Friday, March 29, 2013

Spring Is In The Air Recipe Roundup

You guys you guys you guys!  Monday afternoon I was hanging out, minding my own business, when a giant box arrived at my door.  It was a food dehydrator, an early birthday gift from my loving husband!  My dreams have come true!  Watch for Monday's post when I will give you the lowdown on my new bff and our drying adventures.

Here it is, Easter weekend.  It's a holiday but LUNCHES TAKE HOLIDAYS FOR NO ONE.  And so the Ladies Who (Make) Lunch soldier on, whipping up tasty things for our families.  Here's a quick recipe roundup for spring-like tasty treats you could whip up this weekend.  Spoiler alert: my family will be enjoying dried pineapple! 

For a quick and tasty lunch, try Dave's Tomato and Cucumber Salad.

For a decadent dessert, try Marilyn's Lemon Marscarpone Cheesecake.

Speaking of lemon, Hannah's recipe for Dorothy's Lemon Muffins are quickly becoming famous.  Note: I attempted a vegan version of this recipe yesterday, and it was kind of a bust.  So go ahead with the eggs and butter, unless you're looking for a sad, scone-like version.

Do you have some dying bananas hanging around?  Try my Very Best Banana Bread (also makes a GREAT lunchbox addition).

This recipe for Strawberries with Cocoa Whip is making me drool. 

Too much chocolate this weekend?  Get things back on track with a Green Monster Smoothie, or try my friend Lyn's husband's recipe for a super-sour vitamin C rich smoothie:

1 grapefruit
1 apple
touch of sweetener

Have a lovely weekend, everyone.  Happy lunching!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

keeping your goods in the shop window

I was chatting casually with a reader of this blog a few days ago, and she said something that made me pause.

"I read your lunch blog," she said "and I kind of feel, well... I LIKE making cute special lunches for my kids!"

And right away I knew what she meant, because we here at The Ladies have a tendency to not only say "just eat the damn sandwich" but also to remark disparagingly about those moms who do the Bento box / smiley face sandwich thing.

So first, to that mom, I apologize.

I don't do the twee lunches because frankly, I do not have the time, patience, or skill. This doesn't mean I don't think they are cute! I do. I just practice keeping my kids' expectations low. Begin as you mean to go on, my mom said to me when I was deciding what traditions to try and create for our families' Christmases. That way, when you do feel inclined to go above and beyond, it's a surprise, not an expectation.

Cynical? Maybe. But I've found it invaluable over the years. It's why with three kids and the oldest one creeping up on eight years old that I've never thrown a birthday party. (I know, I know. But I work with other people's kids all week. Letting that creep into my weekend too just turns my stomach.)

That said, I *do* look at Pinterest links of beautiful lunches and think "man, that's cool". We all love to eat food that looks enticing. There's a reason why a late-night commercial for McDonald's will make you want a Big Mac, and it's not because they taste good - it's because an army of food stylists have spent their careers learning how to take two-all-beef-patties-special-sauce-lettuce-cheese-onions-pickles-on-a-sesame-seed-bun and make it look like something Gordon Ramsay would serve at one of his restaurants.

Food preparation and consumption at its best tickles all of our senses.

It's another reason to try and pack some variety in our kids' lunches. Brightly-coloured fruits. Unsquished sandwiches. A nice-smelling piece of cake or sweet bread. Vegetables that make a satisfying crunch. These are all important things to keep in mind if we want our kids to eat their lunches instead of trading them away or bringing them home untouched.

So, to all the moms who spend the time making their kids' lunches look like modern art: I salute you. Really. It's not something I'm prepared to do, but you've made me think. And this week, I've been putting more effort into making sure that the boys' lunches feature an array of colours, tastes, and textures, because they're as bored with eating packed lunches as I am with packing them.


This week we've had hummus and small whole wheat pitas for dipping, honeydew melon, black grapes, cheesestrings, egg salad with Italian parsley, corn & shrimp chowder, and popcorn (because kids are weird and don't mind cold popcorn).

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Dangers of Stereotyping

Do you ever see a dessert and it looks like something you've had before, something you like just fine, but don't love. And so you try one and...OMG! It tastes so much more deliciously awesome then the thing you THOUGHT it was?

No? Maybe you just need more context.

Imagine you see a date square. It's oatmeal-ish and date-ish and pleasant enough to eat but it's one of those on-the-fence squares. It wants to be a dessert but the dates sandwiched in between the oat layers makes it feel slightly fraudulent; almost healthy. It would surely fail the dessert lie detector test.

