Tonight’s menu: Gum and popsicles

It is 9:30 pm. For the last hour and a half, I have been sitting by the fire, reading the paper, reading emails, and sipping my favourite red wine. My kids went to bed happy and I have no dishes to do. Oh, well, I rinsed the pot of defrosted baked beans. Don’t know why I bothered with a bowl, I could have eaten right out of the pot.

I have been able to do this because tonight, I decided not to serve dinner. Well – correction – I served Gum as an appetizer (choice of 2 kinds; all-u-can-chew) and Popsicles as a main course. Interspersed between courses were such fun and stimulating activites as bike-ride-dog-walking, sunflower-planting-and-watering, board-game-“playing”, and our new favourite, “Choppy Chopperstein”.

Ben is away for a couple days, and I was able to manage all this entertainment after work, and serve dinner too!

Last night, I spent the better part of an hour in the kitchen after work, repeating the phrase, “I can’t (Frida/Elsie), I’m making dinner”. Perhaps 8 or 10 times. Also intervening as the girls checked off everything on the “don’t do it” list.

When dinner time rolled around (chicken & barley soup cause they have runny noses; isn’t that so maternal of me? I don’t even like chicken soup and I think it’s a myth that it makes you better), they didn’t eat it.

Not surprising. BUT very, very, very annoying. A complete waste of an hour, 8-10 repetitions of the same boring phrase, and numerous interventions. Boring mum, for naught. Add stress, frustration, a bit of yelling and…dishes.

So tonight? No dinner. BOOM!

True. They could have all the gum they wanted, and eventually out of irrepressible mother-guilt I asked them if they were at all hungry for a bowl of cereal or … a popsicle? (with yogurt in it, OK?) And I got to take them for the first outside bike ride of the season, help them sow 24 sunflower seeds, play a stupid farmer board game, have a round of Choppy Chopperstein, and then put happy kids to bed and come down and eat my warmed-up baked beans with red wine.

Look, I am not even exaggerating one bit here. They never, ever eat dinner. So why do we bother? It creates frustration, no fun at the table, stress, and time loss. Yes, it’s important, traditions, education bla bla. But right now, I am NOT STRESSED AT ALL and we had a super fun evening. It’s even super windy out, and – no stress. Win.

Dinner tomorrow night? I think we’re on to something here…. (so much faster shopping at the dep than at the store!!!)

PS stay tuned for a Choppy video…


Richard Burton’s Favourite Dish

So on friday, I decided to try this lasagna recipe from Peter Berley’s book for Flexitarians. In fact, I decided to embark upon a whole menu – no, 2 menus –  cause they sounded so good and cause I have so much time on my hands.  The lasagna part called for squash, mushrooms, spinach, sage béchamel and gruyère… yeah, yum. It also called for homemade noodles but I was like, “no way! who has time for that?” The rest of it sounded great.

I read the ingredient list and smugly crossed out, “homemade“.  I did not read the instructions, because they went on for several pages and I didn’t have time.

The astute among you will have recognized immediately that this was A BIG MISTAKE.

I got home from grocery shopping and flipped open the book. And was unsure of where to begin. The dicing and roasting of the  4 1/2 pounds of vegetables? The sautéeing of the onions with garlic and herbs? The preparation of the béchamel? The wilting and draining and chopping of the 2 pounds of spinach? Heck, good thing I had noodles in a box!  If I had read the recipe ahead of time, I would have noticed that Berley mentions that almost each step can be done 2 days ahead of time: Clue. There was 30 minutes of roasting, a good 30 minutes of sage-infusion in the boiled milk for the béchamel BEFORE the making of the damn sauce, plus another 40 minutes in the oven, not to mention chopping a 3-pound squash into 1/2 inch cubes… “all this for kids who won’t even eat it”, I glumly posited as I contemplated my tried and true 20-minute liz-on-ya that I had forsaken for the novelty of…squash.

The lasagna, despite my shortcuts with the noodles, béchamel, and several other steps, was delicious and if you have 2 days ahead of you, I would recommend it. It’s earthy and comforting and makes you feel wholesome cause of the squash and spinach. You know, it’s all seasonal and everything. But my friends, if you are like me, you will make a full-blown béchamel lasagna once every 5 years cause it is just too damn much trouble (and it dirties about ninety bowls). Instead, you will keep on hand the following ingredients:

  • Can of crushed tomatoes
  • Pesto (Basil)
  • Cottage cheese
  • Frozen spinach (2 boxes)
  • Ball of mozzarella
  • Oven-ready lasagna noodles
  • Parmesan cheese (real)
  • Lemons
  • Salt n pepa

And you will do the following (vary amounts to fit your pan. These instructions are for a  9 x 13″. Alternately use a loaf pan for 2 or 3, or 8″ square for the family with no leftovers):

