Thursday, April 29, 2010

Not the Babysitter's Club

My friend B called the other day to see if I would look after her little guy, baby O; we carpool with them to our women's Bible study every week, so I knew baby D would be okay with it, and I'm a big fan of his, so I said yes. B has this awesome idea of assembling a list of moms in our area who could use a couple hours of babysitting every now and then, and I think it's fabulous! This way, when one of us wants to go to an appointment, or get groceries, or even just have a bit of time to ourselves, we can! I'm lucky enough to have family nearby (including baby sis who's home from college for the summer- hooray!), but not everyone does.

As for the matter of payment, it's unnecessary for money to change hands. Even though B offered to pay, I was quite happy to have baby O come over and play with D and have lunch with us. (Because O's about three months older than D, it's fun to see what we have to look forward to with her, like eating with more skill, and crawling around. Also, the two babies seem quite taken with each other, and who could blame them? They're both ridiculously, and empirically, cute.) When B came to pick him up, she asked if I could use a box of size 3 diapers, since she had bought a huge box which no longer fit baby O. Even though I use cloth diapers, I keep disposables on hand for when we go out to church or over to a friend's house. And baby D just happens to be wearing size 3! Perfect.

All this reminds me of a system that my parents had with other families who lived in our area; it was a babysitting co-op (possibly based on the play group we attended), and families would have a certain number of poker chips that they traded for babysitting services. My mom said that they acquired way too many chips because they looked after other kids more than they needed us looked after. But it's neat to see this kind of thing repeated in my own generation.

Duvet update: at the time of posting, the duvet is still drying. Not on the line, but in the basement.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The duvet debacle

Friends, it is not every day that I do something so spectacularly idiotic that it needs to be shared with the blogosphere, but today is that day.

After darling baby D slept gloriously through the night (we suspect she is teething, as she has been more fussy and wakeful than usual), she joined me for her morning feed. Hubby picked her up between sides for some cuddles, and out of nowhere she projectile vomited her breakfast onto him and the side of the bed he was sitting on. This included The Duvet.

We have a wonderful synthetic duvet that the in-laws bought us on their last visit. Previously, we'd had a down-filled one, but Hubby found out he was allergic to it. In the few months since we've had the new one, I washed it once and wasn't pleased with the results; there were wet patches and dry patches, and I don't think it got that clean. I resolved to go to a laundromat next time it needed washing.

Do you suppose I thought to myself this morning, "why, it's a lovely day to track down a laundromat in the suburbs and spend a few hours there washing and drying one item." Rhetorical. Of course I didn't. I heedlessly stuffed the duvet around the washing machine, refusing to take note of the warning to "not pack or wrap items around the spinnerly post in the middle of the washer" (or whatever it is that I've certainly read dozens of times).

I've since learned that a duvet weighing a scant 5 pounds dry can weigh in the neighbourhood of 75 pounds wet. I heard the washer making a loud clicking sound, so I sprinted downstairs, and shut the machine off right away. This in itself is a personal victory of sorts, since I would normally think to myself that the washer should man up and do its job, regardless of how much the load weighs. You can see how that kind of thinking might have disastrous results.I used all my might to wrench the duvet out of the washer into the dryer, spilling water copiously on the floor. I shoved it into the dryer and waited for a few minutes, and verily, the weight was too much for the dryer to bear, so I pulled it out, jammed it into a laundry basket with some dry towels and (I kid you not) danced/jumped up and down on it to press out as much water as I could. Then I regained use of my senses and moved the process to the fully concrete floor, away from the area rug by the washer and dryer.Anyway, everything is fine, nothing is broken, and the duvet is on the line keeping the snowflakes company. I would pick the first snowfall since February to absolutely need to use the clothesline, wouldn't I?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

NYC's allright with me

My wonderful in-laws are visiting from Australia for the next month, and baby D, hubby and I couldn't be more thrilled! They were here in October for D's birth, and have only been able to see her over Skype and Facebook since. Needless to say, we've been spending a lot of quality time catching up with them.
We drove through the night on Friday to pick them up at Kennedy airport in NYC (baby D doesn't do well in the car, but this was a pretty good strategy, albeit a tiring one for us), and stayed with diplomat friends in the city. It was my first time visiting, and after asking for suggestions from family and friends, ended up seeing and doing quite a bit in our long weekend there. Highlights include:
-FAO Schwartz
-5th Avenue
-Lunch at Whole Foods
-traditional worship service at Calvary Baptist Church
-a leisurely stroll through Central Park
-a super-chocolatey cupcake from Crumb bakery
-a soft pretzel
-Anthropologie by Rockefeller Square
-watching skaters (of the ice, not board, variety) in Rockefeller Square
-buying a beautiful scarf from a street vendor for 5$ (don't worry, I'll wash it first!)

We took the long way home, stopping by Pennsylvania Dutch country (it was Monday, and all the clotheslines were full of drying clothes! I love this season, and my own clothesline), Hershey Chocolate Factory and the nearby outlet stores. We stayed overnight in Wilkes-Barre, near beloved Scranton (what? The Electric City), where The Office is set. We checked out of our EconoLodge at 10:15, and got home at 7. Clearly, we made a few stops, including Burlington Coat Factory (which used to sell mainly coats, surprisingly, but is now an equivalent of Winners), and several rest stops to alternately feed and change baby D. She did not do quite as well on the way home; I went straight to my room to feed her and stayed there for the balance of the evening. Dad-in-law kindly procured us pizza for dinner, so I didn't have to cook! Did I mention my in-laws are wonderful?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

For the love of produce

It's always a good idea to have fresh produce on hand, but a challenging idea in its execution. Particularly if you shop once every two weeks and are averse to working with spoiled fruits and vegetables. Well, at least I've found a few ways around this. I never know how much you all know about given topic, so forgive me if I morph into Captain Obvious every now and then.

