It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Chocolate Mousse recipe

Another Chef Michael recipe. (I’m still exploring through Fast Flavours, so fun!)

225g (8 oz) dark chocolate
300g (10 oz) silken tofu. (Should be 1 pkg.)
125 mL (1/2 cup) sugar
5 mL (1 tsp) vanilla

Break chocolate into small chunks and melt in double boiler over simmering water, stirring gently. Remove upper pot from heat.

Puree tofu, sugar, vanilla and every last drop of chocolate into food processor, and puree until smooth.

Serve and share immediately, or chill for an hour to firm up a bit.


March 26, 2013 Posted by | food | , | Leave a comment

Refreshed. Aaaah.

How rude! Mary vanishes for a week with nary a word of warning. Sadly, I have no excuse. Nothing dire happened, except plain old bad manners: I had a week off!! I also, without any advance planning, too my week off immediately before two short weeks, given that I also take Good Friday and Easter Monday.

And now I am all refreshed and ready for action, and I have a gentle return to regular-type work. Love it when holidays work that way.

I knew I was ready for work on Sunday because I was able to sit down that night and come up with a list of activities and crafts for the week in about ten minutes. The previous week took an hour, and my list was mediocre. So sad.

I knew I was ready for work on Monday, because the kids were just so CUTE, and FUNNY, and SWEET!!! … all day long! A week ago Monday, they were cute, yeah, but they were also WHINY and SQUABBLY and just a bit EXHAUSTING, frankly. All day long.

Part of that is perception, of course. When I’m happy and energized, the bad stuff doesn’t grate, and I can see the good stuff. When I’m tired and irritable, I feel the bad stuff, and it’s the good stuff I gloss over. It’s not that they’re doing anything different, it’s just what resonates most with me.

There’s a lot more to it than that, though. I noticed this when my kids were little, I notice this in the daycare: So much comes down to me. The truth of the matter is that the adult in the room, to a very large degree, sets the emotional tone of the daycare. If I’m happy! and friendly! and funny! … so are the children. If I’m gloomy and cranky and thin-skinned … so are the children.

It’s not a 100% correlation, of course. They are human beings, not programmable robots (darn it), human beings who come with their own moods. Sometimes a kid is stuck in “funk” and no amount of jollification in my soul is going to shift them out of that. (In that case, I put them in bed. A kid stuck in funk is almost always tired.) But it’s the rare child whose chipper happiness can survive in the face of adult surliness, and that’s a sad, sad thing.

Generally, though, children want to have happy interactions. They thrive in emotional sunshine. Have you ever seen a bunch of toddlers fake-laugh with each other, just because they love to laugh? They want to be happy. (This week, that’s ADORABLE! Last week? It was just LOUD.) If I’m upbeat and positive, the whole tenor of the room changes.

And when I don’t feel all sunny? Then I do my damndest to fake it till I make it. Did you know that studies show that when you put a smile on your face, no matter how cranky you feel, your mood improves? I noticed that for myself years before I read those studies. So, to the very best of my ability I smile, and I am gentle, and I am kind. A lot of the time, it works (remember my Happiness Project?). It works to the point that my mood genuinely turns around, and the smiles and laughter and play are not fake at all.

Sometimes it doesn’t, and the smiles and laughter and play are borne of effort. Effort that must be maintain All.Day.Long. In the face of the constant demands and emotional volatility of the average toddler — times FIVE. That’s exhausting. I had reached that point the week before last. But!! A week off, with a little travel, a lot of friends, a little shopping, a bit of sewing … and I am happy once more! Genuinely. No fatigue.

And the kids?


Love my job.

Now I just need to arrange to have a week off, oh, every other month. That’d be perfect!

