I am participating in Operation Come Home’s 24 Buck Challenge this week, during which I am trying to provide meals for myself with a budget of just $24. You can read why in my inaugural post here.
I love food and I love to cook so shopping for this challenge was difficult and uninspiring for me. I mean, check out this menu:
I know, right? Where’s the beef? In fact, where is just about anything that is good and decent in this world? I thought, “Well, coffee and drinks are not included so there’s my breakfast smoothie and coffee” forgetting that I put strawberries, mangoes, bananas and protein in my smoothie. Then I saw ahead to Thursday evening where I will find myself at a dinner party with some girlfriends. Bingo! Free food. I’ll bring the wine! Then I remembered I was attending a potluck on Saturday evening for which I am expected to bring food. Bummer. No food! Looks like I’m bringing deviled eggs to the potluck if I can snag a few mustard and mayo packets from Timmies. AND if I don’t manage to eat them all myself.
Day One started out beautifully: a lovely cheese omelette with a big glass of orange juice and a cup of coffee. Actually I would call that pretty normal even for a Sunday. And dinner? Of course I would have preferred a fresh salad and fresh green beans but chicken, rice and canned green beans was tolerable. But my arrogance and confidence faded quickly after my hardboiled egg breakfast – and I am not looking forward to a whole week of them.
I’ve only just finished Day Two and my favourite expression has become, “Are you gonna eat that?” My family is ok with it but my co-workers find this a little disconcerting.
Day Two and I am also cheating; I can’t help myself. I managed to fit in a loaf of bread on the budget so grilled cheese sandwiches were doable – depending on how far I could stretch 200g of grated marble cheese – but I had no money left over for peanut butter and jam. Let’s just say these things mysteriously appeared on my doorstep one morning, just like the cooking spray and salt and pepper.
Now if only a nice strip loin with a peppercorn sauce with mysteriously appear on my doorstep.
Several years ago, a friend of mine started volunteering his time with Operation Come Home, an employment, education, and support centre for homeless and at-risk youth age 16 and up. Based in Ottawa, their programs focus on what works and what matters to youth, as well as encourage personal growth of everyone as an individual. My friend started out cooking breakfast for their program one a week. He quickly earned respect for many things, not least of which was his menu planning (bacon) and diversions (reading homeless youth their horoscope). I know they appreciated this. (The bacon, I mean). He has gone on to lend his expertise in many other programs and events including 24 Hours of Homelessness, during which he slept outdoors with a group of volunteers for 24 hours. In Canada. In January. It was only 24 hours for him, but not so for many homeless youth in Ottawa.
I knew I could not participate in 24 Hours of Homelessness, not without forsaking my kids RESPs investing in down clothing and bedding, so decided I would show my friend my support by participating in the 24 Buck Challenge. This is a new addition to Operation Come Home’s “Reality Campaign” intended to raise awareness for the income challenges of the average youth living off of welfare. I have $24 to spend on food for the week January 31 to February 6, 2016. The cost is determined by calculating the amount the Ontario Works provides to youth for a monthly allowance minus expenses like rent, a phone bill, bus pass, etc. What’s left over for food would be approximately $24 per week. That’s $3.43 per day or $1.14 per meal. Luckily for me, coffee and drinks are not included in the $24 total. Woohoo!
Some of you may recall the family Lent project I did during which I endeavoured to feed my family of five on the equivalent funds of a family on social assistance. At the time, 2009, my budget was $14.66 per day. You can read my reflections on this challenge on my blog. So this “reality campaign” was a challenge with my name written all over it in peanut butter. I thought, given it was just me participating and not my whole family that it would be a piece of $1.14 cake. Today is Day One and I am quickly finding out how very wrong I am.
My trip to the grocery store played out as follows:
|Bread (loaf, whole wh)||2.17|
|Hunts Pasta sauce||1.25|
|President’s Choice Mac & Cheese (2bx)||1.98|
|Chicken thighs (4)||3.74|
|Green beans, canned||.99|
|Tomato (fresh, 1)||2.00|
|Uncle Ben’s Fast&Fancy Rice (1pkg)||1.00|
|3 fresh bananas||1.07|
As the cashier quickly bleeped up my total, I realized how depressing this week would be. I have a 27cents left in my food budget for the week. And you think that shopping list is depressing? Wait until you see my menu for the week, which I will share tomorrow.
