunity to dress as a princess, but act like a dragon, and there I picked up a container of Blue Menu Chicken Broth and a cheap package of egg noodles. To be honest, I’m usually not a fan of chicken soups, but because these are meatballs versus chopped pieces, this style of chicken seems to be okay with me. And no, I don’t think I have OCD. Anyway, the point is I’m not exactly an experienced chicken soup maker.

You know Google is my friend and quickly while my daughter was begging me for cookies, crackers, anything, right now… I looked up whatever recipe popped up first. With my swift mother eyes and broken attention, I saw that one usually adds onion, garlic, celery, and carrots to their chicken soup. I did notice people add spices too, but I didn’t have time to read about that. Then I fired up Netflix for the desperate toddler and started cooking my veggies until they were translucent. Ok no I didn’t. I actually just cooked them in the time it took to take the tab off the broth container… form versus function people! Gee, when are they going to make better packaging??

Because my processed broth had no added salt and same with my chicken balls, I did the forbidden and added a chicken bouillon cube too. I know, so bad! I felt slightly guilty for about a second, but I wanted this soup to have flavour, even if it was just salt and MSG. My logic was, it doesn’t matter, it will get eaten at least. Then I added the noodles (they cook for 6 min or something like that),  frozen peas, and chopped hunks of chicken balls, which I could have and should have cut smaller. (Hindsight is always 20/20, right?)

Then it was time to feed the monkey and though I didn’t want to ruin the integrity of the salty broth, it was still boiling hot after 10 minutes of cooling.  So in went the ice cube, off went the kid to play in her makeshift blanket fort, and out came my mom voice, reminding her over and over again to eat her bowl of soup. I ate mine as fast as I could, because I was starving (like all moms by dinner time) and my daughter is still insisting she is eating, even though the bowl sits lonely by itself.

Yes, another successful meal… sort of.

Don't mind the scissors and those hunks that look like croutons, are actually the chicken balls cut into smaller pieces. I agree, the presentation of this soup could use some improvement.

Don’t mind the scissors and those hunks that look like croutons, are actually the chicken balls cut into smaller pieces. I agree, the presentation of this soup could use some improvement.


I have officially grown up, now that I have made my first pot roast.  (Another item from our meat order.)  This recipe is from my mother and it’s a cinch to make.  It’s so easy, you don’t even have to thaw the roast… imagine that.

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Take frozen roast and smother it with garlic, herbs and olive oil (I’m not sure if my Mother told me to do this, but I did and it was great).  Place beef in roasting pan and add an inch or so of water.  Set timer for 2 hours and after such time, turn over roast and reset timer for 2 hours.  Don’t let the water run out, as not to damage your pan, though it’s okay to let it cook in it’s own juices for the final half hour or so of cooking.  Total time : 4 hours.

This roast needs to be started around 2 pm if you want to eat around 6 pm.  And If you’re at home anyway, why not throw this together?  Roast beef dinner is one of those meals that everyone tends to enjoy, to at least some degree (I’m talking about kids here).  It’s not too crazy and if you roast it with vegetables, it’s even better.  Personally, I still need to sort out how to cook gravy.  Gravy is harder than it looks and in spite of being the “Official Gravy Stir-er” for much of my youth, I still don’t get it.  Sigh.

Another meat item from our meat order: the chuck steak.  I have to say, when I first opened this puppy I was slightly revolted.  It was huge, like Flintstone huge and embedded with many bones, that seemed to be in all the wrong places.  Do tell, where in the hell in the cow was this number cut from?  It was heavy, big and I had my doubts.  So I hit the internet.

What came up on Google was testament after testament about how low the quality of beef chuck steak was… I mean, is.  Ugh, I have a thing for rib eyes and have been known to drop lots of cash on them, so this was like slightly traumatic and worrisome.  But sticking to my inspiration about learning how to cook new kinds of meats, I pulled myself together and hoped for the best.