However, beggars can't be choosers. And since you feel like you need something sweet to go with your coffee or tea or whatever, you take one. When you bite into the "date square" you discover that the filling is not date-like at all. Rather, it's chocolate and caramel all melded together in what can only be described as "a symphony of decadence." It is deliciously seductive and most certainly dessert.

What's the take away here? Clearly, we shouldn't make assumptions about what might be hiding between innocuous layers of oats, butter and sugar because doing so could cause a person to miss out on something fantastic.

Stereotypes hurt. In this case, you. Because by assuming that you know what is waiting for you inside a square that is disguised as a barely passable dessert item, you lose the opportunity to indulge in a veritable taste sensation.

More importantly, you lost the opportunity to pack the ultimate square in your kids' lunches.

What's for lunch (beside squares?)

Chicken salad sandwiches on whole wheat bread
Pineapple chunks
Apple slices with cinnamon

Monday, March 25, 2013

I got syrup duct taped to my hands

That's the way we do Spring Break.

Finally, finally it is my turn to write about Spring Break!  It seems like for the rest of the country, Spring Break has come and gone and is largely filed under "forgotten".  Out here in Alberta, we are just getting warmed up!  Put your hands up!  Put your hands up!  SPRING BREAK!

Okay, so maybe it's not so much PARTAY mode around here as it is CARB LOADING WITH SYRUPY GOODNESS mode.  I've mentioned before that even though my children come home for lunch every day, they do not get served a hot lunch due to time constraints.  Non-school days, therefore, call for all sorts of brunchy items: French toast, waffles, and pancakes. 

A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I regularly purchased pancake mixes for weekend breakfasts and brunches.  Silly me!  Making pancakes from scrach is minimally more involved than using a mix.  The recipe I use can be thrown together in five minutes, and utilizes ingredients that likely already in your cupboards. 

There has been a lot of buzz around the amount of sodium in pre-packaged and processed foods, and pancake mix contains a surprising amount - surprising for something that is not actually salty tasting.  One third of a cup of Aunt Jemima pancake mix - which makes about four little pancakes - contains 740 mg of sodium, or 31% of the "recommended daily total".  That's a lot for four little pancakes! 

It occurred to me that cold pancakes would be a fun sandwich item for lunches, for those of you non-Albertans who are back to the lunch-packing grind.  Cold pancakes, spread with cream cheese, would be a welcome surprise in a lunch box, I think.  I customize my pancakes with chocolate chips or little blueberries made into smiley faces; wouldn't that be a cute way to put a smile on your child's face?  When I'm feeling especially artistic, I make Mickey Mouse-shaped pancakes, but realizing I'm now veering into bento box/ cookie cutter-shaped sandwich territory, I will close by sharing my favourite, super simple pancake recipe.

Nicole's Easy Basic Pancakes

1 1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 1/4 cups milk
2 eggs

Stir together the dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Pour in oil and milk.  Lightly beat eggs with a fork, then add to the bowl.  Stir everything together until just combined. 

On a hot, ungreased griddle pour batter into desired shapes (plain circles are just fine!) and sizes.  If desired, place chocolate chips or frozen blueberries in decorative patterns on the batter.  When the top bubbles and the edges look dry, it's time to flip!  Just try not to flip them onto each other or the side of the griddle, as sometimes happens in my house. 

I received a fancy bottle of single-pressed syrup as a hostess gift, and once you've gone there, you cannot go back.  I tried to keep it all for me, but one of my children has discovered it and its mapley deliciousness.

Thursday, March 21, 2013


The Girl brought home the proofs from her Grade 8 graduation pictures last night, if you want to talk about time's wing'd chariot and all that. "Celebrate the Achievement!" the text on the picture sheet read, which I thought was sort of overstating matters, since passing grade 8 seems like something a parent should just EXPECT and all.

But she's off to HIGH SCHOOL in the fall, and that's what the pictures are about. Goodbye, childhood! And she looks suddenly older in the pictures, her adult bones whispering around her shy adolescent smile. "Did you think," whispers something mean inside, "That she would be a little girl forever, that you could keep her?"

She's a vegetarian - of sorts - again right now, which I saw coming. So her lunch today is lentil soup, mostly, which she has always loved (and I don't know how or why. Lentils WERE one of the foods I fed her a lot of when she was a toddler, but I also did that with the other two and they're rather cool on the topic. She just loves lentils.), and whole grain crackers, baby carrots and a yogurt and an apple. Not too exciting, but she enjoys it, the dour little soul.

"Are you going to eat at the cafeteria?" M's friend asked her, in my hearing. "Nah," M said. "I like the lunches my mom packs me. And the cafeteria's too expensive."