Seven days, $24, and no butter. Someone, throw me a bone … please.
My family is made up of Canadians and Americans which is awesome. This past weekend, my American niece brought a friend to our Thanksgiving gathering . In celebrating her very first Canadian Thanksgiving she asked, “So how do Canadians do Thanksgiving?” It’s a fair question and a much more sophisticated one than “Canadians have their own Thanksgiving?” or “Why don’t you celebrate it at the end of November?” which are two questions I have also been asked. My American nephew has always provided the best possible answer when asked the difference between Canadian and American Thanksgiving: “Same food; different relatives.” There you go.
So while it’s awesome that my family is made up of Canadians and Americans, it is not awesome that they get two Thanksgivings and I only get one. That is for the birds (see what I did there?) and I want in on that!
I have an open invitation to US Thanksgiving from my American family but I have been unable to attend one because the US Thanksgiving does not fall on a Canadian holiday. See, Columbus Day often falls on Canadian Thanksgiving Monday. I must say I really appreciate that Christopher Columbus could coincide his landing in Central America with Canadian Thanksgiving so that so many of my US relatives can join us. While Columbus Day is not a national holiday in the US, it has for the most part been observed by most of the schools my American nieces and nephew attend, and by some US employers.
I now I am thinking that the only way for me to celebrate US Thanksgiving on a regular basis to have a Canadian national holiday coincide with the US one. (I’m a little surprised that no one asked this of our party leaders during the recent national debates but, whatever.)
The problem I’ve run into (which I am guessing the party leaders might already know) is that I cannot come up with a single important historical event that took place in our history at the end of November – one that Canadians can celebrate nationally and that would coincide with US Thanksgiving. This leads me to conclude that Canadians didn’t do much at the end of November other than put their winter tires on, pack their freezers with moose meat and lie dormant for the winter.
We seem to have our own Black Friday now, a spillover from the US tradition of the Friday after Thanksgiving being the busiest shopping day of the year. You can hardly designate Black Friday a holiday though can you? And then there’s Louis Riel’s hanging at the end of November for his part in the North-West Rebellion but that’s hardly a happy occasion to make a national holiday. It is a provincial holiday in Manitoba but in February. I just think it’s a little harsh to ask Americans to change their Thanksgiving holiday to February. Besides, it’s tough to find a live turkey to pardon in February in many parts of North America.
Still, it would be nice to celebrate another Thanksgiving. Plenty to be thankful for … on both sides of the border!
Happy belated Thanksgiving to all my Canadian friends and an early wish to all my American friends for a magnificent Thanksgiving … in November … when I’m out putting on my winter tires … and packing my freezer with moose meat.
Here is another delicious, nutritious slow-cooker soup to complement the busy hockey mom’s recipe book!
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 each, stalk celery and carrot, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
½ tsp salt and pepper
1 can tomato paste – 5.5 oz/156ml
1 smoked ham hock (1lb/500g)
1 piece Parmesan cheese rind
8 cups water
1 large potato, peeled and cubed
1 sweet red pepper, diced
1 small zucchini, sliced or chopped
1 cup each rinsed and drained canned red and white kidney beans
1 cup dried pasta
Fry onion, celery, carrots, garlic, bay leaves, salt and pepper and scrape into slow cooker.
Stir in tomato paste, ham hock, parmesan rind, potato, red and white beans and water.
Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours or until ham can be easily pulled off the bone.
Discard bay leaves, parmesan rind and ham bone.
Increase heat to high and stir in red pepper, zucchini for 20 more minutes.
Add some cooked pasta (adding it uncooked to the soup is possible but may make it a little mushy).
My trick? I make this on a Saturday and then leave it in the frig (or garage, if it’s winter!) and then leave it on “Warm” all day Sunday as my hungry hockey players come and go! Enjoy!