The first thing I did was sort out a decent marinade and I found one the internet, but it was really nothing special.  It was something like white wine vinegar, soy sauce, brown sugar, oil, garlic… you know, the usual.  So I crammed the hunk of low grade into the pan, poured the sauce on and then disposed of it in the fridge.  THE PLAN was to let it marinate overnight and cook it the next day for supper, but I totally procrastinated on it.  Instead I let it go for 5 days, flipping it religiously twice  day and found ways to avoid cooking it altogether.  Looking back, I think I was unconsciously putting it off so I didn’t have to eat it.  Amazing what the mind will do.  Anyway, the fifth day I knew I had to cook it.

I thought baking potatoes as a side dish and garlic bread would help brighten the meal, in the case that the chuck steak was horrible.  So with that in mind, we prepared the potatoes and bread, and threw the meat in a pan to slow cook for an hour.  And wouldn’t you know it, it smelled fantastic!  (Though it could have been the garlic or I don’t know….  I still wasn’t feeling hopeful.)  An hour passed and out of hunger we had to eat.  I took the time to cut the bones out of the steak for myself, but handed over a primitive piece (bone intact) to my b-friend.  Let’s just say, the look of his plate made me giggle.

As it turned out the steak wasn’t that bad.  It was perfectly tender (thanks to several days marinating), but I actually didn’t like the marinade (it just wasn’t amazing).  Also, the texture of the meat was a different than what I was used to, but that’s okay, it didn’t kill me.  Next time I might use the same type of marinade, but cook it in another sauce.  Actually BBQ sauce might be good.  As well, I will use the bones to make a beef broth, after all there is enough of them!

In closing I am happy to make this again.  I’m sure there is a way to perfect it and it’s good practice to get away from the expensive cuts all the time.  Having said that though, I will purchase rib eyes again, just not every time.

I’m going to be honest about my feelings about soup: first, I really really like homemade soup and second, I really really don’t like store bought soup (or even most restaurant soup for that matter).  It’s pretty much black and white like that too.  I haven’t found a purchased soup that I completely enjoy, though I have tasted some that are tolerable, but nothing to race down the aisle for.  In our cupboards we have a Costco bunch of Mr. Noodle (other members of my family enjoy these, but actually only sort-of, as the packages have been sitting untouched for months now) and I have shelved several litres of organic chicken broth.  Anyway, Mr. Noodle doesn’t really count as “soup” anyway, more like ramen noodles in yellow salt liquid, that more often than not, remains in the bowl to be dumped down the sink.

So we just started to purchase “meat orders” from our local butcher, in order to save money on our food bill.  It’s no secret that food prices are going up and we have to learn how to adapt to these new prices.  I don’t want to compromise our quality of food.  I know not everything I cook is a HIT at our house, but I do my best to at least show that I care about the health of my family.  So one day, when everyone is all grown up, they can look back and realize food is an option when eating.  We do spend money on our groceries and we stock lots of whole foods on a weekly basis.  Plus, we eat meat, so that adds up too.  However, we can learn to prepare and enjoy cuts of meat that are more affordable than say chicken breast and rib eye steaks (though I love rib eyes!).  I need to learn how to cook these meats and the challenge inspires me.  This soup recipe is born from the whole chicken that came in our first meat order.

The chicken was first roasted (like very unique about that) and we had one meal just as such.  The next day, I took the bones and spent half the day boiling the flavour out of them and the second half of the day preparing the soup.

This soup is not fancy by any stretch of the imagination.  It has vegetables that were in the fridge (I didn’t get in all the veggies I wanted, because we didn’t have them… oh well) and the chicken was hand separated by me.  I didn’t add a lot of spices or salt and most of the grunt work was basically checking the pot every-once-and-awhile to ensure nothing was boiling over.  Pretty easy, but it did take time to prepare or rather, to wait around.  I was home all daythough, so really all it took was the extra foresight and motivation to put the carcass in a pot and then turn it into a delicious soup.  And yummy it was.

