It’s snowing today. It’s snowing hard. Of course, the schools in the city aren’t officially closed. But, I’ve got one kid home sick already. [Poor Bea's recovering from pneumonia.] There’s really no point in making the GROUP effort to get the other one off to school through a boot-rise of snow, especially with more coming. Hooray, Hooray, it’s Toby’s lucky day!! But what the heck are we going to do? I’ve got work to do. Bea’s isolated herself in her room to do some reading and to get a start on all of her missed schoolwork [read: play on her tablet]. And, torture of tortures on a snow day…he can’t go out and sled down the fantastic hill in our park until papa comes home!! It’s checklist time!
ON MAKING CHECKLISTS FOR INDEPENDENT PLAY
Over the past few years, my husband has gotten the kids into the good habit of making lists of fun [or necessary] things to do over the weekend. Most P.A. days and Saturdays, he’ll sit down with the kids and come up with a list of TBDs and WTDs [Want to Dos]. It’s been a real lifesaver in our household. [I started doing it on our Summer of Funner days too!] The list can serve as a structured schedule or as a loose guideline to consult when someone [or all of us] looks as it they’re about to lose their way. This morning, he helped Toby come up with a very special list of items to do on his snow day. They made their list and made sure that most of the necessary toys and supplies were within arm’s reach. It took all of ten minutes, and let me tell you it was absolutely worth the time and effort. I consider it an early Valentine.
Here’s a transcription of said inspiring manuscript :
TOBY’S SNOW DAY
- Read at least two chapters of Warriors in your room
- Do a grand prix race [with toy cars on a track] and record results on a score sheet
- Read two issues of Shogun Warriors…or finish the Saga
- Trace your 3 favourite Skylanders [on tracing paper] and then draw them in your sketchbook
- Create a story about a Raven and a Tortoise. Write it in your sketchbook.
Name your characters
Design the Characters – Draw them so you can recognize them in each picture
What do they do together?
Can they talk?
What kind of story is it? Funny? Adventure?
Do they meet for the first time or do they already know each other?
Do they meet other characters?
It should be about as long as a Frog & Toad story. One Idea: Snowy Day/Blizzard
- Be prepared to show me your five favourite or strangest super characters you never knew before [from a book of comic book heroes]
- Draw these five characters in your sketchbook
- Build a new Skylanders Giant out of Lego
Maybe use Bionicle Pieces
What type is it?
What is its name?
- Build a giant Thomas Track in the basement [haven't done that in ages]
- Learn a Deadly Checkmate [from the chess book in T's room]
- Copy out your favourite Dr. Suess poem in your BEST handwriting on lined paperCLEAN YOUR DESK ABOVE AND BELOW!
How do YOU manage?
January 21, 2012
We’ve been on a bit of a hiatus since our Advent Shadowbox 2011 extravaganza.
We thought it was about time to let you in on our Family New Year’s Resolution for 2012:
Build More Family Traditions & Strengthen The Ones Already In Place
This January, we wanted to begin by instituting or re-instituting our traditional, formal Sunday Suppers. We can’t claim to have any family china or silver of note, nor do we really care about such things. Still, we have been “prettying” things up a bit by actually ironing our cloth napkins and dolling up the table with ribbons and a smattering of half-spent candles. For the first two weeks, the meals centered around one-pot family stews. The challenge of this resolution, after all, was going to be to please the picky eaters without having to substitute hot dogs and salami from the fridge for the main course! So, for our first weekend, we decided to go French by trying Julia Child’s famous Boeuf Bourguignon. The kids like beef, so we figured it would make for a good start. I’m not a huge mushroom fan, but I found the results absolutely fantastic. (If you’re going to use an entire bottle of good red wine in a recipe, the stew better be well worth it! ) The kids did a masterful job finishing their plates. Having hit on a winner for the first week, Bea insisted, in French (so how could we deny her?), that we continue to “go French.” So, we chose to follow the proceeding recipe in Child’s book, Beef & Onions Braised in Beer, substituing a favourite bottle of German Weiss beer for the required Pilsner. The recipe calls for approximately 3 lbs of beef, and I have to say I am absolutely scandalized by how little was left in the pot for Monday night “parents’ leftovers.” That meal was miraculous. I know everyone makes a big deal about the Bourg, but seriously, this second stew is far and away the classic we’ll keep coming back to in our home. So far, so good.