March 26, 2013 Posted by | daycare, holidays, socializing, the dark side | 4 Comments

Menu Monday

First course: Roasted sweet potatoes with dip
Main course: Singapore noodles
Dessert: Lemon muffins

First course: spinach salad
Main course: cheesy black bean quesadillas
Dessert: apple slices with peanut butter

First course: Pickled veggie salad
Main course: Curried tofu wrap
Dessert: pineapple chunks

First course: Moroccan salad
Main course: Home made mac and cheese (the oven-baked type, not the quick stovetop type)
Dessert: chocolate mousse

Friday is, of course, Good Friday, and the daycare will be closed! My family, however, will be eating Ginger poached salmon on rice, ratatouille, and salad. No dessert, because we’ll have had the chocolate mousse already, and we rarely eat dessert.

March 25, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Spring Tradition

One of the nice things about working with small children is that you get to rediscover all the fun little rites of childhood. The “sticks-on-a-fence” game, for example.

Here’s another, which we’ve only been able to play this week, some of us for the VERY FIRST TIME!

Here we have a puddle. Yes, I know. Those of you from warmer climates will look at that and see only ice and snow. But those of us Who Know Winter see the underlying truth: that is a puddle! A puddle with a skin of ice on top.
A puddle with a skin of ice on top, extending down the length of the street!!

Now, attend to that picture for a moment. See the grey-white blobs in the ice, just at the edge of the snow? Those are air bubbles. they tell you that what you’re seeing is not a solid slab of ice, but — this is the best! — it’s an ice layer which only sits on the water beneath.

Puddles like that are custom-designed for small children. Because when you stomp on them? The ice shatters! Cracks! Crumples beneath you!

Oh, the noise! Oh, the destruction! Oh, the power!
Oh, how I wish there’d been enough ice for me…

March 15, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Spring is

Coming! Really! (Even though today it’s -11C with a windchill of -24. Blurgh.) But I have hard evidence! Look!

Two weeks ago:

This week:

See the difference? Two-metre snowbanks of clean, puffy snow, vs less than one metre of gritty snowbanks … and clear sidewalks!!

It’s coming, it’s coming!

March 14, 2013 Posted by | Canada, Ottawa, outings | , | Leave a comment

Spring is coming…


In the interests of full disclosure, though

Feb22.13 038

these pictures

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were taken

Feb22.13 051

two weeks ago.

Feb22.13 052

We’re getting there!

March 13, 2013 Posted by | Canada, Ottawa, outings | , , | 5 Comments

A Rite of Passage

A few years ago, I don’t know if I blogged about it here, Emma (my youngest, then 15 or so) came home with a new boyfriend. He looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t think why … until I met his mother.

We looked at each other in stunned recognition. “Pat?!” “Mary?!” Then we looked at our children, a second time, astonishment on our faces.

“You mean, that’s Kevin??”
“And that’s little Emma?!”

Yes, indeed. Emma was dating a former daycare client. It’s a rite of passage of a sort, in my business. I had cleaned that young man’s little butt, once upon a time. (Strangely, neither Emma nor Kevin found that little tidbit nearly as entertaining as we two mothers. Mwah-ha.)

I have an interview tonight. Nothing exceptional about that, except …

The young mother? She used to help out in the daycare. When she was seventeen.


Now she is thirty-two, with a career, a husband … and with a four-month-old baby. Who will need care starting November. Thirty-two. Not even a barely-adult twenty-something. She’s over thirty. An established adult.


“You probably don’t remember me,” she says, “but I’ve remembered you often through the years. I learned so much from you, stuff that I’ve applied in my career. How you motivated the children, how you got them working together. People are people, no matter how old they are.”

Wow. I guess she won’t be asking for referrals.

I’m really excited! I hope it works out. Wouldn’t that just be too cool for words?

March 12, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 3 Comments

Menu Monday

First course: coleslaw
Main Course: Spaghetti and ‘meat’balls
Dessert: muffins

First course: vegetables, apricots and mint in orange vinaigrette
Main course: Veggie stew
Dessert: banana dipped in walnuts

First course: roast beet slices with balsamic vinegar or sour cream
Main course: Falafels in pita, yogurt dressing, shredded lettuce and carrots
Dessert: apple slices

First course: pan-stewed zucchini
Main course: ginger-baked tofu on rice
Dessert: muffins

First course: veggies and dip
Main course: black bean soup and cornbread
Dessert: dried apricot sivers

March 11, 2013 Posted by | food | , , , | Leave a comment

Moroccan Chicken

I tweaked this recipe quite a bit to make it suit my family’s tastes and preferences. I’ll give you the instructions as written in the cookbook (Michael Smith‘s Fast Flavours), and then note my changes at the end. Italicized ingredients will be altered somehow in my version.

