22 November 2020

I can’t put my finger on any single reason why, but last week was tough. Crossed wires, misunderstandings, general grumpiness and self-flagellation felt like the running theme. I’m trying to find a positive attitude, but the onset of winter combined with rising covid rates in Ontario and around the world make that a challenge some days.

Happily the weekend has helped reset the personal mental processing unit. Simon and I spent Saturday fixing a much procrastinated hallway lighting issue at the house that has very literally brightened things up. Add in a few hours cleaning along with a potential longer term project opportunity to get me thinking about the future and winter things aren’t feeling as bleak.

With the exception of swapping Tuesday and Thursday meals because I didn’t get gnocchi until later, last week went almost completely to plan. Wednesdays chicken/squash/grits combo made enough to have it again Friday so the kohlrabi and carrot slaw has now moved into tonight’s Sunday taco plan.

Here’s the plan for upcoming week.

  • Sunday: tacos! steak, kohlrabi/carrot/cilantro slaw, with tortillas
  • Monday: porchetta, kale and roast potatoes
  • Tuesday: porchetta part 2, mac&cheese and kale
  • Wednesday: coconut miso salmon arugula curry over rice
  • Thursday/Friday: daikon fries, bok choy and fire chicken
  • Saturday: ramen takeout?
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15 November 2020

Mid-november means winter is clearly coming so we spent yesterday raking leaves and attempting to plug some of the drafts in our 100+ year old house. Despite it being a beautiful sunny day, we took the dogs for a walk right after dinner and there were already stars out – a clear sign that fixing the dead front hall light fixture can’t wait much longer. I’m trying not to panic about Christmas, getting the tires changed on the car, end of year work stuff and all the other things that always start looming in the back of my head around this time whether I like it our not. Blargh is all I have in answer to that.

Let’s look at how the meal plan worked out: Monday moved to Wednesday. Tuesday moved to Monday. Wednesday became Tuesday. The roast moose actually turned into a stew so combined with the clam chowder there was a lot of soup happening overall which is reasonable for autumn. This week’s eggplant turned out to be teeny tiny, plus I forgot to buy tofu, and then I spotted a package of butter chicken sauce in the pantry so Friday merged with Saturday to become butter chicken curry with eggplant and kale. Friday actually became takeout burgers (Tuckshop Food Kitchen) paired with oven fries which was generally hailed by the family as the best idea ever. 

Yep. That’s exactly why we write the plan in chalk. 

I made the cornbread in a cast iron skillet and it turned out thin with extra crispy edges. I will never make cornbread any other way again! This is the recipe I used but left the adobo sauce since the kid can’t handle that kind of spice. I also learned that cornbread works with either cornmeal or masa harina. Useful information since I was on the verge of running out of cornmeal.

This week’s vegetable delivery is typical of what we will likely be heading into winter. Finding creative uses for root vegetables and members of the cabbage family is critical if we want to eat local through Canadian winter.

  • Sunday/Monday: cod au gratin with green beans and roast beets
  • Tuesday: gnocchi with brussels sprouts and bacon
  • Wednesday: flat chicken with squash and cheesy grits
  • Thursday: kale, sausage pasta
  • Friday: chicken part 2 with kohlrabi and carrot slaw
  • Saturday: date night – take out – maybe try oysters again now that we have two shucking knives AND a fancy support board thanks to Oyster Boy!
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8 November 2020

With the exception of changing out Friday’s red curry to green (I didn’t check to see if we actually had any red curry paste when I put it on the list) our work week meals went exactly to plan. The surprise side grain ended up being Alton Brown’s cheese grits. We’ve been making it with polenta style ground corn for years and had wondered about the extensive cooking time in the recipe. I recently finally located the coarser ground type and they definitely take longer to cook, but were well worth it. Both versions are excellent in my book. Today’s roast moose plans are being swapped out (probably pizza) due to the fact that we didn’t start the defrosting until Saturday afternoon and it is still rock hard. Whoops.