From Canadian Living’s Comfort Cooking, Winter 2007
Work-life balance. It’s not easy to put food on the table and hockey skates on kids’ feet without spilling my wine, but I’ve think I’ve got it down now – not the days the wine store is closed mind you, but most days. There are so many evenings in this hockey mom’s life when I have to serve dinner at the speed of light which is generally not a problem for my full time cook. Except I don’t have a full time cook so am always on the look out for dinner recipes that are fast, easy and edible and do not involve an easily memorized phone number.
My slow-cooker is one of my BFFs, but she does occasionally let me down. I quickly realized that the idea of crock-pot cooking is far more tantalizing than the food it renders. But I am about to share a hockey family slow-cooker favourite. I’m not sure who to credit for this one except that I know I got it from my mom about ten years ago – about two years into my hockey momdom. I love this recipe for two reasons: 1. It does not require the meat to be browned first which apparently is a big slow-cooker no-no; and 2. It’s one of the few slow-cooker experiments I’ve undertaken that my family likes (and therefore will actually consume it). I have a standard rule in my house that if a new recipe gets a thumbs-up from 3/5 of my family (dogs, fish and hamster are not eligible voters), it’s worth repeating. If it gets a 5/5, it’s a keeper. This one’s a keeper!
Slow-Cooker Orange Chicken
8-10 boneless, skinless, chicken thighs, cut into chunks.
3 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon Chinese 5-spice powder
1/3 cup orange marmalade
1/3 cup barbeque sauce (try not to use a smoky kind)
2 tablespoons low-sodium soya sauce
1/2 teaspoon Asian chili paste
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon minced gingerroot
1 clove garlic, minced
Green onions, chopped for garnish
Sesame seeds, toasted (optional) for garnish
Mix the chicken with the flour and 5-spice right in your slow cooker. Combine the marmalade, barbeque sauce, soya sauce, chili paste, sesame oil, ginger and garlic and pour over the chicken. Stir it up, little darlin’, stir it up until all the chicken is covered. Cook on high for 3-4 hours. But here is my secret slow-cooker showstopper timesaver: I put the flour-and-spice-covered chicken in the removable cooking pot and prep the sauce in a measuring cup the night before. I mix it up in the morning and pop it back in the frig. Then I ask one of my kids to put it in the slow cooker when they get home from school. This may involve a reminder note on the front door, a text at 3:00pm, a phone call home at 3:00PM or all three, depending on the teenager. Luckily my oldest ones are home from high school around 3:00PM and are accepting of this massive responsibility thereby making dinner servable anytime between 6:00-7:00PM. If your kids are unreliable and you consider cooking this on low for 6-8 hours like some slow-cooker recipes suggest (or 10 hours because you leave at 730AM and are not home before 5:00PM), this recipe will be overcooked and dry and not fit for human consumption (but the dogs will still love it).
Serve the chicken over rice with a side of steamed broccoli or green beans (I have a microwave steamer so I can prep this in advance too). This meal is on my table at least twice a month during hockey season. My son even takes the leftovers to school for lunch. Yes, he does. And he’s a teenager.
If you have any hockey family friendly recipes, I’d love to try them out 🙂
Shut Up and Eat! Tales of chicken, children and chardonnay
Okay you had me at chardonnay…
I recently read Kathy Buckworth’s humour memoir on feeding children. Really, this is subject matter that can ONLY be made into a humour memoir or else a miserable tragedy, so am glad she chose the former.
As her bio indicates, Kathy has written several humour books on parenting including The Blackberry Diaries: Adventure in Modern Motherhood (which I have not read because, well, I don’t have a Blackberry), Journey to the Darkside: Supermom goes Home (which I haven’t read yet either because I am still reeling from The Family Guy’s version of Star Wars and can’t venture to read a supermom’s rendition – even if it has nothing to do with Star Wars) and The Secret Life of Supermom (which I am decidedly NOT, so that too stayed too on the shelf). She also appears regularly on CTV’s CanadaAm (though as a working mom, I never get to see this, and if I am home, my choice for TV is seldom if ever considered).
But chardonnay? On that I DO consider myself an expert – she’s a woman after my own heart. Talking about kids in the same book title gave me pause to think but since the author is a mother of four, I guess she had to throw them in too!
