Cooking Conundrum

March 23, 2015 § Leave a comment

So we recently had a conundrum in our family:

My family likes to eat delicious meals. I don’t like to cook.

As I explained to my husband, the source of my aversion to cooking is the perfect storm of:

1) I don’t enjoy cooking. Perhaps I might if it was by preferred choice and only on occasion when I was feeling adventurous. But the tedious obligation of preparing something new every night makes me want to run for the hills. My inner psychologist tells me my aversion stems from my formative years watching a working mother juggle family meals with a busy work day, but you can’t blame your mother for everything, right?

2) I am not especially good at it. I seem to have misplaced that element of my DNA that naturally inclines me to blend spices and to intuitively know proper temperatures and cooking times. My grandmother has it. My mother has it. Where is the research proving that trait skips every third generation?

3) I can rarely please everyone. The feedback is hardly inspiring when someone is always complaining about what I have produced. The odds simply don’t fall in my favour with a family of six, four of which are children with oscillating preferences. It’s a miracle I can keep all their favourite foods straight, let alone keep track of them when they take a sharp turn: “You used to love tuna melts, what happened?”

So those are my excuses explanations.

Anyways, back to the conundrum. Recently all of this came bubbling to the surface, resulting in a family meeting and a new system for supper delivery.  My husband stated in an I-don’t-know-why-its-so-difficult sort of tone, that he and his siblings used to take turns cooking dinner, each one having their designated night to cook. Eureka!

I quickly began the math. Seven nights in a week: One for each kid, one for Dad, one for Mom, and one for eating out.

<cue the operatic hallelujah and heavenly spotlight>

The kids were thrilled. “We get to choose and make supper?!”. The only ground rules were that it needs to be reasonably healthy, and the supper choices need to be made on Sunday nights so I only have to grocery shop once per week.

And so it began.

Night one: my 5 year old chose spaghetti. Fairly straightforward, even went quite smoothly! Daddy was at work late but he prefers low carb meals anyway, so everyone was happy.

Night two: my 7 year old chose shepherd’s pie. A little more work for mom supervising, but many teachable moments and maternal visions of his future wife thanking me for showing him how to cook.

Night three: my 12 year old chooses his favourite, chocolate chip banana pancakes. And the waters start to get rocky. Healthy choice? Mmm, pushing the envelope. Also,his brother has given up chocolate for Lent and refuses any other flavour of pancake. The situation is precarious in its precedent-setting potential. Are we allowed to opt-out if we don’t like what is served for supper?  So the negotiations begin and we are able to stabilize the rocking boat, landing on a non-chocolate chip option for his brother and adding a third clause to the ground rules that there is no opting-out of dinner: you eat what is served.

Night four: my 10 year old chooses panzerottis. Again, a little higher supervision requirement than what I was hoping for, but balanced by own gastro-inclinations (I love panzerotti).

Night five: my husband makes grilled cheese for part of our group, while I enjoy pizza with my eldest during his birthday party (fair enough, I thought, given that I also put together fruit and veggie trays for the party)

Night Six: I prepare chicken legs and vegetables. While it was not greeted with the same enthusiasm as chocolate chip pancakes or panzerottis, there was minimal griping.

Night seven: leftovers.

Not bad for our inaugural week, but as we head into week two, the boat has started rocking again.

Tonight my 5 year old selected omelettes, which is only favourable to ¼ of the kids. Can you guess which one? She took the blows all in stride as her siblings griped and complained about having to eat omelettes, desperately suggesting any other alternative they could come up with to avoid having to eat what was on their plates.

As I began to defend her to her siblings and encourage them towards kindness in their comments about her efforts, I realize that she is skipping away from the table unscathed, content with her newly mastered culinary skills, and her full belly.

And she has delivered her own teachable moment. To me.

The L.P. Lunch Program

July 23, 2013 § Leave a comment

We arrived home from a morning of swimming lessons and after hanging up the towels and bathing suits to dry, I prepare a snack for the kids and put the kettle on for a cup of tea for myself. While I’m waiting for the kettle, I unload the dishwasher, wash up the dishes that don’t go in the dishwasher, wipe down all the counters and table, wipe my toddlers bum, and refill the honey container so I will have some for my tea. By the time I get back to my steeping tea, it has gone cold, and my ten year old says to me “Mom, what’s for lunch?”  I begin to lose my cool, about to unleash the martyr speech about doing everything for everyone else and I can’t even get a warm cup of tea!,  when I am suddenly reminded of the L.P Lunch Program.