The other day, my mom mentioned an idea to me that I've since tested out and have discovered is awesome (but then, so is my mom). We both happen to be married to men who only like onions if they are finely chopped, so we both make copious use of food processors. Mom recommended that the next time I chop up an onion, I should do several at a time and freeze the excess in approximate single-onion servings. I did, and I have to say, I much prefer it to hauling out the food processor multiple times just to hack up one onion. I ended up doing the same thing the last time I bought green onions, keeping them in one bigger container, and shaking out however many I needed for what I was making (i.e. tuna melt, omelet).

Another way to keep produce fresh is to chop it up, but instead of freezing it, you store it in the fridge in a covered contained filled with water. I do this with celery, and sometimes carrots. The idea actually came from my husband (who despises celery), who worked at a group home a few years ago where this was the practice. I find that when I don't chop up celery right away, it gets relegated to the back of my fridge and goes bad before I can use it.

Finally, because fresh produce doesn't keep forever, it's a good idea to branch out and buy canned or frozen fruits and veggies as well. My personal faves are canned mandarins, canned beans (I know, I know, it's cheaper to buy dry and soak them, but I find it too time-consuming and inefficient for the amount we use), and frozen corn, peas and berries. We throw frozen corn and peas into lots of things, like casseroles, soups, macaroni and cheese, etc. And I just cobbled together a recipe for a compote made from frozen berries, which goes a little something like this:

In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stir together:
2 cups frozen berries
1/3 cup white sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch (to thicken it up)
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Bring to a boil and cook for one minute. Remove from heat and cool in the fridge before serving.

I've made this three times in as many weeks, with different berry combos (raspberries, strawberries on their own, or with cranberries, and a frozen mix that included berries of the straw, rasp, blue and black varieties). I've had the compote with scones, pavlova/meringues, cheesecake, and (tomorrow) ice cream. It would probably be just fine on its own as well.

Anyway, I encourage you all to eat tons of fruits and vegetables as they come into season! This is the easiest and most delicious time of the year to get 5-10 servings per day.

Friday, April 9, 2010

New foods all around

While I haven't always been into the whole legume scene, it's something I've become increasingly interested in now that we're on a tighter budget (and still trying to eat healthily). After all, meat doesn't keep as long in the fridge or freezer as canned beans do in the cupboard. I've already referenced Sweet Potato-Black Bean Quesadillas on here a few times, and we like kidney beans in our chili, but I hadn't found anything that made me want to try chick peas. I don't particularly like hummus (though I've never tried it homemade), and I'm not keen on the texture of chick peas, either. However, I made Espinacas con Garbanzos tonight, and they were quite delicious on whole wheat toast. Besides learning that chick peas are otherwise known as garbanzo beans, I also learned that if I were trying to get my husband to eat them, I should refer to them as such. When he asked what I was making and I replied "chick peas", he responded that he wouldn't eat chick peas, "only dude peas." Ha ha. Anyway, it's a good thing they worked out, because I failed spectacularly at making an edible sweet potato soup (which I've successfully made on many occasions before)! I don't know why I thought it would be wise to throw cream into a soup that's meant to be spicy.

Update on baby D: what can I say, the kid loves her rice cereal! The first feed was quite the production: I cleaned up her high chair, got her bib and dishes out, my parents came over as spectators, and we took a video of her first bites. Didn't think to put the bib on til afterward, though. Hubby did the honours of feeding her; I attempted it later with limited success. I figure I have ample time and opportunity to develop this skill, so if only one of us could be naturally good at scooping food into our daughter's tiny bird mouth, I'm glad it's him.

We've only fed her cereal once a day in the past three days, and today was the first time she had it mixed with water instead of breast milk. She wasn't as into it, but still finished a respectable amount. I think we'll introduce sweet potato next, but probably in a morning feed rather than evening, since we can more easily spot any adverse reaction during the day. It's a messy but fun job, feeding a baby solids!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The "hostess" (cupcakes) with the mostess!

My parents came over for dinner this evening, and since they were kind enough to bring some delicious steaks to BBQ (cooked and seasoned to perfection), I figured they would like a nice dessert to accompany it. Awhile back, I ran across a recipe on my favourite food blog (Smitten Kitchen) for homemade Ding Dongs (or their Canadian equivalent, Jos Louis) and just LOVED the look of them! I knew it would be unwise, though, to make them for just the hubby and me, so I seized the opportunity to test them out.

A couple of modifications: I didn't use the recipe for chocolate cake that was listed because I have a really good one that's super easy to make. I also made cupcakes rather than one giant cake, since it lent itself nicely to portioning out. The marshmallow fluff-like frosting was unbelievable! The hubby, who loves all foodstuffs unnatural, asked me if I could make a batch of this just for him to eat sometime. And although I mixed the ganache ingredients in the wrong order (and used table cream instead of whipping cream), it still turned out! I really appreciate a forgiving recipe.

You'll notice in the photos that hubby made a modification of his own. While I was assembling the cupcakes, he requested extra marshmallow topping rather than ganache. As you'll also notice from the last photo, he was quite pleased with the result.

The moral of the story is threefold:
1) When you want cooking or baking inspiration, look no further than Smitten Kitchen.

2) If and when you make this, cleanup must occur within a very short time frame, as marshmallow frosting is the culinary equivalent of super glue.

3) Don't make a delicious dessert unless entertaining many honoured guests. We're bringing leftovers to Easter lunch tomorrow. If they last the night.