I am a lover of books and of reading but every now and then I feel the need for a light read, a quick laugh and some reassurance that I am not the worst mother in the world and that’s what this book gave me.
How can you argue against gems of advice like?
On groceries: Go grocery shopping on a Friday night – only you and all the other loser parents are there.
On weekend kitchen rules: It should take one bowl, one measuring cup and one frying pan to make pancakes. Just sayin’.
On dinner: Most days I am absolutely thrilled if we can get through dinner without an explosive bodily function, head slap, or conversation that ends with one of my daughters stomping away and slamming a door”
Note: I finished the book and I don’t think she has quite accomplished that!
As an added bonus to her humour, she’s included actual recipes in this book! Well, okay, sort of, and no photos so don’t hold your breath. But coming from someone has spent $50 on a cookbook only to flip through the pages like a toddler looking at the pictures, if I use but one recipe from this book and had a few laughs, then it was worth the purchase (see Pork Tenderloin, p. 98, Creamy Pizza Fondue, p 99 and Crockpot Peanut Chicken, p. 106).
Kathy extols the virtue of dessert as a bribe, which I shamefully admit to having done as well, though my Clean Plate Ranger treats no longer make a appearance as often given my kids are now 11, 14, and 15 (they wish, though).
Because she’s funny, I shall forgive her potshots at American State Fair cuisine for we cannot no longer take pride in our country’s health statistics given that almost a quarter of Canadians are now considered obese [Stats Can] – not far off the similar percentage of 33.8% of Americans [CDC]. Alas, I only protest that she forgot to mention Deep Fried Mars Bars and poutine. Sigh.
Where I sometimes long for a book in which to wrap myself around lyrical prose and linguistic magic, in this light-hearted book, I found solace in Kathy’s attitude toward feeding kids, her commitment to eating regularly as a family, and knowing I could probably entertain her well at my home confident she wouldn’t stress over the errant dog hair on her plate – providing I had plied her well with chardonnay beforehand, of course!
So if you happen to be in the mood for a quick, funny read just Shut Up and Eat! No, I mean shut up and read, and pick up a copy of Shut Up and Eat! And pass the chardonnay, while you’re at it!
What is your favourite food at the Fair?
Inspired by Stu Mills of CBC Ottawa Radio One, who has vowed to air a pumpkin story daily until Halloween, I’ve decided to write and post my own little segment of the Twelve Days of Pumpkin. This is my third piece!
We all know we can toast pumpkin seeds and eat them as snacks. We all know we can whack the meat of a pumpkin to a fine pulp and put it in a pie. In my series of pumpkin stories, I bring to you today, yet another great idea for pumpkins that you might not know: Pickled Pumpkin.
And you thought this was going to be a sordid little drunken story about me … shame on you. Sorry to disappoint!
My mom shared this recipe of one of my childhood favourite side dishes, but she then confessed she stole it from Madame Benoit.
Now, there’s a name I hadn’t heard for decades. Madame Benoit was not the proprietor of some bawdy house in New Orleans as you might think; she was Jehane Benoit, the Queen of Canadiana Cuisine. Outside of Canada, Mme Benoit is virtually unknown, but I grew up hearding her name regularly. She was the French Canadian equivalent of Julia Child. While she was famous for many French Canadian classics like French Canadian pea soup, pork and beans (made with maple syrup, of course), cretons (a pork-based meat spread) , and tarte au sucre (hope you have a dental plan), I remember her best for her reputation for her classic Tortiere (meat pie). When I was about six years old, I recall visiting her farm in Quebec once and cuddling with the little lambs on her farm, only to be crushed upon being told by Monsieur Benoit that Madame was experimenting with lamb recipes for a new cook book (and if I remember correctly, there ensued one of my many solo imprisonments in the big ol’ familyFord LTD). This was a women whose recipe for meat loaf involved wrapping it in bacon and adding a spicy glaze of brown sugar and spices (it was “you had me at ‘bacon’” good). Don’t you mock her – she lived to the ripe old age of 83! Mercifully, before seeing poutine dubbed as Canadiana as toques, beer and hockey.
But alas, I digress. Pickled Pumpkin is a wonderful accompaniment to tortiere, cretons and Mme Benoit’s meat loaf, but I’m sure you will find other suitable main dishes for yourself. Enjoy!