Saturday’s date night oysters got challenging when the delivery arrived without the shucking knife needed to get them open. Thanks to some you-tube videos I improvised with a paring knife and short phillips flat-head screwdriver and successfully shucked 24 oysters (my first time!) without any associated medical emergencies. Fresh oysters are literally half the price if you buy them unshucked so I’m looking forward to seeing what I can do in the future with the correct tools for the job! We went for a full theme with 3 types of Prince Edward Island oysters (Malpeques weren’t available, but PEI clearly has lots of excellent oyster beds), potato oven fries (made in the factory I was working at), chipotle mayo and sparkling wine from Prince Edward County (close as we could get to theme since Prince Edward Island doesn’t make wine as far as I know).

Safety notes:

  1. Shuck at your own risk! Oysters are tough little things to open. Simon didn’t trust himself to even try opening them this way.
  2. Definitely enjoy any alcoholic beverages AFTER completing all activities involving knives, screwdrivers and damp slippery bivalves.

Hardest part of returning to the ‘real world’ after any vacation or big work trip for me is getting back into my exercise routine. Overall participation in the pandemic zoom workout group I’ve belonged to since March has been eroding over the last 3 months and for the last while it has mostly just been me and one other woman. Between work getting more demanding, Covid fatigue and my 2 weeks away it seems that the final nail in that coffin has been sunk. It was a great thing while it lasted, but everything ends eventually.

This week has been about trying out new options. After taking 2 zoom classes with an ex-Cirque du Soleil artist I think paying to have someone else lead is exactly what I need for a while. It also felt good to be paying a professional circus artist when so many have been out of work since this pandemic began and Cirque du Soleil is literally now out of business. I also managed to find the activation energy through 2 self-led workout lists. The Thursday leg day one still has my butt sore 2 days later so I’ll be keeping that. So 2 zoom classes, plus 2 self classes equals 4 workouts this week which is good, but not great. Plan is to add more stretching and skills (handstands and slackline) into this week coming up.

And here is what’s on the chalkboard for this week:

  • Sunday: pizza (formerly roast moose with veg)
  • Monday: roast moose with turnips and carrots (should be defrosted by now)
  • Tuesday: pasta with butter, lemon, dandelion greens and sausage
  • Wednesday/Thursday: clam chowder with leeks, potatoes, carrots served and cornbread
  • Friday: grilled eggplant with chicken thighs and cheese grits
  • Saturday: red curry tofu with kale (going to try again for red)
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1 November 2020

After almost 2 weeks on the road Halloween was my first real day home. Toronto went trick-or-treatless thanks to rising covid spread in Ontario. The Haunted Walk* hosted a great virtual campfire series that we all attended virtually while I was on the road so our holiday had more of a slow burn than just trick-or-treating would have been. For actual Halloween day I had the kid give me an awesome special effect for my trip to the grocery store and she did a creepy clown effect on herself for an afternoon backyard visit with the in-laws. Watched Sleepy Hollow, ate the candy we would have given out and called it a night. We still have a “Haunting at Home” paranormal experience to do together, but ran out of time to do it on Oct 31 so we will be carrying our halloween into November.

*I worked as a haunted tour guide for them during graduate school. Remind me to tell you about it sometime.

Today/Sunday is the official get back into the swing of homelife. Laundry, cleaning, and helping with homework. Plus of course the meal plan for this week!

  • Sunday: sushi (for someone who has been literally living next to the ocean, quarantine restrictions and rental house limitations meant my trip involved precious little seafood – definitely plan on making up for that tonight and next weekend)
  • Monday: cod, beets with goat cheese and a side grain to be named later
  • Tuesday: sweet and sour chicken with noodles and broccoleaf
  • Wednesday: skirt steak and green salad
  • Thursday: margarita shrimp tacos with cabbage slaw
  • Friday: red curry with tofu and kale
  • Saturday: Date night – not sure exactly what yet, but it will definitely include oysters from Malpeque!! (that’s where I was living in PEI)
  • Sunday: Roast beast with turnips and potatos
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27 October 2020

Apologies for falling off the posting wagon. In my defence the last 2 weeks have been highly irregular. Am currently writing from deep inside the “Atlantic Bubble” which is an odd place for this Toronto based girl to be in 2020. 