And still is!  Hence, we ate the last frozen soup this afternoon for lunch.  That is another bonus about homemade soup: you always make waaaaaay too much to eat in one meal.  So freeze it and eat it later.  Believe me, nothing goes down better when you’re pissy and sick with a cold (like I am today) and all you have to do is reheat a nutritious meal.  Also, it’s raining, so soup couldn’t taste any better.

Last night was burger night at our house!  Needless to say, I had a craving, especially after eating a bunch of fast food versions as of late.  We’ve been traveling a lot over the last couple of weeks and burger joints seem to be everywhere.  Nothing compares to great sushi though… or korean.  Which too, I have eaten plenty of.

So back to my craving.  All I really really really wanted yesterday was a great burger with blue cheese and balsamic onions.  So much, I could NOT get it off my mind!  So I decided to just do it and we hit the grocery store and purchased what we needed for our burgers.  On the side, Rob didn’t want a blue cheese burger (he didn’t have the craving), but instead wanted a fried egg burger instead.  Anyway I took a picture of it too, since his looked pretty tasty as well.  Though, I would never whip one up myself (… she says this now).

I’m pretty impressed actually that I’m starting to desire food again.  It wasn’t that long ago (like maybe even 2 weeks or something), when all I wanted was peanut butter toast or a bunch of almonds.  Eating for the first 4 months of my pregnancy has been hellish and baffling as well.  Suddenly, I despised anything green and I morphed into the ultimate carb-woman.  I don’t know how many loaves of bread I ate, but it was A LOT.  Too much probably, but it was either that or barf-a-rama.  And throwing up doesn’t trump toast.

The burger platter that I prepared also included Southern Pecan and Apple Salad and rosemary fries.  Both of which were dead easy.  I changed the salad recipe slightly, in that I used romaine lettuce (which I love) and ditched the radicchio (I had some chopped radicchio handy too, but UGH, soooo bitter).

Easy rosemary fries:

A few potatoes
Sea salt
Olive oil
Couple tbsp of chopped rosemary
Oven temp 400 degrees (or maybe 450… I can’t remember)

The trick is to cut your potatoes mindfully, so that they look like fancy french fries. I’m usually super lazy cutting potatoes, so this was a test of my patience. After you chop, toss everything in a bowl and lay out in a single layer the potatoes (no stacking of any sort). Cook for 30 – 40 min, turning once. Voila!

Balsamic onions (also very easy):

Thinly slice an onion and cook slowly over med heat with olive oil. After 15 min or so, add a tbsp or so of balsamic vinegar and the same amount of brown sugar. Let cook another 5 min. Done.

You know, I would make this again in a New York minute.

One morning I woke up and was asked what I want for breakfast. I had already consumed my bowl of bedside almonds and needed some food ASAP. (Women who have been pregnant know exactly what I’m talking about. The ASAP is a non-negotiable and the food request is the same.) Anyway, my response was banana pancakes. Do I even like pancakes in my normal state? Ummm, noooooo. Never mind adding smooshy bananas to them. But I’m pregnant now and banana pancakes sound utterly delicious and I want them now as I write this.

Not only are pancakes overly filling (which is a quality I normally loathe), but when bananas are added they are somewhat nutritious. Or at least 10 times better than crackers and besides, I always have my prenatal vitamin to pick up where I can’t eat. (Ahhh, the prenatal vitamin.) Anyway, this is what I tell myself and having a positive frame of mind can really take a person places, especially when she’s feeling that she is not eating enough greens (yack), omegas (barf), vegetables (ugh) and healthy snacks (whatev). Everything is off these days, including my taste in food, but I’m better for it somehow. Yes, it will all make perfect sense one day, why I can’t eat like a health nut whilst pregnant, but I can do it the rest of the time. Dread!, no it doesn’t make sense, but apparently this is all very normal. Phew… I suppose.  But still I’m a bit pissy that my food habits have changed this drastically.