I've been packing her lunches for the past ten years of school - good grief! a decade! - and it is a reasonably thankless task. My kids generally don't comment on their lunches, lunches being something (like clean laundry and new running shoes) that just happens. I always presumed that - given the choice - they would pick other options then their bagged lunches and I am PLEASANTLY ASTOUNDED that this turns out not to be the case for at least one of my kids. She likes the lunches her mom packs her! And also, pragmatically, she has figured out that spending less money on cafeteria food = more pocket money for her. But she likes the lunches her mom packs her, too! Aw.

It is hard, sometimes, to remember in the day-to-dayness of looking after kids that this is not permanent, that what we're actually doing is attempting to raise worthwhile adults, to raise people who can leave us and high school is a loud alarm clock for the countdown that has always actually been happening. Four more years, her Grade 8 graduation pictures fairly shrieks, and in the meantime - while she is still my girl at home - I will keep packing her lunches as long as she wants them. Packing my kids' lunches is a boring type of drudgery but it is also something concrete from home, carrot sticks and juice boxes and something sweet. It is a pragmatic love letter to fleeting, lovely childhood.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Honeydew & Lemons



Last year, spring came early here. Really early. Like, 26C in the third week of March early. Flowers blooming! Birds singing!

We had a proper spring, and it was lovely. It was so lovely that we all managed to forget that we live in Canada, and that winter does not end because of Daylight Savings Time.

Today is the first official day of spring. It is a snow day. By 7:30 I had already shoveled a ridiculous amount of drifted snow off the steps and gotten windburn from the ice pellets scudding into my cheeks. Winter is back. And I am despondent.

And I'm sick to death of lunches.

The kids are, too.

This is the time of year when I want to throw all my principles about fresh food and healthy eating out the window, and just give them pizza pockets every day. EVERY DAY PIZZA POCKETS, LUCKY CHILDREN!! (I just asked my kids. They've never tasted a pizza pocket. Now they know of the existence of pizza pockets and I've probably bought a world of trouble for the sake of truth in reporting.)

But I don't! I forge ahead. This week I bought a giant honeydew melon, because why not. Turned out to be an excellent choice as the children actually whooped when they spotted it in the fridge.

(Aside: does anyone else wish the kids would tell you ahead of time when they have a preference like that, instead of leaving you in the store guessing week after week? Guessing right is vastly satisfying and makes you feel like a Super Genius Perfect Mom. Guessing wrong makes you feel like a stressed-out mess. End of aside.)

I spent some time on Sunday night cleaning and cutting my honeydew into bite-sized chunks. I store the chunks in a large plastic container, and then when I'm packing the lunches I just scoop out smaller portions. It tastes sweet and fresh. I checked and it is high in Vitamins C and A, as well as being an excellent source of potassium and a modest source of calcium. It's easy to chew for babies and toddlers, is delicious on its own or mixed with other fruit like strawberries or blueberries, and adds a great flavour to smoothies.

All this for only $3.99! BARGAIN.

This week I also made these lemon muffins, which go nicely with fruit or a cup of tea.

Dorothy's Lemon Muffins

Sift together in large bowl:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

Combine in small bowl:

1/2 cup melted butter
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
2 eggs
grated rind of 1 or 2 lemons

Pour wet into dry and stir to combine. Sprinkle tops of muffins with white sugar.

Bake at 400F for 15 minutes. Makes 12 smallish muffins.

All in all, not a bad week when I consider that what I really feel like doing today is lurking in the garret writing sad poetry.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Get back on that horse

There really should be some kind of service to help parents get through the shock and trauma of having to make lunches again after March Break.

Maybe a hotline you can call to talk you down from the counter where you are perched, hands clapped over your ears in a fierce physical display of denial.

Perhaps an app you could download that repeats motivational phrases like, "Stop staring into that open fridge!" and "These lunches aren't going to pack themselves."

Or the deluxe option: a comforting matron who could come by your house, make you coffee and press a cold compress against your temples while murmuring encouraging, lunch-making nuggets of wisdom in your ear.

Sadly, such a service doesn't exist. Thank God for this blog post, then. Lucky, lucky you!

So you say it's only Tuesday and you're already out of fresh fruit? And you bought a Costco-sized box of string cheese only to learn that some of your kids hate it when you send string cheese because the consistency gets "weird" in the lunch bag? Well buck up, Buttercup: you could have no legs. (That's what my mom used to tell me when I was feeling sorry for myself in high school. Helpful, yes?)

Today I will send a lunch, with canned fruit and no string cheese, and it will be fine. There will be Oreos and too many carbs but I will buy some more fruit and tomorrow lunch will be easier to make and the next day's, easier still. Because making lunch really isn't all that just feels that way the week after March Break.