For those not familiar with the term, the Atlantic Bubble is the collection of Canadian Atlantic Provinces (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island) that have bubbled themselves off from the rest of the country. As a Covid prevention strategy it certainly seems to be working as the island Province of Prince Edward Island has exactly 1 covid case at the moment and zero community spread. Doesn’t hurt that it has a population of ~140,000 people and only 2 public entry points (Confederation bridge, or Charlottetown airport). There is no way I would be allowed onto the island for fun, but as a safety consultant the work I do qualifies as ‘essential’. 

In this year of highly restricted travel it was both exciting and nerve wracking figuring out how to make this work trip happen. Prior to arrival I had to submit a written work/isolation plan that was approved by the Department of Justice and Public Safety. They issued a formal letter allowing me to enter the province and checked that I had approval when my plane landed. I also got a covid test prior to leaving – it wasn’t required, but I didn’t want to risk arriving there and not being able to do the work I have come here to do.

From the airport I was expected to immediately go into full isolation/quarantine until I had a negative covid test. I arrived Sunday evening, went for the test Monday morning and had my first negative result by 9:30am Tuesday. After that first negative I’ve been in quasi-quarantine where I’m required to isolate at all times except to go to work.

While at work I follow covid hygiene measures (mask, social distance, separate washroom), eat in a closed office rather than the cafeteria and only interact with the people directly related to the work I’m doing. The people working with me have also worn masks, but most others at the factory are not.

When not at work, I’m obligated to remain on the isolation property and stay away from others. Someone calls me every day (at different times) to check on my health status and confirm that I am following the terms of my isolation plan. 

The upside to all of this is that instead of a hotel I rented a cottage. My isolation property is a 100 year old farmhouse with a 1km ‘backyard’ that extends to the Atlantic ocean. Were it not for the psychological fact of being legally confined here, it would feel like a retreat. PEI is a gorgeous place especially right now with the autumn leaves bright with colour. I’m definitely not suffering. 

Instead of restaurant take out 3 times a day, I’m able to cook my own meals (online ordered with contactless pick up at the grocery store). The meals involve a lot more processed food than I usually eat, but still healthier than whatever deep fried* yumminess I probably would have picked up at the takeaway. I’ve been relatively happy with what I’m managing to make with a selection that is limited to peanut butter (kid is allergic – this is a rare chance to eat it), gluten free bread (packed it in a shoebox and brought from home), butter, mayonnaise, milk, cereal, yogurt, cheese, onion, spinach, broccolli, snap peas, bananas, pears, cucumber, gnocchi, sausage, deli meat, fish, shrimp and a frozen pizza.

*Don’t worry, the factory cafeteria is ensuring I can still access something from the deep fry food group.

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12 October 2020

Happy (Canadian) Thanksgiving!

2020 has been a challenging year, but our family has much to be thankful for. Today we are healthy and with each other and that is a lot right there. With the exception of his birthday, my partner Simon takes responsibility for all holiday feast cooking. As a biochemist, he runs the kitchen like a chemistry lab. My own ADD fuelled kitchen style clashes spectacularly with this approach so it’s in everybody’s best interests that I stay on the opposite side of the kitchen island taking pictures and providing commentary.

8am To-Do list

After lunch the kid and I picked yet another round of green beans from my late start backyard garden. The garden bed box I ordered in late march took a major side trip on its way to our house and as a result I couldn’t plant anything until the end of June. Combined with my complete lack of gardening experience makes the prolific pole bean output we’ve seen a very happy surprise.

The meal was delicious, but this year the day long making of the meal was almost just as fun as the eating. Kid is at the age where she was interested in helping every step of the way.

Afterward we geared up for the rest of the week. 3 days of turkey and there is still a large serving in the freezer.

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11 October 2020

Poutine project behind us, the rest of the week went more or less to plan. 

Taco Wednesday was definitely the most involved. For anyone not working from home in the middle of a pandemic, this is probably better left to the weekend. The critical part of taco night around here are the fresh tortillas. Fresh tortilla is like bread fresh from the oven, simple toppings turn into tasty magic. I discovered about a year ago that they are pretty simple to make – time consuming, but in a repetitive meditation sort of way and oh so worth it. Honestly, anything that keeps me away from the pull of the doom-scroll is probably good right now. 

Twist for this one was the salsa verde. Our weekly food delivery offered local tomatillos which I’ve never encountered fresh before. Recipe turned out to be dead easy.

