Love Affair

The time has come, friends, for complete and utter honesty. I am here to confess to you, my closest Internets peeps, that I am having a love affair.OH YES. A capital-L-Love-Affair.

I know, it comes as a shock to you. But it is true. For I must confess to you, RIGHT HERE AND NOW, that I am IN LOVE. With TASTY BAKED GOODS.

Specifically, baked goods with BUTTERMILK in them.Yes. Buttermilk. Not something most people bake with, I think; at least, not so much here. I know buttermilk is big in the US. Anyway, I only fairly recently came to worship at The Temple of Buttermilk, and now I am a CONVERT.

I had not baked with buttermilk for my entire life, until a few years ago. I tried a few things at first. Buttermilk bread. Pancakes (all right, not baking, but cooking. Whatevs.) Biscuits. Bran muffins (RANA YOU ENABLER YOU WITH YOUR TASTY BRAN MUFFINS WITH BUTTERMILK IN THEM WHY NOT JUST SAY “HERE, HAVE THIS CRACK”???).

But recently, it has been coffeecake. Sweet, spicy coffeecake, moist with buttermilk, and scented with cinnamon and nutmeg, and a topping of pecans and streusel… How am I to RESIST the siren song, I ask you? So I made some on the weekend. It was (and still is, for it is not finished yet) delectable, warmed ever so slightly with a dollop of whipped cream on top.

YES I SAID DOLLOP WHAT OF IT YOU DON’T KNOW MY BAKED GOODS I SAID GOOD DAY TO YOU SIR.

They have all been such tasty morsels, but there was something missing.

SCONES. I needed to make scones.

So today, I made orange cranberry scones. The whole house was fragrant with citrus. They were rough cut into triangles and came out all golden and flaky. PERFECT with a cup of tea.

They seem to be life’s perfect Baked Goods.

And yet, as I looked at them, warm and fragrant and cooling on a rack, my mind wandered. And I thought….

“Ooooh… SODA BREAD!”

I am OUT OF CONTROL.

My husband, the Type II Diabetic, has been understanding of my Love Affair so far, because work has been OMG STRESSFUL and who doesn’t like a little delicious sumpin’ sumpin’ after a long stressful day at work? But I fear soon he’s going to be all OMGSTOP YOU MENTAL PATIENT YOU ARE KILLING ME WITH BAKING. Which is true because if there’s one thing that is bad for a diabetic it’s all that flour and sugar in the guise of Tastiness, calling out to you from the countertop.

And let’s face it. I could do with less myself.

But spring is coming, and with it the warm weather. And it will soon be time for fresh produce and gardening and being outside, and baking will not have a place in a busy outdoors day.

Oh well. It was bound to happen. Best put a few things aside in the freezer for a rainy day.

Cooling Down and Heating Up

Fall seems to have arrived here in Suburbiaville, and as much as that means winter is coming AND THAT IS NO GOOD NO, I have to admit that I am not entirely sad to see the end of summer. It was a long, hot summer — longer than usual, to be sure, with warm weather starting in April. But it was also very, very humid, to which our latest hydro bill can attest.

I don’t do well in humidity. I wilt, and sweat, and generally get fairly miserable. Now, 50 pounds ago, I would have loved a hot, humid summer.The hotter, the better. The idea of moving to a tropical climate? Bliss. But nowadays, it is hard to find anything to enjoy about a humid summer when one is wearing a fat suit.

So I am sitting with windows open and enjoying the cool temperatures. And do you know what else I am doing?

Cooking.

I have not felt like cooking… well, in months, really. It is hard to get jazzed about heating up a stove or an oven when you are, yourself, a radiant heating unit. A portable sauna, if you will. I have cooked, of course — if I had not, I would not be complaining about being fat — but my heart hasn’t been in it.

But the week got cool and rainy and suddenly, like a switch got thrown — TIME TO COOK.

Earlier in the week, I made jerk, as I often do in the fall, to put in the freezer to use all winter. Now, I would expect that does not really qualify as cooking, since the only thing that gets warmed up is some rum and the motor on my food processor. But it is time consuming and there’s food to show for it, so… COOKING.