Monday, March 18, 2013

I've Got Sunshine On A Cloudy Day

A friend on the west coast mentioned that she had been out bike riding with the kids yesterday.  Bike...riding?  Meanwhile, this was the view out my kitchen yesterday - and for the past week, now that I think of it:

A mini blizzard!  This time of year can be very trying, especially when the sky matches the ground and everything is greyish white and it feels, to be honest, like spring will never come.  It's not unlike the Ingalls family, enduring the Long Winter, thinking that hey, it's March, which means spring and the trains are finally going to get through and we all won't starve to death!  And then the trains don't get through until May.

Wait.  It's not like that at all.  I mean, we will probably still have snow until May, but the consequences are not so dire.  I'm not twisting hay to keep warm and eating one slice of bread a day, is what I'm saying.  The poor Ingalls family.  Can you imagine how deficient in Vitamin D they were?  As well as being deficient in every other nutrient. 

In my house, we all take Vitamin D supplements - sometimes more than one supplement a day, depending on the level of gloom outside.  It's well documented that Vitamin D helps with immunity and calcium absorption, but I think it also helps with moods and fighting the winter blues.  Yesterday I took an extra supplement, and guess what happened!  The sun came out.  Literally.  The sun started to shine immediately following my supplement ingestion; you're welcome, Calgary.

Another good way to fight the blues is to make cookies, and since there is a birthday coming up in our house - Mark will be NINE next week - I made everyone's favourite sugar cookies in the shape of stars, and that, along with some on-sale blackberries and strawberries, will comprise the school snacks for the week.

Goodbye, blues.  Hello, blue cookies!  You may notice that one of those things is not like the others; that was the scrag-end of the dough, which Jake poked a happy face into prior to baking.  It's a smiley face for the soon-to-be birthday boy!  Which is smile inducing for me, while I wait and wait for the snow to melt.


I did a little reseach on food sources containing Vitamin D, wondering if we could up our intake that way.  The primary food sources are mainly fish - salmon contains the highest levels, by far - but since fish is not consumed in our house, the next-best thing is Vitamin D-enriched products.  The boys both like milk and yogurt, and so I often make thick smoothies, with a one-to-one ratio of milk to yogurt and a big handful of frozen blueberries or mixed berries.  It's a frosty, Vitamin D-full treat, and in a Thermos it would probably be a nice addition to a school lunch on a gloomy day.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Our First Guest Post!

Beck here - things are too grimly sad around my place for me to write this week (MY CAT!) but we have a lovely guest post from the delightful Kate Linnea Welsh, who writes the Morning Coffee Link Round-Up that ALWAYS accompanies my morning coffee. I hope you enjoy her post!

I've been an avid reader of this blog since its reboot, partially because the Ladies Who (Make) Lunch are such witty and delightful writers, but also because, even though I'm single and have no kids, the horrible monotony of making lunches is a scourge that affects us all. I've been working in an office for almost a decade now, and I still haven't worked out a system that actually works for me for more than a week or two at a time.

Obviously, I would never claim that figuring out how to feed myself is as much work as those of you who are feeding whole families. But meal prep for one is not without its own challenges. On a practical level, small quantities can be difficult: If I make normal recipes, it can be hard to eat all the leftovers before getting thoroughly sick of them. And I love fresh produce but I constantly struggle to eat it before it spoils. It can be difficult on a psychological level, too: I love cooking and baking, and I love feeding people, but when it's just me, it's way too easy to feel like it just isn't worth the effort.

My schedule also means that, despite my best intentions and plans, lunch prep in the mornings just doesn't happen. I spend my mornings writing, which means that by the time I've managed to get up and shower and get dressed, I've got about two hours to throw together a link round-up for my personal blog and write five to ten posts for other sites. No matter how much I may tell myself the night before that I'm going to take the time to pack an interesting lunch in the morning, when it comes down to it, I'd always rather write up one more piece of casting news or find the code for one more movie trailer. So any plan that involves more than a minute or two of work in the morning just isn't going to work out for me.

I've tried just eating leftovers, but a night or two of deciding that I'm too tired after work to do more than heat up some vegetable soup blows that plan up. I actually love peanut butter sandwiches and could probably happily eat them with some carrot sticks every day, but by Thursday or so, I no longer love making peanut butter sandwiches. And when I make a big casserole or something on Sunday and eat it all week, it's great because I don't have to think about lunch for a while but awful because I have to eat the exact same thing every day. In an ideal world, I think, I'd cook on the weekends, portion things out, and do this regularly enough that I had a constantly-refreshed stock of different lunches in the freezer that I could rotate through so I wouldn't get bored. In the real world, I spend too many weekends traveling to have ever actually made that work.