16 cups cut-up pumpkin, (3/4 in.chunks)
4 cups sugar
2 cups vinegar
2 cups cider vinegar
3 cups water
6 oz. frozen orange juice-concentrate; thawed
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tablespoon whole allspice
1 1/2 teaspoons whole cloves
- In a large kettle combine sugar, vinegar, water, orange juice concentrate and spices (tie spices in cheesecloth, if desired).
- Heat mixture over high heat until boiling, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves.
- Stir in the pumpkin chunks and reheat to boiling
- Reduce heat to simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until pumpkin is just barely tender, about 10 minutes
- Ladle into hot jars to within 1/4 inch of tops, spooning in the hot liquid from kettle
- Run a slim, non metal tool down along the insides of jars to release any air bubbles. Add additional hot liquid to within 1/4 inch of tops, if needed
- Wipe tops and threads of jars with a damp clean cloth.
- Put the lids and screw bands in place as per manufacturers’ directions
- Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
Coming up next in my series … pumpkin skin care …
Inspired by Stu Mills of CBC Ottawa Radio One, who has vowed to air a pumpkin story daily until Halloween, I’ve decided to [try and] write my own little segment of the Twelve Days of Pumpkin. I shall endeavour not to post too many pumpkin pie recipes, but make no promises!
On the Twelfth Day of Pumpkin …
The Twelfth Day of Pumpkin happened to fall on my Dinner Club tonight with my lady friends (“Mom! They’re called gal pals, now!” says my daughter). Though we might meet more often by happenstance, we plan, organize, negotiate, swindle and bribe so that we can meet for dinner for sure every other month. Since September 2004, we have been gathering to eat, drink and be scary. Over those seven years, the menus have varied almost as much as the hairstyles. Our members have fluctuated far less.
Seven years ago, I was a mother three young children. I’d move mountains to make sure I didn’t miss this dinner (which really means I’d work extra hard to find a competent sitter but my definition of ‘competent’ relaxed as my options waned!). My kids today are much more self-sufficient, but I am no less reliant on this group of women. The mountains we move are less likely due to childcare issues but rather due to other commitments and responsibilities. Yet somehow we all still manage to pull it off. Somehow this gathering has remained a priority for all of us. I can honestly say the unconditional support of this group of women has helped me parent through the carefree friendships of pre-school to the complicated relationships of high school. I doubt our sagas are over.
Though the first few gatherings were fraught with high Martha-like menu expectations, we have occasionally succumbed to take-out. I won’t say we don’t care what we prepare or eat, but as the years have passed, what we eat takes on less importance as with whom we eat!
Now. Lest you thought I had completely steered off tangent, tonight’s meal was finished off with a delicous pumpkin cheesecake with a ginger crust. AND … I snapped this quick shot of our adorable table décor for your pumpkin pleasure.
Yes indeed, this weekend would be Norman-Rockwell-picture-postcard-perfect. I was looking forward to the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend with such bubbling enthusiasm that my poor siblings had to endure more than one email from me that began with “only # more sleeps!” until our reunion. Imagine a vista where the slopes of the mountains were in their scorching splendour of furious reds, mellow yellows and vivid oranges, gentling protecting the beautiful Intrawest resort village of Mont Tremblant, Qc, Canada (about an hour north of Montreal). Couple that venue with the crispness of a Fall morning that then gave way to uncharacteristically high daytime temperatures, transporting us all back into summertime mode (in fact, several heat records were broken on Sunday). Then picture the cozy family campfire that transpired as the chilled night air returned. Yes indeed, this weekend would be picture-postcard-perfect.
If you could take away the hike down the 875m mountain (2,871ft) on a trail called Le Bruler. Translated, bruler means to burn, as in the knees, the quads, the calves, etc., as I quickly come to realize.
If you could take away the image of the young father we passed heading down the mountain, while he was heading up with an infant in his front carrier and a toddler in his backpack carrier. My sister couldn’t help muttering, “Show-off!” as she allowed him and his pre-school entourage to pass.