This Sunday, we’ll be taking a little leave from our adventures in French stews. Since the kids were babies, we’ve always made a big fuss over Chinese New Year. It provides a second chance for resolution-making, of course. And, at least for the years in which the kids were tiny babes, it seemed a great excuse to order from our favourite Hakka Chinese place. Over the past few years, though, we’ve been doing more of our Chinese New Year cooking at home. We even have a special set of “Chinese New Year Plates” we picked up at an off-season sale several years ago. (So, this must be a big deal! The only other “seasonal” dishes we own are the ”Cookies and Milk for Santa” cup and plate from the local dollar store!)
Now, I enjoy baking (witness the Chocolate Mini-Cupcake Dragons I whipped up for the Feast, above), but I can’t say that I’m much of a chef, especially when it comes to the kinds of fantastic authentic cuisines we can find, easily enough, in local Toronto restaurants. Also, I’m incredibly wary of frying. I wish I could say this was due to health concerns. My unfortunate anxiety stems from a childhood memory: one night, as I was standing outside in our backyard, my mother ran out onto the porch, screaming over a pot of smoking oil, having burnt an entire batch of cannolli shells. So, aside from the great event of frying up my grandmother’s famous Egpplant Parm in a very shallow puddle of oil, Chinese New Year is pretty much the only occasion for which I’ll heat a few extra inches of oil in the skillet. Even so, we’ve tried to opt for low-oil options wherever possible. And we cook sans wok, as said metal belly full of joy would merely appear as kitchen decor for the remaining 364 (or, as this is a leap year, 365) days.
This weekend, the kids have been super-jazzed about the New Year. They’ve spent their Saturday making “backdrops” (see above and below) and “music” for a video drama they have planned to film about the “First Chinese New Year” – a story which includes a giant monster who is frightened away by the colour red. They’ve also ferreted out the few recipes I’ve jotted down on a few sheets of yellow legal paper over the years. The Pork Potstickers below are cribbed from a phone conversation with my step-mom from several years ago. (My thanks and, also, my apologies for this likely bastardization of the little bits of heaven I can get when I’m in Cali). I’m fairly sure the General Tso’s Chicken recipe is something I copied out of a newspaper during grad school in Chicago. (Lucy Waverman had a nice looking recipe for General Tso Sweetbreads in today’s Globe and Mail which could also be tweaked to taste.) And, the Kung Pao Shrimp is an uber-simplified version of a chef’s 3-wok recipe from a favourite restaurant that closed not long ago. We can’t claim much expertise here. But we’d love some feedback on how to improve upon and perfect these dishes!!! The recipes below will make enough food for a large Sunday Supper and anywhere from 1 to 3 nights of left-overs for a family of four.
Here’s our Festive Spread:
1 lb ground pork
1/2 bunch of green onions
12-14 water chestnuts from a can, about 1/2 the can, finely diced
2-3 tbs soy sauce
1 tbs fish sauce
2 tsp minced ginger (optional)
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp sesame oil
1 package dumpling wrappers
Vegetable oil for cooking
1/4 c rice vinegar
1/3 c soy sauce
1/4 c sliced green onions or cilantro
1 tbs sesame oil
1 tsp minced garlic (optional)
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes or siracha hot sauce to taste
1 .3-in slice fresh ginger, minced (optional)
1 tbs dark, gluten-based chinese vinegar (optional)
Mix pork, onion, water chestnuts, soy sauce, ginger (optional), garlic, sesame oil.