Sometimes, if I'm having a particularly bad week, I just give up and buy some frozen organic meals or order vegetable wraps from the deli in the office cafeteria, but that's too expensive to do all the time, and even if the organic meals are less awful than other frozen meals, that's still more processed food than I want to be eating all the time. (I do have coworkers who buy their lunches out every day. It sort of baffles me. Wouldn't they rather be spending that money on books and DVDs? But hey, if that's their priority and it works for them, more power to them.)

And so, still, this completely normal quotidian activity causes me way too much stress and angst. I feel like I should be able to put it on autopilot, but I can't figure out how. Is it just me? Do I have some sort of lunch-related mental block? Has anyone cracked this problem? Please, tell me if you have.

This week's plan: I'm going to cook some tofu and quinoa and chop some vegetables over the weekend, and throw them together in various combinations for salads. We'll see how it goes

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

break is broken

It's March Break for us, too, but because of the dayhome that means a more hectic week, not less. A week with two school-aged children and one who should be cooped up with 3 year olds and toddlers.

The weather has been blustery and dampish, although mercifully not too cold, so the kids have been unceremoniously tossed outside at least once every day for a good long while. Also we've been doing activities with a rainbow theme, to try and chase away the dark grey skies.

It's been a mixed success. The honey & cornmeal muffins we baked on Monday were a dry, mealy failure. Even the toddlers - not a fussy audience by any means - wouldn't eat them. I despaired. So yesterday I threw nutrition and good sense out the window, and baked a batch of rainbow cupcakes. Instantly, I was the most popular dayhome lady ever.

I first experimented with the Pinterest stand-by of rainbow cake last year when my middle son turned four. It was not notably successful - all the layers fell in the middle and didn't bake properly for some reason, so when I tried to put them together the middle of the cake ended up soggy. The edges, meanwhile, burnt. CAKEFAIL.

With the cupcakes, I just divided the batter for a simple a one-bowl white cake into three dishes, used some gel food colouring, and scooped them into the cupcake liners in layers. It worked great; the colours stayed separate and the cupcakes were gorgeous inside and out. They were so pretty I didn't frost them - the rainbow effect was much cooler not covered up with icing, anyway.

Next time I make a rainbow cake, I would just layer all the batter in one or two pans, rather than trying to bake a bunch of different layers.

I'm not much of one for sending sugary stuff to school - they crash midday and it never turns out well, at least not for my kids - but if you were on tap to provide a treat for a class party or something, rainbow cupcakes are fun and look more complicated than they actually are.


This week, because we are all home, 7yo has had leftovers heated in the microwave quite a few times. Middle son is on a ham-and-cheese sandwich kick, and 14mo is suddenly passionately invested in peanut butter sandwiches. Both green and purple grapes were on sale this week, as were blackberries.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

No lunches (but still dessert)

It's March Break and my kids are at their grandparent's house.

We've only been blogging here again for a short while and this is the second post where I am sans kids. You might have the impression that I am spoiled. You might be right.

Indulged princess or not, all of this means that I am not only excused from making school lunches; I don't have to think about feeding my children any meals for a few days. You know what that means: my husband and I are eating take out.

So what does one post on a lunch blog when there are no children to feed and takeout leftovers for lunch tomorrow? I did make a delicious sour cream apple coffee cake yesterday. It was amazing warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream melting in with the cinnamon and brown sugar. It's equally scrumptious today, cold but still moist from the apples and sour cream, which makes it an excellent lunch box candidate for next week when we're back to the grind.

Sour Cream Apple Coffee Cake

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup sour cream
1 and 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1 tsp cinnamon
1 apple, peeled and thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter and sugar together. Beat eggs and beat them in. Add baking soda and sour cream. Mix well.

In a second bowl, mix flour, baking powder and salt. Add them to the batter and mix together.

Grease and flour a 8x8 (or 9x9) pan. Scrape the batter into the pan.

Push sliced apple pieces into the top of the batter slightly.

Mix together brown sugar and cinnamon. If you don't have nut allergies you could add in 1/2 cup of finely chopped nuts too (but if it's for school, you probably shouldn't). Sprinkle the sugar mixture on top of the apples. Bake in oven for 40 - 45 minutes. Check for doneness by inserting a toothpick in a few places. If it comes out clean, you're good! Serve warm with vanilla ice cream for dessert or pack cold in lunches for a school day treat.