If you could take away the fact that the trail map suggested that Le Bruler was approximately a two-hour hike. Never trust trail map approximations. Three and a half hours later, I had made 2 frantic calls to my 74-year old mother back at base camp: one to confirm we had acclimatized to the oxygen levels and were continuing our descent and one to coordinate lunch.
If you could take away the fact that due to this massive hiking expedition, Thanksgiving dinner took place at 10p – well passed the bedtimes of some of our younger guests (and mine, I might add)!
If you could take away the fact that the perfect homemade cranberry sauce (fresh cranberries, sugar, spices and a splash of Grand Marnier) never got served (but damn if that Grand Marnier didn’t go down good with 2k to go!).
If you discount the hydraulic patient hoist with which we all had to take turns the next morning to help us get out of bed, providing great inspiration to my niece aspiring to become a doctor (just not in geriatrics!).
If you could take away the unabated enthusiasm that surrounded the annual, traditional kids vs. parents football game. Though my muscles begged for a forfeit, I endured my older brother’s Bluto-like soliloquy: “’Over’? Did you say ‘over’? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell, no!” Alright, already (though I did manage to sneak off the field and participate as official photographer instead … laparoscopic surgery is postponed).
If you could take away the fact that the kids legitimately won and now hold bragging rights for an entire year. And really! Seriously. What were we thinking? They were all young teenage athletes, one of them playing high school varsity football! There’ll be just no living with them, now (but wait! I do need them to help me down these stairs!).
But really… would I really take away these little (ok, sometimes not so little) imperfections, entirely? Approaching Martha Stewart standard, but never quite? Will anyone actually remember these little blemishes? Maybe. But there are what makes us a family – and what moves us to make the effort to continue to gather annually from (presently) six different North American locations. Maybe, not-so-perfect is a much better standard.
Yes, indeed this weekend was picture-postcard-almost-perfect.
In a parallel universe, I am a witty humour writer that spends her day penning clever repertoire making up my own deadlines and taking commercial breaks from my scintillating radio talk show about hockey moms. Back on earth, however, the day-to-day me has a real day job. And the day-to-day me has spent the past three days at health and safety certification training (it’s true: I need to work on my rock-paper-scissors technique). Three days… 24 hours … I’ll just never get those back. Three days of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, important regulations for the service sector, duties and responsibilities of employers, supervisors, workers and certified members of the joint health and safety committee.
Note the last phrase: certified members of the joint health and safety committee. That would be me. First, however, I must successfully pass the test which was administered at the end of the course. Does anyone else still stress over the word “test” years after graduation? I did a little gulp when I discovered that our class was being administered four different tests. Yeah, I know! I could not even count on my colleague – she was given a different test! My goodness, these government folk are clever. Anyway, no need to angst, the test was a breeze, a cinch, un morceau de gateaux. Allow me to provide you with an abbreviated version of the test just in case you’re ever called upon to do health and safety certification training. I’m sure you’ll agree how entirely accurate were my answers when asked to define the following terms:
Certified: Okay, you mean any “mom”, right?
Competent person: A competent person is someone who can feed the dogs, order pizza, and pour my wine, – at the same time. Come to think of it, this goes beyond competence. This would be true talent.
Internal Responsibility System – Is this the principle behind my friend flushing my car keys down the toilet the minute I arrive at her house? Or is this the one where my husband asks me if I’m coming home or planning on sleeping under that table all night?
Dangerous circumstance: A dangerous circumstance refers to a situation in which I wake up and find out we’re all out of coffee. Not good. Very dangerous circumstance.
Confined space: A confined space is a fully or partially enclosed space not designed or constructed for human occupancy – aka what passes for the bedroom my two teenage sons share.
Exposure Limit – When my eyes start to water when exposed to my boys’ “confined space”, I know I have reached my maximum Exposure Limit. The current Time Weighted Average limit (or TWA) is 0.05 seconds. Should Expsoure Limit be reached, please refer procedures outlines in Regulation 632, section 17 regarding Preventing Unauthorized Entry.
WHMIS – Refers to current available wine supply (Women’s HomeMade Intoxicating System)
There you have it! Pretty impressive, don’t ya think? I sure hope I passed!. My employer will be so proud.