A few months ago, while enjoying dinner out with some of my favourite gals, we were commenting on  the differences between kids in school and kids home for the summer, and I groaned about having to prepare snacks and lunches several times a day.  I asked the group what they prepare for lunch for their kids, hoping to get some ideas beyond grilled cheese, chicken nuggets and Kraft Dinner.  One of the Supermoms at the table (we’ll call her L.P.) looked at me, shrugged her shoulders, and said, “I don’t”.  Not seeing how it was possible for this mom of four to respond this way, I pulled up my chair and asked for her to share her secret.

She explained that she puts all the things she wants her kids to eat, down in the reachable positions, and the things she doesn’t want them to eat, up high where they need your help to get at them. This includes cupboards and refrigerator shelves. The kids help themselves and she doesn’t have to drop what she’s doing every time the kids get hungry.  “And I’ll bet she gets her tea hot, too” I thought to myself.

So back to my cold tea and the kids wanting lunch. I take a deep breath, exhale, and explain that they no longer get to ask me what is for lunch. I explain, very calmly, that if they would like to suggest a lunch idea to me, that is encouraged, or better yet, if they would like to prepare something for themselves, they are permitted, just as long as whatever mess is made in creating their lunch, is also looked after by them.

Much to my surprise their eyes got real big, they looked at each other, and cheered! They darted off in all different directions like a firework exploding, running for their favourite thing to eat. The eldest made Kraft Dinner for the younger two, and my eight year old heated up leftovers.

“Well look at that”, I said, placing my tea in the microwave to re-heat. I grabbed a pen and jotted down on my to do list – re-arrange the food for the L.P Lunch Program.

 

 

Fake it till you make it Cakes

June 26, 2013 § 1 Comment

I recently had the distinct pleasure of assisting a truly beautiful friend ring in her 40th birthday, girls night style. One of the gals brought a cake for the occasion that so perfectly matched the loveliness of our friend, that it was almost a shame to slice it up and eat it.

friend's 40th birthday cake

It got me thinking about cakes, and some of the truly remarkable works of art being churned out in the cake decorating world. Facebook  and Pinterest are splattered with snapshots of these masterpieces; a new generation of edible art!

As we all so often do in these circumstances, I eventually got around to shifting the microscope onto my own cake creations.  The pressure is large, with four young children, to fashion a delicious yet festive cake or cupcake display that perfectly matches the theme chosen by the birthday kid for their party.  Ever tried to make a Puffle cake? How about Pokemon or La La Loopsy? Yes, I realize, the pressure is my own, but the precedent was set with child #1 so how do I deny the rest?

So I’ve traded in any fondant wizarding dreams for a healthy dose of creativity and resourcefulness.  For all you fellow fondant –averse folks wondering how to light up your child’s face without committing to a cake decorating course, here’s how it is done in my house:

  1. Consult google. Type in your child’s birthday party theme, plus “cake”, then click on “images” from the google menu at the top of the screen. You’ll see a lot of fondant-laden cakes, but you’ll also see a collection of amazing homemade masterpieces from parents with decorating capacities similar to our own.
  2. Apply your own customized ideas to the inspiration found in your google search, and voila, a cake creation your kid will love.

Here are some examples from my own gallery:

 

angel cake

This was actually a First Communion cake for my daughter.  If you look closely, you can see that I made one 13×9 cake and two circle cakes. I cut a quarter out of each of the circle cakes to fit them on the top of the rectangle as wings, then added the quarters to the bottom of the rectangle to flare out her dress. A little creative texturing with the icing goes a long way!

La La Loopsy Cake

Some may think this is Raggedy Ann, but in the younger generation, these dolls are La La Loopsy. Making a La La Loopsy cake was easier than I thought it would be once I got started. Two circle cakes. One full, the other cut up into slices to make hair. Buttons for the eyes, and the rest is icing.

 

pokemon cake

Pokemon has gone in and out with our family so often I have lost count. This the second Pokemon birthday for my eldest son, with a few years hiatus in between.  His last Pokemon cake was a dome cake decorated as a red and white Poke ball (not by me), so this one involved more of a character approach.

 

puffle cake

This is a Puffle cake. My daughter has long loved these little bean bag creatures with furry hair from the Club Penguin Disney franchise. They come in all different colours, but if you’ve ever worked with food colouring (see failed Ninjago example below), I was grateful that there is a brown puffle in the collection!

 

bomb bird cake

This was for my eldest son’s Angry Bird’s birthday. His favourite bird was Bomb Bird and like his mother, loves brownies, so I created a Bomb Bird Brownie. Even though Bomb Bird is black, the chocolate icing did the trick.