Monday, March 11, 2013

It's just a little crush

There is a lot of talk around here about classroom "crushes", and fortunately, my boys are still young enough to tell me all about them.  This boy has a crush on this girl, but she has a crush on another boy.  This girl has a crush on this boy, and he has a crush on her as well.  I asked my older son, Mark, if anyone had a crush on him.  Yes, he said but he does not share her feelings.  The reason, when pressed, was revealed to be as follows: she is nice but she is bad at math and doesn't like vegetables.

Score!  My work here is done.  If being good at math and eating lots of vegetables is the standard, then I'm looking forward to my future daughters-in-law.  Jake, for the record, looks for a girl who is nice and smart and pretty and blonde.

You win some...

I do find it funny how many people - not just children, but grown people - profess to dislike vegetables.  There are just so many delicious ways of preparing vegetables.  However, I do have one child who does not like any cooked vegetables, and I do empathize with him.  After all, I love fruits but cooked fruits - in pie, crisp, or stewed form - are shudder-inducing for me.  I choose my battles and so he gets all his vegetables in salads or as crudites, either straight up or with dip. 

If you have a reluctant veggie eater, perhaps a nice dip would be in order?  Vegetables used as a conduit for dip consumption are just as nutrient packed as those eaten plain.  This dip can be made with regular mayonnaise, or with homemade vegan mayonnaise, if dairy and eggs are an issue (recipe follows).

Nicole's Dilly Veggie Dip

1/2 cup mayonnaise or vegan mayonnaise
1/4 cup buttermilk or almond milk with 1/2 tsp vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons dill
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Whisk all ingredients together, allow to refrigerate for 1-2 hours to let the flavours blend.

Vegan Mayonnaise

In a blender on high speed, blend together 2/3 cup canola oil, 1/3 cup almond milk, 1/4 teaspoon each salt and mustard.  While the blender is running, slowly add up to 1 teaspoon vinegar until mixture achieves desired thickness.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

March breaked

Today was the last day of school for AGES for my kids and I am so pleased.

We don't have any plans - I'd hoped, a bit, that we'd be able to go to Toronto for the March break, but it's been a grimly expensive winter and that's not happening. So instead we're going to stay home and watch movies and go sliding and do crafts because if there's one thing that teenage girls like doing, it certainly is NOT crafts with their mom. But never you mind! We're going to have fun and we won't have to wake up at 7 a.m. every single morning for OVER A WEEK. And of course I won't have to make school lunches ONCE DURING THAT TIME.

They'll still need feeding but home lunches are a very, very different thing - grilled cheese sandwiches and baby carrots! A bowl of soup and some crackers! - but mainly what I like is the absence of the performance art aspect of school lunches, the knowledge that to some extent, what I'm feeding my kids is on DISPLAY. So that and being able to eat peanut butter during daylight hours equals me being quite pleased with things for the time being.

Today's school lunch was rather low effort, too - because it was the last day of school before break, the school had an outdoor winter fun day and the parent volunteers (I am not one of them. I should be, but I'm not.) made the kids hot dogs and hot chocolate which my younger two kids were SO excited about and my older kid was SO revolted by, causing her to mutter darkly about "noses and eyeballs." WHATEVER, MS. PICKY. So I had to make a lunch for her but the other two were just DELIGHTED with their sudden grody hot dog windfall.

We don't have a fantastic history of fun March Breaks. We mostly tend to get sick - and this one is hinting to not be any different, since THREE people in the house are running fevers tonight - but there is still the hopeful sweetness in the sudden relaxing departure from routine, the promise of restful mornings, long gentle days spent with my three favorite people and although the reality will almost certainly not be like that, there are still fun days ahead. And I won't have to pack a single lunch in ANY of them.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Pizza Day Redux

Today is Pizza Day at school!

*does happy dance*

While I can agree with Beck's concerns about Pizza Day at her kids' school, I'm lucky enough to not share those same issues at our school.

We order at the beginning of the month, for pizza on Wednesdays. Each slice is $1.50 and it's on whole wheat crust with low-sodium sauce. We can choose how many slices (my big eater of a 7 year old gets two, because the slices are quite small and he's got two hollow legs, that kid). Plus, you can order for specific Wednesdays rather than the whole month, if you choose to.

It's as fair a system as it can be, I think.

Of the $1.50 cost, 25 cents is a markup added by the school. That money goes to buy extra slices, plus some other odds & ends that go into the staff room fridge. On Pizza Day - or any day, in fact - those kids who show up to school with either inadequate or non-existent lunches quietly get given something from the stash. This isn't something that the school publicizes, and I daresay most parents don't even know about it. It's just something that the staff took it upon themselves to do, because they saw a problem and addressed it.