Rob made me these pancakes and even though these ones are slightly overcooked, it doesn’t bother me in the least. All that matters is that they are hot and have lots of melted butter on them. But no syrup and certainly no peanut butter, like the way Rob eats them. Gross-oh-la, peanut butter on banana pancakes! So gross I make him close the jar, so I can’t smell it. Sometimes, I just eat in the other room to keep my meal pure and as bland as possible. Oh the joy of breakfast.

Well, well things have certainly changed since I became pregnant 9 weeks ago. One of the most obvious changes is my desire for food. I haven’t really bothered to blog as of late, because who wants to read about dry toast, cereal (with soy milk, ugh not *real* milk) and/or corn nuts? These have been my staple foods over the last couple of weeks since all-day sickness kicked in. Oh, also plain popcorn, almonds and crackers have been a big part of my diet. Mind you, if I eat one more cracker, I’m gonna lose my crackers… literally.

My first trimester has been a lot like being on a rocky boat 24-7, out in the wide open sea void landmarks, during storm season. It has been somewhat of a rough go and to make matters more nauseating, I have been hungrier than ever this whole time. Sick and starving, a very odd match indeed. To add to the magic, everything has tasted funny. Some say it takes metallic, but I realize now that that is just a fancy descriptive word that describes nothing. More like everything tastes crappy and if one wants to analyze and find the perfect descriptor, be my guest. But really, tastes like sh*t is good enough for me. Tastes like makes-me-want-to-vomit is another good choice. Speaking of which, then it came that everything I ate, sent me to the bathroom to bring it all back up. Anyway, long story short, my midwife prescribed Diclectin and my life has been a lot more normal. Sigh.

With that normality, I’m able again to cook and eat foods that I actually like. Like this soup, in our new soup pot! I decided this would be the first blog of my pregnancy, because I’m still snacking on this soup 3 bowls later! Yum yum. However, as a side, this is no guarantee that I will desire this soup ever again. That is another symptom of my pregnancy, one-hit-wonder-meals. Once I eat something once, that’s it forever. I dunno why this is so, but it makes meal planning completely impossible. Oh, and no I did not read about this phenomenon in any of my pregnancy books.

Anyway, this soup was really good. It’s basic and has one of my favourite ingredients of all time: sausage with casing removed. For some reason I feel like an honest chef when add this to my meals. Like I have some secret knowledge about sausage or something. I feel similarly when I add cilantro stems too. Damn those stems are good and they add complexity that isn’t overwhelming. I’m actually a bigger fan of the stems, than I am of the leaves, which says a lot, because I love the leaves.

Basically this soup is onions, garlic, black beans, canned tomatoes, carrots, celery, water, chicken broth, oregano, smoked paprika, cilantro stems and sausage out of the casings. Nothing too fancy, but enough that I can stomach it. At least for today.

Today marked a pretty significant day here in Nanaimo… I finally found purchasable kale at the Farmer’s Market!!  Glee!! I still don’t understand why there hasn’t been any all summer or early fall, but I guess that’s not for me to know. Sure miss all the varieties in Victoria though. Sure miss Moss St. Market. Sigh.

Anyway, I have been wanting to cook Caldo Verde for some time now, especially ever since I started missing Kale. I guess it was a desire I hung onto, just to ensure that I had a goal to find local kale. Honestly, I could have just gone to the grocery store and picked it up there, but kale doesn’t travel well and it tastes bitter by the time we get it from California. Real kale is sweet and green tasting. It’s pretty darn good.