Today, it was grocery day. All sorts of things began to appeal to me as we walked through the store. I grabbed cans of this and bunches of that. And right now, simmering on the stove, is a huge honking pot of Pepperpot Soup.

(Interesting that the first two things I made were Jamaican. I wonder what that means.)

I also have the ingredients for black bean soup, waiting to be blended into some tasty deliciousness. And, of course, I have chicken waiting to be made into doro wat to celebrate not only the Ethiopian New Year, but our own personal Family Day as well. Those will be made on the weekend.

I’m out of practice. I’ve burned the tips of two fingers already, on a rather stupid misreading of today’s recipe. And I am not entirely sure if I have enough receptacles to store all this food as it gets made.

But it doesn’t matter. There’s something comforting about putting on some of your favourite music, cooking up a batch of something tasty, and enjoying the creative time.

And, let’s be honest — something tasty as an end result is pretty nice, too.

Tuesday Tidbits

It’s Tuesday, right? Isn’t it? We used to have swimming lessons on Tuesday mornings but now that they are finished, I have nothing regularly scheduled in my week until Wednesdays to tell me what day it is. Some days feel like two days crammed into one; others whiz by and you’re not sure what just happened.

So here are some of the things happening in our world today.

  • NEW!! Now With More COOL!!: That Baby now has FIVE –  count ’em, FIVE!! — pairs of sunglasses. Well, she loves her shades, and for $3 a pair, why not have a spare pair or four?
  • Routine return: Well, we have some sort of routine in our days, anyway. Although it is optimistic to call it “napping”, That Baby DOES have “naptime” — in which time is spent in one’s crib, and playing, talking, singing, napping, and hair pulling may all be done at one’s leisure. She actually goes in quite willingly, and seems to enjoy her two hours of quiet time. And goodness knows, I enjoy the opportunity to exercise and shower and throw some laundry in and tidy up here and there.
  • May I Have Your Attention Please: That Baby is ALL ABOUT THE TALKING these days. Gab gab gab, talk talk talk. She’s not saying a lot of actual words, necessarily, during these conversational eruptions, but boy howdy is there INTONATION. And EMPHASIS. And volume modulation. She talks non-stop sometimes. And what is fun, and admittedly sometimes as annoying as heck, is when she fixes on a word and repeats it over and over and over again because WE ARE COMMUNICATING! Today at lunchtime, I put on an episode of Sarah Jane Adventures, which Stinkerbelle calls “Doctor”. And so, she would look me right in the eyes and with a big grin, repeat, “UH OH DOCTOR! UH OH DOCTOR!” over and over again. And then look at the screen and back into my eyes: “UH OH DOCTOR! UH OH DOCTOR!” She was delighted to be “talking” about something with me. It was adorable, albeit sometimes loud, and after about 5 minutes of continual “UH OH DOCTOR! UH OH DOCTOR!”, a little annoying.
  • Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures: In an effort to thwart the hair-pulling, and cover over the thinning patch up front where she tends to pull most often, I bit the bullet today and braided That Baby’s hair. I put in about a dozen little braids and clips. It’s not the best braiding job I have ever done on a head of hair, but it’s fine. It took a ridiculously long time — an hour is too long for a two year old to sit still, but she was a trooper. And she looks adorable. I won’t do it all the time, but if it works, it might be another way to discourage her from pulling her hair out.
  • Knit Wit: Another reason I’ve been loving the observed “nap time” is because it frees up time in my evenings. And you know what I do? I pop a series on DVD in the machine and I knit. I have so many patterns and projects queued up, it makes me clap my hands like a giddy schoolgirl. And the yarn sales recently have been like crack.
  • Smile, You’re on Not-So-Candid Camera!: I am slowly getting through my backlog of Project 365 photos, and posting them equally slowly. I am determined to get all caught up by the end of the month… hardware permitting. Meh, who am I kidding. Fred has been working like a trooper, thanks to the efforts of the lovely and talented BDH. It’s MY EYES that are letting me down. I can’t help it — looking through and working with a couple hundred digital photos of an evening makes my eyeballs spin around in their sockets and then run shrieking from the room. I need a date with an eye doctor and a new pair of glasses.
  • Rolling in Dough: I don’t want to alarm anyone but I feel baked goods are in my future. Now NOBODY PANIC! I’m just thinking muffins and scones and cookies. I will stay away from bread. THE WORLD IS SAFE. FOR NOW.