SALSA VERDE

  • husk and rinse tomatillos. The papery husk comes of easily, but between the husk and fruit is a sticky-greasy layer that smelled vaguely like garbage juice – definitely want to wash that off!
  • toss whole tomatillos, an onion (peeled and quartered), 1-2 cloves of garlic in a little oil and roast @450F on a sheetpan for 15min (a couple of the smaller tomatillos exploded – I should probably think about running the oven clean cycle before it gets too cold).
  • while they roast throw fresh cilantro, lime juice (I used bottled) and pickled jalapeños in a food processor or blender.
  • add the roast things to the food processor and pulse until you reach an appropriate level of chunkiness. Stop to add salt, pepper and lime juice to taste.

So good!

Other taco fixings on the table were:

  • ground moose cooked taco meat style
  • ‘guacamole’ (mashed avocado mixed with lime and jarred salsa)
  • shredded cheese
  • fresh cilantro
  • refried beans (from a can with cumin and garlic powder added)
  • sliced red peppers (for a vegetable)

Greatest excitement around here was the arrival of a new washing machine after 2 months on backorder. We tried repairing the old one, but after replacing the drain pump, it looked like a new motor/circuit board would also be required and the repair person advised us to look for a replacement. The laundromat was costing on the order of $20/week, not including drying since we were able to take the wet clothes home to our still functioning dryer or hung to sun dry on the porch. $20/week x 52 weeks a year = more than the cost of the new washing machine even before taking into account time and effort getting to and from the laundromat – proving yet again the Captain Samuel Vimes ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness.

With 3 aged dogs, two adults following exercise routines, and kid with a back-to-school hair dye habit we’ll be celebrating the return of convenient laundry access for a long time to come.

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4 October 2020 – Poutine Project

Poutine project was a massive success! Simon and the kiddo took lead on this one. I just took photos and made a quick trip out for additional fry oil. I’d had aspirations of making the cheese curds, but realized my cheese skills aren’t ready for that yet. Gravy was a gluten free roux, homemade chicken stock, and packaged bisto beef gravy granules. (not fully gluten free, but it kept the wheat levels low enough for me to enjoy)

Potatoes were soaked, dried, fried at 300F, and fried again at 375F (head fryer says he will be trying 400F for this stage next time) 

This week’s meal plan only extends to Friday at the moment. Thanksgiving happens Oct 12 and kid has requested a ‘real turkey dinner’. 

Monday: Asian style noodles with tofu and green beans

Tuesday: sausage kale pasta

Wednesday: tacos with moose and tomatillo salsa

Thursday: grilled fish, squash and Catalan chickpeas with arugula

Friday: date night

Saturday/Sunday: TBD

Monday: Thanksgiving

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3 October 2020

As usual, actual implementation of the weekly meal plan went off road in a few places.

Sunday: roast squash, brussels sprouts, sweet potatos, pork chops

-Pretty easy to stick with any plan straight out of the gate!

Monday: cod au gratin, fried green tomatos, green beans, leftover roast veg

-Cod au gratin is a family favourite, but does take effort. It was the perfect way to use up the very last of our freezer cod supply. Realized that also attempting fried green tomatoes for the first time was overdoing it. Much easier to pick some green beans from the backyard.

Tuesday: cod au gratin part II, green beans part II, fried green tomatoes

-Fried green tomatoes were a new discovery and a hit! Certainly not the healthiest meal (especially with cheesy cod au gratin beside it), but the green tomatoes were surprisingly tangy which kept the whole thing from feeling greasy. A nice send off of the final tomatoes from my rookie backyard garden.

Wednesday: skirt steak on salad

-6 years ago, our local butcher catered our backyard wedding party and served grilled skirt steak as part of the menu and it’s been a regular part of our dinner menu ever since. The marinade/salad formula changes regularly – this one was Newfoundland spice rub (last of a souvenir spice pack from our most recent visit – 2 years ago – sob) on the skirt steak, blue cheese on top and lettuce salad with fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, plus sprinklings of stuff I found in the pantry drawer (pumpkin seeds, almond bits, mixed dried fruit, fried onion pieces) and bottled greek feta dressing

Thursday: apple fennel slaw, squash, miso beer can chicken, quiche with kale and a random salmon fillet from the freezer

-Slaw was just slice apples, fennel mixed with a dressing of apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, olive oil and tarragon. Quiche was frozen gluten free pie shell, random lone salmon fillet from the freezer, kale, parmesan cheese, held together with cream (that needed using up), milk and eggs. 11 year old doesn’t like eggs and was very dubious about having quiche for dinner. Happily she realized that the eggs were about as significant as when they appear on french toast (which she loves).