1 whole chicken, cut into 10 pieces
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, thinly sliced
1 can chickpeas
1 cup pitted dates, chopped
1/2 cup marmalade
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon salt
lots of freshly ground pepper
2 cups orange juice
1/2 cup sliced almonds
leaves and stems from 1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 lemon, cut into wedges

Michael’s Method:
Dump everything except almonds, cilantro, and lemon wedges into a large pot with a snug lid. Bring to a full boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, then adjust the heat much lower, just enough to maintain a steady simmer. Tightly over and let simmer for 20 minutes.

For even more tenderness, let everything enjoy 60 full minutes of slow simmering. Then ladle into bowls, top with almonds, cilantro and lemon wedges, and share.

Mary’s Method:
I find slicing a chicken into pieces too daunting. There’s a butcher nearby who would do this for me, but I opted to use chicken thighs from Loblaws, one per adult. Easy!

I made two pots, one large, one tiny, so that Jazz’s portion could be made without chicken. That was just a matter of divvying up the ingredients. The only extra work was one small pot to wash. Plenty of protein in the chickpeas and almonds.

And then, because Wonderful Husband does not like cilantro floating on the surface, I chopped the rinsed cilantro roughly, then dumped it into the blender with a quarter cup of the orange juice. Pureed it. It was an experiment: is it the flavour of the cilantro he objects to, or just green leafy bits on the surface of his stew? If it’s the flavour, I’ve just spoiled the stew for him, of course, but enquiring minds need to know!

Answer: It’s just the green leafy bits. Yay! So all the flavour, none of the bits. A win-win. Though in fact I did keep some fresh cilantro aside for me, because I like the texture, and, I discovered, pureed cilantro doesn’t give you that yummy back-of-the-mouth smokey-earthy smell-taste when it’s pureed. (We don’t have enough words to describe taste and scent in our language, have you ever noticed that?)

Powdered spices tend to float on the surface of a liquid, so instead of just dumping them as is into the pot, I put all spices in a small cup and drizzled in some water, a bit at a time, whisking with a fork, until I got a smooth paste, then dumped them in the blender with the pureed cilantro and gave it another quick whirl. THEN I dumped it in the pot. (But you don’t have to do any of this! If you want simple, just bung it in the pot and cook it.)

And finally. I’ve made a few of Chef Michael’s sweetened dinner dishes and have discovered the man has way, way, waaaaaaaaay more of a sweet tooth than I do. I knew without even tasting that I was going to find the recipe as written cloyingly sweet, so I skipped the marmalade altogether and reduced the orange juice by half, replacing the remainder of the liquid with water. (For more flavour depth, you could use chicken broth … if you weren’t feeding a vegetarian, that is!) In fact, I added water at a couple of points to get the consistency of the broth right, so there may be even less than half the suggested amount of juice in mine.

The result? Soooo yummy! The orange juice and dates made it sweet, yes, and the spices made it rich and earthy. The almonds gave a nice crunch at the end.

Just a lovely, lovely dish. Exotic (though in the preamble, Michael says the flavours of Morocco “inspire dinner, not authenticity”) and delicious.

We ate ours served over rice.

March 6, 2013 Posted by | food | , , | 3 Comments

Meal Planning

Morgyn asked: How long does it take to make these lunches?

A good question, and one I didn’t have a quick answer to. I did a little calculating, though, and discovered the answer: Not as long as you might think!

For starters: With few exceptions, these lunches are what my family had for dinner the night before. I make enough to feed my family plus five small people, so daycare lunches add little if any prep time.