Secret Recipe

Okay. So. I made bread today. With a bread maker, so you know, it’s not exactly “making” so much as “preparing and dumping ingredients” but whatever.

And I think I have discovered the secret to making good bread. Are you ready? Okay. Here it is.

HORMONES.

When I was doing my infertility treatments, hopped up to the hilt on every baby-makin’ hormone known to man, I baked. A LOT. I made all kinds of stuff. Ask Kelly, she can tell you. She was often on the phone with me as I measured and kneaded and cut. Every day, the more hormones got coursing through my system, the more I would bake. I was up to my elbows in flour and baking up a storm.

And I made good bread. Oh yes. So much tasty delicious bread-y goodness it was not to be BELIEVED. My house smelled like… well, like a BAKERY, to be honest. And it was wonderful.

But now, I am a perimenopausal lump of infertile personhood. I am not making babies, no way no how, and no amount of science could make me. The hormones? I don’t has them.

And OHMYDOG THE BREAD DISASTER.

I am currently staring at this doughy lump. Some would call it bread. I mean, if you were starving, you would call it manna and be very grateful thankyouverymuch. But it does not look like any bread that I remember from my salad days of bread. It is a knobby, dense, baked disaster of a loaf. It is not so much a loaf as a mound or a knob or a stump of bread-like substance.

It tastes fine. But it is not what I wanted to make when I set out to make bread.

I wanted a nice smooth loaf of well-risen, well-kneaded yeasty goodness. And this? Is what I did not get.

And I have decided that it is because of the hormones. Or lack thereof.

There is a correlation, I know there must be. Because this is not the bread I remember. Could it be the yeast was dead? Maybe, but it rose some, and the yeast was good well into the summer of 2011 according to the package. So maybe some of it was dead. Was the recipe bad? Perhaps. I got it from a BHG classic cookbook, so you’d think it would be tried and tested. And I followed it closely, so you’d think it should go according to plan. Is it the breadmaker, for those of you who pooh-pooh the notion of making bread in a machine and not fully by hand? Well, the recipe was specific to a breadmaker, so I took that into account. Possibly the breadmaker needs replacing? Maybe, although at least the lump is cooked, and the timer seems to have worked, and so did the kneading bit at the bottom of the pan…

And yet…? Bread lump.

So I have to blame SOMEONE. Or in this case, someTHING.

The obvious culprit is hormones. So I am blaming them. Which works perfectly fine for me, because it gives me an excuse for being extra crabby as well.

Broke and Hungry

What’s a girl to do when she has to feed a family and has little money? This is the question that has plagued stay-at-home moms — not to mention working moms, single women, their male counterparts, and just about anyone else who finds the month lasts longer than their money — since time immemorial.

Of course we’re not completely broke. And doG knows, with the size of us, we won’t starve any time soon. But money is tight in these times, like it is for everyone, particularly since it’s just after Christmas. So it’s time to start looking for some budget friendly meal options.

I’ve been on a bit of a kick today, checking out sites like the Broke Ass Gourmet, Cheap Healthy Good, A Year of Slow Cooking, and of course the ever-present Epicurious, to find some options. I love recipe sites. I get all sorts of creative urges when I go through recipes.

But it’s challenging looking at them from a budget-minded bent. Old standby items, like chicken for example, are no longer as affordable as they once were. Vegetables are tough to buy fresh because they’re out of season and are also expensive. And some of the other budget standby items just don’t work for us for various reasons.

Still, it’s a fun task if you like recipes like I do. We love food, there’s no denying it, so the prospect of discovering and cooking up something new is always interesting to me.

And ohmydoG, I collect recipes like a fiend. I have an addiction. It’s not pretty. I need to get some sort of efficient way to catalogue these things. I have software, it’s just the time to go through them and enter them into the software that I lack.