For those of you who don’t know this, Caldo Verde is the Official Soup of Portugal! Cool, eh? And as a side note, if you google “Official Soup of Canada” (or something along these lines), it looks like it’s a tie between French Canadian Yellow Split Pea Soup and Campbell Soup. Ugh, really? And a further just as a side, I remember one time someone from England told me that she understood muffins to be an Official Canadian Snack. First I’d heard of it. Anyho, totally got side-tracked there…

I realized quickly when I started to make this soup, that I don’t have a clue what it’s suppose to taste like. Hmmmm. Not only that, but I think you need you have damn good ingredients to make this work. I mean, usually you can make due with some ingredients being a bit less sophisticated than others, but when you are only working with 5 items, there’s no where to hide. However, I’m not knocking my ingredients, because they were all solid, but I think in the future I would make a homemade broth (to put that in perspective, that’s analogous to me saying that I would make my own bread… a true rarity in my kitchen). So I’ve concluded this would be a good soup to make after Turkey Dinner or a dinner similar to that (you know, for the bones). I think having a rich, thoughtful broth would  be amazing.

Because I have never had this soup, I don’t really know if I’ve made it correctly. In spite of it’s simplicity, I am willing to bet that I have only made a version that is sort of like the real thing. I am making it a goal right here, right now to seek out the real deal. For reals. Mark my words, I will make this happen.  I don’t usually cook things I haven’t eaten before (especially “Official” things) and actually, I found it kind of awkward to do so.  I almost felt too, that it was forbidden. Or maybe that was nervous embarrassment.  I mean, there is always that off-chance that a Portuguese Grandmother is going to come waltzing into your kitchen with her big taster-tester soup spoon.  Isn’t there?

This particular recipe (that I cut and pasted from my friend Guy’s FB wall, with permission) is in kind courtesy of Marilyn Gates and it goes a little something like this…

“Yes, Nati. The Portuguese National Soup. Mince one medium onion and six cloves garlic (or less to taste). Saute in 2 tbsp good olive oil 3 mins. Stir in 6 potatoes peeled and sliced and cook 3 mins more. Add 8 cups water and simmer 20 mins while you cook a couple of linguica (Portuguese sausage) until releases fat. Smash pots and add sausage to soup. When almost read to serve add a medium bunch of kale julienned. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve drizzled with olive oil + peasant bread.”

Mmmmmmm mmmmm. Thanks Marilyn!

PS: I didn’t have linguica, so I used Hungarian Bratwurst… so wrong I know! (But delicious nonetheless.)
PPS: I don’t eat a lot of bread, so I skipped that.
PPS: (ack, I feel like I’m in a confession both)… I added a small dash of white wine. I know I KNOW, this soup has been completely bastardized. In my defense, first I already stated that I didn’t know what I was doing (so I felt some leeway there) and second, it was too salty – something had to be done. Just thankful that that Portuguese Granny didn’t come walking in…
PPPS: I have plans to add carrots to the rest of this soup tomorrow. (Did I just write that out loud?)

I love making Sunday breakfast. It used to be, every Sunday I would roast potatoes, fry bacon, toast bread and sometimes cook eggs. (Usually I made a quick chipole and kale bean dish, in place of eggs.) It was a Tradition I was excited to wake up to and it always kicked off the day on the right foot.

However, as I got older, this menu started to feel more like a heavy, fat-ish way to begin a day and it kind of stopped working for me. So my Sunday breakfasts started to become somewhat of an intermittent practice, in spite of missing it like crazy. Lately, I have begun to cook on these mornings again.

Although the ingredients are different, the general theme remains the same. Simply I want something roasted, I want variety and I want sauce. Those three, make my Sunday.

This morning I did just that. I chopped and roasted garlic, squash and potatoes with smoked paprika and sea salt in my favourite cast iron pan (400 degrees for 35 mins). And in another, I gently heated chopped firm tofu with lemon juice, and added with garlic, leeks, and gai lan. I didn’t really cook the tofu dish, but rather just warmed it up. To the tofu dish, I added raw shredded purple carrot and then topped it off with scissor-chopped broad bean. Tahini sauce was poured over everything and breakfast was accomplished. Ahh, so nice to be back in the routine.

Tahini Sauce:

1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup tamari or soy sauce
1/3 cup tahini
2 tbsp maple syrup or honey
1/4 cup water
1 chopped garlic clove
optional: 1 tbsp chopped onion


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