(Does this mean that I’m eating the same meal twice, dinner on Monday and lunch on Tuesday and so on through the week? Well, it would if I did, but I can’t be eating two full-size dinners every day unless I want to be a somewhat more than full-sized woman! So I eat my largest meal with the daycare, and in the evening, I eat the vegetable course. A large salad, a plate of roasted beets, that sort of thing. I gather it’s healthier to eat your largest meal earlier in the day, so that’s what I’m doing.)

Secondly: In Mary’s house, Sunday is Food Day. That’s when I make the weekly menu and from it the weekly grocery list, which I hand off to Wonderful Husband to take to the store. I started doing weekly menu plans perhaps two years ago, and WHAT A WONDERFUL THING IT IS!!! You think you don’t have time? HA!

It helps me enormously to have the week’s menus worked out in advance. If I have to stand in front of my open fridge and stare down the contents at 5:30, trying to come up with a meal to place on the table at 6:30?

TOTALLY DEMORALIZING. I hates it, precious, yes I does.

That’s how I used to do it. I’d get to the end of the day, I’d send the daycare on their way, and then there I’d be, in front of my fridge, pacing the kitchen, opening and closing cupboard doors, and just generally turning into a panicky, fatigued, stressed-out, put-upon, resentful MESS. Feeding people! It NEVER ENDED!! My family kept wanting to EAT, dammit, meal after meal. So demanding. Relentless, they were. So there I’d be, evening after evening, staring into the fridge, willing something edible to leap out at me, fully formed.


But! To brew myself a nice pot of tea, and sit down first thing Sunday morning, pencil and paper at the ready, with my recipe file of family favourites, a cookbook or two, and a couple of favourite food websites?

Soooo relaxing.

And at the end of every day? I don’t have to think. I don’t have to be creative. I just have to look at the list, and do it.


So. Anyway. The husband takes my grocery list and brings home the bacon bulgar. And often, wine too! In the afternoon, with all the lovely fresh food, I make most or all of the side dishes.

This week we had beets, coleslaw and green salad as sides, as well as pesto, which can keep quite a while in the fridge. Roasted beets (by far my favourite way to cook them) take time but no attention. (Wrap them in foil and roast at 350 for an hour or so. Lots of recipes suggest topping and tailing, or adding oil and/or balsamic vinegar. I don’t do any of that. Just bung ’em in foil and ignore.) The coleslaw, pesto, and salad were made while the beets cooked. Pesto takes about 5 minutes to whizz together in a food processor, and salad is quick and easy — 15 minutes, maybe? The coleslaw was a little more finicky, even with a food processor and a mandoline, but even so, it didn’t take longer than the beets cooked to make all three. So, time on weekend, to make three side dishes: less than an hour, but we’ll call it an hour.

As for the rest of them… they varied from 10 minutes for pesto and pasta (since all I had to do was cook the pasta), 30 for rice and dahl, to about an hour for the stews (which breaks down to 20 minutes chopping/prep and 40 minutes simmering. In fact I probably simmered them longer than 40 minutes, but they could easily have been eaten after 20 minutes. If you have time, longer simmering makes them tastier, that’s all. You could use the long simmer time to clean the kitchen or organize your tax files.

Or you could put your feet up and enjoy a glass of wine. Aaaaah.

When do I prepare meals? Usually after hours. I’m trying to get into the habit of cooking real food with the tots, but this week I forgot. Silly of me: it would have been super-easy to make the pesto with them, for example, or to have them wash and wrap the beets. Oh, well. Next week!

I’d say my three ‘secrets’, which are not secrets at all, are

1. Double-duty meals: Family dinners are daycare lunches. (Cooking in bulk, in essence.)
2. Menu Planning!!! Cannot say enough about the stress-reducing virtues of menu planning.
3. Sunday side dish prep time (Some prep on the weekend, some on weeknights. Divide and conquer!).

And the occasional lunch of peanut butter sandwiches.


Add that all up and you get about 3 hours 40 minutes prep. Let’s round that up and call it four hours. For ten meals. (Five dinner, five lunches.)

That works out to … roughly 25 minutes/meal, and that’s with me rounding up in a couple of spots. Twenty-five minutes for home-cooked, nutritious, delicious, interesting food.


March 5, 2013 Posted by | food | , , , | 4 Comments