But I am game to try some new things. Soups, vegetarian options, things cooked in wonton wrappers and pastry parcels — I’ll give them a go.

But you know what the biggest issue is for me? Bear in mind that I am as cheap as cheap can be. So it’s not the seeking-out of budget recipes that bothers me. Nor is it the planning menus, or the shopping for these items.

It’s the looming “OMG WHAT IF IT SUCKS OR IF BDH HATES IT AND I HAVE TO THROW IT OUT” possibility. He has no problem letting me know (nicely of course; more as a way of learning from things than anything) when something we (or I) have made is not to his taste. Which happens occasionally.

For a cheapwad like me, perish the thought of throwing out perfectly good food! So what if BDH hates it? I’ll eat it all myself!! So what if it’s inedible?? I’ll choke it down!!

Or, the worst of all: “I’LL JUST HAVE IT FOR LUNCHES, JUST LET ME PUT IT IN THE FREEZER…” Where it sits. Untouched. FOR YEARS.

Yeah. I can’t throw it out. Even if I can’t eat it.

So I really have to learn to not only choose recipes that are easy on the budget, but with little possibility of failure. Therein lies my challenge. A fun challenge, but one that’s going to take some time and energy.

At least That Baby is easy to please. When all else fails, puree some frozen veggies and follow that with some yogurt and she is as happy as Larry. But you just know, when she starts really and truly eating what we eat… the rules of the game are going to change again.

Better get those recipes organized sooner rather than later, methinks.

Doro Wat, the Peevish Way

Okay, since Kelly asked, here is our recipe for doro wat. (Goodness knows I got this from somewhere, it’s not like I came up with it by myself — but I don’t remember where, so it will have to be uncredited.)

Doro wat is a traditional Ethiopian chicken stew that is usually served on special occasions with a sour, tangy sort of flatbread/pancake called injera. We don’t like injera much, so we serve it over rice instead. Also, we are not fans of meat with bones in this house, so our recipe is done with boneless skinless cuts of chicken, whereas it is traditionally done with bone-in chicken.

Also, it requires an Ethiopian spice mix called berbere. It’s something we had to hunt around for, living as we do in the wilds of whitebread southern Ontario, but we ended up finding it at an African restaurant in the city where BDH works. But if you live near some ethnic foodstores, you could start your quest there.

It’s very hot — as in, spicy hot. We love spicy. So if you don’t like spicy food, move along… or try experimenting by cutting back on the spices.

Doro Wat

1 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into smaller pieces
1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into smaller pieces
3-4 tbsp lemon juice (myself, I just grab a bottle of lemon juice and use a big healthy squirt or two)
2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
2-3 onions (If you like onions, go for more. If they make you farty — hey, it can be a problem! — maybe 2 is enough.)
3+ cloves garlic
2 tbsp fresh grated ginger
1/4 c butter
2 tbsp paprika
2 tbsp berbere powder
1 ½ tsp cayenne pepper
1/4c red wine
3/4c chicken broth
8 hardboiled peeled eggs (optional)

Sprinkle the salt and pepper on the chicken pieces. Put the chicken in a large ziplog bag with the lemon juice. Let the chicken marinate in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Put the onions, garlic and ginger in a food processor. Blend into a paste.

In a large pot, heat the butter over medium heat. Add the paprika and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Add the berbere powder and cayenne and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. (This step can be a little smoky, so put the range fan on.)

Add the onion puree to the butter and spice mixture and cook on medium heat for 5 minutes. (This step will make your eyeballs fall out of your head from whatever it is in onions that makes your eyes water and hurt, so leave the range fan on, for the love of doG!)

Add the wine, chicken broth, and chicken. Stir everything together. Bring the mixture to boil, then cover and simmer on low heat for 1 hour. Remove the lid and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes or until thickened. (By this point, your chicken should be tender and falling apart into bits of tender chickeny goodness. Yum.)

If desired, add the hard boiled eggs to the pot 5-10 minutes before serving. (BDH’s favourite part is the eggs. It’s no secret. It’s supposed to be one per serving, but it doesn’t always work out that way…)

Serve over rice.

Enjoy!