Friday, August 28, 2009

From uncooked chicken to canning my own relish

For years, I didn't have a lot of confidence in the kitchen. This probably stems from the time in university when I attempted to cook dinner for Ryan and ended up serving him half-cooked breaded chicken. Amazingly, he not only still married me a few years later, but even has enough blind faith in me to allow me to be the primary family chef.

So for years, I dilligently followed recipes in books (and always double and triple checked that yes, indeed the chicken was ready to be served). I was always too scared to stray, even ever so slightly, from a recipe for fear that I would screw it up and it would taste awful.

And, I stuck with the same rotation of about a dozen or so recipes, because hey, they worked for me.

And don't even get me started on my fear of baking.

But things are different now. I don't know if it's because I now feel more confident in the kitchen or if cooking for a family of four means I've had to get a little more creative so that everyone, in theory, likes the meal that's being served for dinner. Or maybe it's because cooking is no longer a solitary activity, but something that is almost always done as a threesome.

This is the three of us cooking dinner the other night. Austin bangs spoons and sometimes helps stir or measure things and Alex bangs spoons and taste tests whatever she can get her hands on.

But somehow, this doesn't stress me out -- well most of the time. In fact, the three of us have even tried out new recipes -- ones that weren't in my cooking repetoire. And, gasp, I've even sort of made up a pasta recipe. (I mean, it's pasta, it's not really that hard to toss a bunch of stuff in a pan and then toss it over the cooked noodles.) But I actually made up a recipe that was not only good, but that my kids were willing to eat as well.

Maybe it's because of the kids, that my fear has slowly lifted. So much so, that last weekend, I made not one new dish, but two. And for company nonetheless. And both dishes were good -- and both will now make appearances in my meal planning from time to time.

And this weekend, I'm about to get really brave in the kitchen. Braver than learning to bake (which I've been doing a lot of with the kids lately) and braver than trying out new recipes while the kids bang spoons on the counter. This weekend, I'm going to try making and canning relish. Afterall, I've got to do something with all those cucumbers growing in my backyard.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Park snob

Being a stay-at-home mom with two kids, I tend to go to the park -- a lot. And I'm lucky that there are quite a few parks in my neighbourhood that I can walk to.

One is just five minutes away and another is less than 10 minutes away (well walking at my pace anyway, when Austin decides to walk, it takes a lot longer). Then there are four others that I can walk to into about 15 to 20 minutes.

So needless to say, since we visit the park about twice a week -- at least -- I try to mix it up, so that both me and the kids get a change of scenery. But of these six parks we go to, there are definitely some that are better than others.

But in all honesty, none of them are great. They're either too small or too old or the equipment is too wimpy or the sand is really just dirt or the play structure isn't that much fun or, or, or.

Yes, I've become a park snob.

Some women are coffee snobs or clothes snobs, but me, I'm a park snob (what can I say, it fits well with my stay-at-home mom title). And I'm frustrated by the fact, that although there are a lot of parks near me, there aren't really any good parks.

Like the one at Kew Gardens where I took the kids last weekend while Ryan was playing baseball. Or the one at Withrow Park where I met my cousin and her daughter one morning. Or the random one at a not-so-well-known point of interest in Toronto that I met a friend and her kids at yesterday.

All three of these parks were big with huge play structures -- and in most cases more than one or two of said play structures, -- were gated in so kids couldn't easily run away, and were packed with kids and moms. In each case there were probably 25 or 30 kids -- at least.

And that's another thing. I can't tell you the number of times I've taken the kids to the park and we end up being the only ones there. And let's face it, it's boring for me to have no one to talk to and it's boring for the kids to have only me to play with. Isn't that part of the reason for going to the park -- so they don't have to play with me all day?

So not only does my neighbourhood have wimpy parks but it is also apparently kid-free.

Ok, I'm exaggerating a little bit here -- we do see kids from time to time but unfortunately for me, there is either a language barrier when us parents try to chat or people just keep to themselves. And I'm not very good at starting up a conversation with someone who seems to want to stand off to the side and watch the grass grow.

It's too bad really, because when I was at those other cool parks, there was a real sense of community amongst the parents. People actually talked to each other. And my kids -- well they ran around like crazy fools with all the other kids and barely noticed their mom off to the side yelling that it was almost time to go home.

So maybe, once a week or so, I'm going to have to start being a snob and drive us all to a better park -- either that or I have to stop being such a snob. After all, now that I think about it, the kids probably don't care all that much.

Monday, August 17, 2009

I'm definitely growing zucchini now

I tended to my vegetable garden as best I could before we left for the cottage last Saturday. I attempted to tie up the grape tomato plants (Have I mentioned that I think grape tomatoes plants are really just weeds? Because they sure grow like one.) , trimmed back the zucchini plant and picked the one zucchini, two cucumbers and one jalapeno that were ready to eat.

Then we left for a week.

And we came back to a real jungle. Not that wannabe jungle that I wrote about a few weeks ago.

But hidden amongst the jungle were vegetables. And so, we harvested three pretty big cucumbers, about a pint worth of ruby red grape tomatoes (well a few could have used another day or so in the sun but we picked them anyway) and three zucchinis.

Although, these weren't like any zucchinis I've ever seen before. The ones you see in the store, are short and narrow -- small enough, that if you like zucchini (like I do), you can eat a whole one in one sitting. These three zucchinis are huge. Seriously, I mean monster huge.

In fact, remember the club that Bam Bam used to carry around with him on the Flintstones? That's what I think of every time I see the biggest one.

My biggest zucchini, just before it was picked.

Austin's arm in comparison to the smallest zucchini (the other two items on top are cucumbers).

So now I need to find some good zucchini recipes, and fast. Because there's only so much zucchini bread and muffins one can eat.