Knowing that buying pizza once a week makes my kid happy... saves me from needing to pack anything beyond a simple snack... and helps buy lunch for another kid in less-fortunate circumstances... well. It's a winning situation all around, and I sing the praises of Pizza Day every Tuesday night when I realize I only really need to pack two lunches instead of three.

It's the little things.


Lunch this week included a selection from cantaloupe, strawberries, greek yogurt, chicken salad sandwiches, homemade beef & vegetable soup, bananas, cheesestrings, multi-coloured Goldfish crackers because I'M NOT MADE OF STONE, apples, and dried cranberries.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


We have a good lunch-packing thing going at my house now that I’m back to working away from home. I suppose if you asked my husband, he might say there was nothing wrong with the way we did things before (a.k.a. Janet Packed All Kids’ Lunches). Personally, I like things better now.  The kids pack a thing or two at night, I pack a thing or two in the morning and my husband usually does the main item, by which I mean a sandwich or wrap or something in a thermos.

I’m not sure how we evolved to this rhthym, exactly. I remember a few mornings where I was harried and he shooed me upstairs to finish getting ready for work and took over packing the lunches. However it happened, it’s working well for me. It’s working well for the kids, too. Who makes great wraps? Dad. Who instituted Chicken Burger Fridays? Dad. Maybe Claire from Modern Family was right: There can only be one fun parent.
Regardless, we got rhythm! And, really, who can ask for anything more? (with apologies to George Gershwin) I get up first and do my lunch thing, slicing apple, pouring juice, adding cold packs to lunch bags. Then he gets up and I pass the invisible baton, heading upstairs to make myself presentable for work. There is something pleasing about the cadence of it; about this notion of marriage being about sharing the fun stuff and the slightly tedious stuff. It feels like we’re a well-oiled machine.

This morning when he came downstairs, he peered into the open lunch bags on the island and noted the absence of that one main, stick-to-your-ribs, stay-with-you consumable.

“I thought you had a plan,” I reminded him. “Something about leftover ham?”
Ah, yes, he remembered, as I headed upstairs. I swooped back through the kitchen 45 minutes later, grabbing my lunch bag off the counter on my way to the back door. Glancing inside I noticed the glaring absence of The Main Thing. He didn't realize I needed anything like that in my lunch.

Apparently our machine could use a little more oil.

What’s for lunch tomorrow?

-          Carrot bran muffins with pineapple and raisins

-          Fruit cups
-      Yogurt drinks

-          Rice crackers

-          Apples. Again. (I’m getting sick of apples)

-          ??? ß I don’t know. It’s not my department. J

Monday, March 4, 2013

Judgment Day

Last week I was chatting with a friend; a very smart woman who has her PhD in psychology and also a deep interest in holistic nutrition and health.  We were volunteering at the school book fair; between class rushes and calculating the cost of a moustache eraser, a One Direction poster, and the newest Geronimo Stilton, we talked about food.

Specifically, we discussed how much time we spend shopping for, preparing, cooking, and generally thinking about food.  It is startling, really, the hours and hours per week I log just to ensure that my family has healthy, nutritious, and generally pleasing meals and snacks.  But then, I don't have a job.  It's not a hardship for me to spend hours a day on food related activity because I'm a stay at home mom with school aged children.  This is not everyone's reality.

My friend told me about some new research relating poor nutrition to psychological issues, and it's fascinating, really, how our mental and emotional health can be impacted by the food we eat.  I pay a lot of attention to nutritional values and our diet and how everyone in the house is feeling.  I have the privilege to do this, because I'm not working long hours to pay the bills.

It's pretty easy to be a snob and say that everyone can do this, everyone can achieve optimal health through nutrition but that's not exactly true.  It's easy to say make your health a priority, nothing else really matters, but if you're a working parent who is scrambling to make reasonable lunches every day and to get dinner on the table every night before the children collapse with hunger, then perhaps sprouting your own grains and making your own almond milk is a stretch.  Sometimes, we all need to reach for the more convenient option.  I have a lot of time to prepare meals and bake things and make my own condiments from scratch, and yet sometimes, I grab a prepackaged fruit leather.  I can fully understand how people, busy people with kids and jobs and day-to-day activities, value the more convenient option.

Here's an anecdote from a few weeks ago: I was grocery shopping, and I had a cart full of yummy things: coconut oil, Perrier, fruits and veggies, and a case of tetra-pak almond milk.  I saw someone I knew, a friend, and headed over to chat.  She looked right into my cart and informed me that the almond milk I was buying - which was for my consumption only - was the wrong thing to buy, was something that should never be consumed, and I should put it back and get the fresh substitute in the dairy aisle.