 

Care Bear Cupcakes

My daughter prefers cupcakes at her parties, so for her Care Bear themed birthday party, I ordered a bag of these great little Care Bear figurines from SmileMakers and topped the cupcakes with those.  I included the remaining figurines in the loot bags.

 

Pirate Cake

The parents that picked up their kids from this birthday party were not pleased with the sugar content, but it was a perfect fit for my son’s 4th birthday party: pirate theme. Make a cake, cut it in half, and fashion the two pieces into an opening treasure chest full of overflowing candy (toothpicks required on the hinging side).

 

turning one cake

For my youngest daughter’s  1st birthday we had a crowd, so I made a ton of cupcakes and fashioned them into the shape of a “1”.  Both chocolate and vanilla, of course!

Train cake

This was a train cake for my youngest son’s 3rd birthday. It’s way easier than it looks. I made the cake in loaf pans, and then sliced the loaf into train-car-sized pieces. For the engine I sliced it length-ways to make a longer piece. Use the leftover pieces to add enhancements (for example a bridge, as seen in the picture). Decorate with candy and you’re done!

 

Three Musketeers cupcakes

For her 5th birthday, my eldest daughter wanted a Barbie and the Three Musketeers party. I found plastic rings that matched this theme and pushed them into a collection of cupcakes. The girls thought it was just a decoration until they pulled it off their cupcake and were delighted to have their very own Three Musketeers character ring.

 

Jungle Cake

This one was actually constructed by my sister-in-law, whose creativity and resourcefulness far surpasses my own. I gave her the freshly baked cake and the materials (plastic trees,rocks and animals, and sprinkles) and just look at how she transformed them!

 

And here are a couple that turned out to be better lessons than cakes….

 

princess cake

This one was a learning experience for me. The idea was to bake the cake in a large glass measuring cup (8 cups), then turn it upside-down, shove a Barbie into it and ice it:  a princess cake. Unfortunately, when I inserted the Barbie, the cake only came up to her thighs, failing to cover her bottom half like a skirt the way it showed on google (lesson: need more than one box of cake mix).  So I improvised, seeing as it was only my daughters 2nd birthday, and placed a small plastic doll in the cake instead. I fashioned a princess hat out of card stock and iced the cake portion. Not my best work, but she loved it.

 

ninjago cake

Yet another lesson in cake decorating. The more food colouring you add, the runnier the icing gets. To get “Ninjago red”, it took a lot of colouring. There is a better way: buy pre-made red icing 😉 Eyes were a card stock cutout. The cake was made using the same measuring cup approach as the princess cake above, with added cake pieces to shape the head into a Ninjago cake.  Maybe less measuring cup cakes in my future?

Just Do It.

June 26, 2012 § 2 Comments

You know that old adage about the only way to conquer your fears is to face them? I gotta say, I couldn’t agree more.

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’ll know that I am not skilled at cooking. I was not blessed nor trained with the ability to bring complimentary flavours together or create a gourmet entree from a counter full of ingredients. I am, 100%, one of those buy-the-sauce-and-add-the-chicken kinds of girls. Initially, I was terribly intimidated by certain undertakings, namely roasting a turkey, baking a pie or making cabbage rolls.

Roasting a turkey was an immense milestone for me. While I have always enjoyed hosting family gatherings, every Christmas or Thanksgiving I would leave the turkey roasting to my older sister, mother or grandmother. I would volunteer for Easter dinner and bake the ham!

Baking a pie was naturally intimidating given my grandmother’s great talent.  It didn’t matter what flavour, apple, pumpkin, lemon meringue…the bar was set very high.

And cabbage rolls. I had tasted them, loved them, but didn’t grow up eating them, so they always seemed a far off achievement.  I had heard about the women in Italian families getting together for an afternoon to make cabbage rolls, which translated in my mind as a lot of difficult work, if so many hands were required to assemble them!

As I was assembling my first set of cabbage rolls this afternoon (on my own, using a recipe from my new favourite website:  MennoniteGirlsCanCook.ca), it occurred to me, how bigger the task had loomed in my mind than it actually turned out to be.  I could picture in my mind the proven “cabbage rollers” I knew, commenting about how easy it was, and teasing me at how long I had waited to conquer the task.  Yep, just plain silly.  37 years old and never made a cabbage roll. I could think of worse things.

Like making it to 30 before I attempted a turkey, or 25 before I took a crack at a pie.

Bottom line, give it a go. What’s the worst that can happen?  Now, onto skydiving.

Just kidding.

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