Friday: roast chicken part II, kale, roast cauliflower, apple fennel slaw part II 

-Should have remembered that making any kind of slaw always makes a ton! Miso beer can chicken was much too complicated for the busy Friday we had so Simon just roasted it with salt, pepper and paprika which was awesome.

Saturday: Poutine Project! (kid asked if we can make poutine from scratch) with roast chicken part II on top and sneaky beans

-Weather looks like we are still on plan for later today. Poutine idea came about when we realized that our bbq side burner makes deep frying possible outside (yay for no deep fry smell in the house). Sneaky beans are code for garden green beans – lots of rain this week, while the rest of the garden plants are clearly winding down for the winter the green beans are still growing away. 

Sneaky bean plants with their dead tomato plant friend at the end.

Sunday: takeout 

-Hasn’t actually happened yet, but very unlikely to change 😉

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27 September 2020

Despite 10+ years of having this blog, it is pretty obvious by now that I’m not a frequent poster. This is partly due to laziness, partly due to the fact that after a week of working on the computer I’m not inclined to then spend my downtime sitting in front of a computer, and partly because although I’m a naturally oversharing type of person (suspect I studied drama in university largely for reasons related to exactly this), the non-dog members of my family are not. Happily today I realized that we do have an aspect of our life that even the most private one of us doesn’t mind me sharing with the entire world (or even the 5 people that are likely to read this post).

That thing is our food. Neither my partner nor I work in the food industry* and I’d consider us to be a fairly average 2 income household in terms of work/hobby time limitations but over the last 10 years I’d say that family meals are one of the biggest things that has helped tie us together. During these months of pandemic lockdown and restriction that has become even more so. Prior to 2020, we’d been getting weekly local vegetable box deliveries for several years and were already trying to eat local foods in season where we could. This year of minimizing grocery trips, thinking more about supply chains and added time physically at home led to a number of food projects including the stereotypical sourdough along with my very first garden.

*In full disclosure, my engineering consulting work includes many food manufacturing clients, but my work in machine safeguarding has almost nothing to do with the actual food part of things.

The mainstay of our kitchen is the weekly meal plan. Not long after we moved into our current house I painted a wall with chalkboard paint and turned it into a giant message board. Every week we look at the vegetable delivery email, plan our dinner menus, and write it out on one side of the chalkwall. The other side keeps the shopping list. Planning and writing out each weeks menu rarely takes more than 10 minutes, but I was amazed by how much brainspace it freed up during the week not thinking about what to have for dinner each night. Instead of asking ourselves “What do we feel like eating?” we just look at the list and know what is coming. Because we usually know which days of the week are busy the plan usually will either put something super easy to make or even carry leftovers from the day before. On the rare occasion that we find ourselves not in the mood for what is on the plan we just change it – chalk is super handy that way.

And so without further ado, here is this week’s plan.

Meal Plan - 27 Sep 2020
  • Sunday: roast squash, brussels sprouts, sweet potatos, pork chops
  • Monday: cod au gratin, fried green tomatos, leftover roast vegetable
  • Tuesday: cod au gratin part II, green beans, more leftover roast veg or rice
  • Wednesday: skirt steak on salad
  • Thursday: apple fennel slaw, squash, miso beer can chicken
  • Friday: chicken part II, kale
  • Saturday: Poutine Project! (kid asked if we can make poutine from scratch)
  • Sunday: takeout

I’ll let you know how it turns out! Has anyone else out there want to share pandemic food project or meal plan opinions?

This is what the full chalkwall looks like 🙂

The chart at the bottom is the current dog medication schedule. Our 14 year old Henry dog has a progressive heart condition and Beta dog (also 14) is on the tail end of a penicillin pack to clear up a gland infection.

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