I could have, I suppose, explained my reasons for purchasing almond milk in a tetra pak, rather than fresh.  I could have explained my lack of fridge space and time to dash out every couple of days to get a carton of fresh, I could have explained that yes, I do know that fresh is better, but that I made  a conscious choice weighing all the costs and benefits.  Of almond milk.  I could have done that but I did not.  Instead, I merely walked away feeling judged and also indignant that someone could have made the mistake of thinking that what was in MY cart was THEIR business.

Recently I overheard a conversation about a woman in the grocery store who was filling her cart with on-sale Lunchables.  Now.  Personally I think Lunchables are vile, I think they are unhealthy and gross and expensive.  However, when I heard the vitriol being spewed about this woman, this woman with the cart full of Lunchables, this woman who wasn't there to give her side of the story, I felt angry.

Here's the thing: I don't know one single thing about that woman's life.  I don't know if she feeds those Lunchables to her children every day or if she doles out one a week as a special treat, I don't know if she works two jobs or has six children, I don't know a thing about her, and neither do the people who were talking about her.  I know, I realize, that it doesn't take much time to put together some whole wheat crackers and meat and cheese, to slice up some fruit, but some people, some days, might not be able to do that.  I know there are myriad healthier options out there, and that making lunches - while annoying and boring - does not take that much time, really.  But whose business is it?  It isn't mine, it isn't the people who were discussing her choices, it isn't anyone's but hers. 

One person's tetra pak of almond milk is another person's Lunchable.

I know how I felt after my almond milk experience: strangely upset, unfairly judged, and also embarrassed.  I can only imagine how I would feel if I knew complete strangers were talking about the way I feed my children as a form of abuse. 

As parents, I think we all try to do our best - and sometimes our "best" might not be perfect.  It might be far from perfect.  But we all want to do right by our children, and support from the community, rather than judgment, is what is needed.  

Friday, March 1, 2013

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme

Five million years ago, when I was unmarried and breathtakingly young and completely unaware of my own fleeting good looks, my slightly-younger brother and I went to a soup-tasting festival intended for senior citizens in the small city where we both lived because there was nothing ELSE going on during the day. It was my brother's idea - he was great at coming up with off-kilter, fun things to do and now I'm wistful for the spaces that adult life puts between siblings, these people who used to always be around.

So anyhow: Old People Soup Party! We went around and ate many little paper cups of soup and the old people told us, over and over again, how lovely it was to see us there. Of course it was, we assured them, and decided that our favorite soup was the Potato Soup with Blue Cheese and Bacon, which has haunted me ever since because I've never found it again. And I couldn't eat it now even if I did, so there's no chance of me having a Proustian AHA moment someday over soup. It's all gone, it won't come back.

My oldest daughter has been taking a cooking class and last night she came home with a paper cup of something that smelled amazing. It was, she told me, potato soup, and she had brought it home for me to try. And it was - in a completely different way - just as good as the long lost Blue Cheese and Bacon Soup, a subtle reminder that time doesn't just take things away, never to return. Sometimes it brings new things: my breathtakingly young daughter, the soup she made with her own competent hands.

So I got up early this morning to make soup and really, REALLY it's because I'm a morning person, that's my one little window of time during the day when I might actually do something, all right? Anyhow. I got up to make that same soup for my kids' lunches, in part because it was so tasty and so easy and also because it's Friday, grocery day, and the cupboards are BARE and the soup is made of practically nothing. And it turned out good and simple and soul-satisfying, and I recommend it.

Cheddar Potato Soup
25 ml butter
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove chopped up garlic
3 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped
375 ml chicken stock
1 tsp dried thyme
375 ml milk
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
375 ml grated cheddar

"Read the recipe and understand what you will be doing," M's recipe helpfully states at the beginning. Isn't that good advice?

Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Throw in the onion and garlic, and cook until tender but not brown. Add the potatoes and make sure they're thoroughly coated in butter. Add the chicken stock and thyme and stir well. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and cover and cook for about 20 minutes or so or until the potatoes are tender.

Puree in a blender or in a food processor in batches until it's smooth (and BE CAREFUL NOT TO GET SPLASHED because I wasn't careful this morning and it HURT.). The recipe says to only puree HALF the soup and to leave the other half chunky but I pureed the whole damn thing, so it's your call, really. Return everything to the pot, add in the milk and reheat. Add the cheddar and the Worcestershire sauce and cook at a low temperature until the cheese melts.

Ta da! Soup. You can garnish it with diced green onions, if you're fancy. The recipe claims to make six servings, but I'm dubious about this - I filled 3 small thermoses with it and I had enough leftover to half fill a mug for myself. It is very, very good.