  1. The morning of, or the night before, take out 2 packages of spinach from the freezer (2 packages for a big pan) and put it in a colander in the sink to thaw and drain. If you can get those cube ones, they take no time at all to thaw!
  2. When you are ready to cook: In one small-ish bowl, get your 2-year old to mix up some pesto with the crushed tomatoes. For a 9 x13″ pan I would use about 3/4 of the can of tomatoes. She could use it all if she’s feeling saucy, which she probably is. Pesto it to taste (don’t be shy).
  3. In a medium bowl, have your 4-year old mix the spinach with a container of cottage cheese (500g for a big pan of Liz), salt, pepper and the zest of your lemon. Note: that’s 2 bowls. Far from ninety.
  4. Cut the ball of mozzarella into thin slices or grate it. Finely grate a bunch of parmesan or do this directly on to the lasagna when it’s time.
  5. Sauce the bottom of the pan, layer on some noodles, pile on some spinach mixture, some parmesan, some sauce, some more noodles, spinach, parmesan, sauce, …. till you have no more room/sauce/spinach/noodles.
  6. Layer or sprinkle the mozzarella on top and grate on more parmesan.
  7. Bake at 400 F for about 30-40 minutes till it’s bubbly, browning, and you can stick a skewer through the noodles.

Seriously, if you’ve got your spinach thawed, you’ll have liz-on-ya in one hour, from start to finish (Richard would have liked that!). And the thing is: IT’S FUCKING AMAZING.  Yes, once again: less work, better food. I think that’s going to become my mantra.

So easy, toddlers can do it. Those aren’t apples on top.

I keep meaning to take a picture of the finished product but it doesn’t stick around long enough. Just make it, and take your own picture.

Nice to be back. Pin this someone, will ya?

I wonder if Fela hated vegetarians too.

Yesterday was a beautiful, hot, sunny day, which I spent joyously romping about the garden in Carhartts, getting dirty and sweaty and sunburned while my cooperative 10-month-old amused herself with mud and small pieces of rock and took extra long naps. The sun, the garden, and my long-awaited comeback as a whitewater kayaker have me feeling strong, fulfilled, and content*.

And so, having returned inside on a sunny afternoon to whip up some veggie burgers for dinner, feeling sassy, I cracked open a beer, cranked some Fela Kuti and started up the food processor. I was shakin’ my booty all over the kitchen when I remembered that I am pissed off at Fela.

If you call am woman
African woman no go ‘gree
She go say, she go say, “I be Lady o”

She go say, “I be Lady”
She go say, “I no be woman”
She go say, “Market woman na woman”
She go say, “I be Lady”

I wan tell you about Lady
She go say him equal to man
She go say him get power like man
She go say anything man do himself fit do
She go wan take cigar before anybody
She go wan make you open door for am
She go wan make man wash plate for am for kitchen

Up to here, you could be forgiven for believing that Fela was all psyched about African womens’ empowerment back in the 70s when he was founding the afrobeat scene in his underwear with that crazy bass saxophone. The (female) backup singers are all wailin’ “She go saaaaaaay I be lady O!”  and up till a few months ago, I was right there with them, thinking, “yeah, Fela! I be lady!” I even thought that if I had a boy I’d like to name him Fela, but Ben said that in French people would assume it was short for “blow job” so I let it go. Good thing I did, cause turns out Fela is NOT into the fact that the ladies are taking a cigar before anybody.

Despite his penchant for marriage (marrying all 27 women in his band), he was most definitely anti-feminist, and a bit chafed at the fact that in Africa, women were asserting their rights and could perhaps one day refuse  to cook his dinner:

She wan salute man she go sit down for chair
She wan sit down for table before anybody
She wan a piece of meat before anybody

Call am for dance, she go dance Lady dance
African woman go dance, she go dance the fire dance

She know him man na master
She go cook for am
She go do anything he say

But Lady no be so

Lady na master
Lady na master
Lady na master

I certainly don’t want to take away all the great things about Fela, his politics, and his music. But such adamant sexism is so disgusting – especially considering that his own mother was a leader of the feminist movement in Nigeria.

So I was conflicted, as I bopped around the kitchen; but then I decided to just have fun, enjoy my beer and fire up the BBQ. Because no matter what he thought about what women should and should not be entitled to, his music is over the top awesome, and you’d have to be a pretty dour feminist to keep your own booty from shakin’ to Fela.

And so, in honour of spring, BBQ season, cold beers, not breastfeeding any more, and principles sometimes ignored, here is a recipe for really tasty veggie burgers that whip up in a flash and even carnivores love (I don’t know about sexists, though). I adapted it from a recipe on 101 cookbooks, taking out the cashews and upping the mushrooms. I liked it better than the original (moister) but hers are also really good.

Tofu- Mushroom Burgers

350 g extra-firm tofu, cubed

2 large eggs
1/2 cup  bread crumbs
1 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne
1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt

1. Throw everything in the food processor and process till sort of chunky yet not too chunky and not pasty:

You’ll probably have to scrape down the sides of the bowl a couple times.

2. Form into patties (makes about 8 patties) and grill on the bbq about 5 minutes on each side over med-high heat (use a bit of oil if frying in a pan)

ready for the Q

3. Dress as desired. Avocado and mayo are killer.

4. Uncooked patties freeze well, I’d say up to a month.

A couple of PS’s:

PS  here are a couple of links about Fela’s life and beliefs, which are really interesting….

*PPS: having broken my hand while taking boats off the car, I can no longer: garden, paddle, cook, or type. I’m pecking away one-handed now to finish this post and bid you all a fond “hasta luego” – hope the summer finds you surrounded with tomatoes, water, and iced tea. I’ll be back when I can!!