Season with pepper.
Place a spoonful of this mixture towards the center of one half moon/triangle of a wrapper.
Use water to slightly moisten the semi-circular or triangular edge of the half of the wrapper you have just filled.
Fold the empty half of the wrapper over and crimp or pleat the edges lightly to seal.
Stand the dumplings up so that they look like little old-ladies’ purses.
Freeze extras in batches of 16 or 20. Cook the rest.
Heat a bit of oil in a large pan (or a few pans).
Fry the dumplings for 1-3 minutes until golden brown on the bottom.
Add 1/3-1/2 cup of water to the pan, cover, and cook at medium heat for 3-5 minutes.
Remove the lid and simmer low for 1-2 more minutes.
Drain or dry on a rack or towel if so desired.
Combine all ingredients for the Dipping Sauce and serve in a bowl beside the postickers.
1 can chicken broth
3/4 c brown sugar
1/2 c soy sauce
1/3 c cornstarch
1/4 c rice vinegar
1/4 c dry white wine
1 tbs sesame oil
1/4 c water
2 tsp minced garlic
1 .2-in slice ginger, minced
orange or lemon zest (optional)
1/4 c soy sauce
3/4-1 c cornstarch
*OR OPTION TWO: salt, pepper, optional flour, and optional egg
2.5 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 bunch green onions, sliced
6-8 dried red chiles (remove seeds unless you like it hot)
1/4 c Gently Toasted Sesame Seeds or Almonds (optional)
Combine all Sauce ingredients and set aside.
Mix the Sticky Marinade in a large ziploc-style bag or glass bowl and ADD ALL CHICKEN PIECES AT ONCE.
Remove the pieces one at a time, shaking off excess marinade and setting them on a plate.
FRY OR SAUTE CHICKEN as below.
Coat chicken in salt, pepper. Optional: dredge in flour or egg and flour. SAUTE, DO NOT FRY chicken, as below.
FRY 10-12 marinated pieces of chicken at a time in a pan of 350 oil
SAUTE the marinated or flour-coated chicken in batches in a large pan lightly coated in oil.
Drain chicken on a wire rack set over a pan in a slightly warm oven.
Add a tablespoon or so of oil to a large, clean pan and cook the onions and peppers for a minute.
Add the sauce to the pan and simmer until thick enough to coat a spoon, or just a little thicker…
Add sauce to chicken to cover. Stir quickly to coat.
NEW NOTE: There might be quite a lot of additional sauce. Store to use over other recipes.
Garnish with toasted sesame seeds or almonds and additional bits of green onion if so desired.
Kung Pao Shrimp
1 lb peeled, deveined raw shrimp
1 tbs soy sauce
1 tsp rice vinegar
1 tsp water or orange juice
1 tsp corn starch
6-8 dried red chiles, sliced, seeds removed
1 tbs soy sauce
1 tbs wine or dark, gluten-based chinese vinegar
1 tbs brown sugar
2 tsp sesame oil
1-2 tsp cornstarch
1 bunch green onions
(white parts sliced thin & separated from slightly thicker-sliced greens)
2 garlic cloves, finely diced
1 .2-in slice of ginger, minced (optional)
1/2 can thin-sliced waterchestnuts leftover from the potstickers (optional)
1/2-1 cup chopped peanuts, preferably roasted (or honey roasted) and/or toasted coconut
Combine Marinade ingredients in a ziplock-style bag or bowl.
Marinate shrimp for 30 minutes.
Add 1-2 tbs oil to pan.
As oil heats just slightly, mix soy, vinegar, sesame oil, sugar, and starch in a small bowl and set aside.
Cook chiles for 1 minute.
Add marinated shrimp and cook 1 minute.
Add white onion slices, garlic, ginger, cook 1 minute.
Optional: Add sliced waterchestnuts, cook 1 minute.
Add small bowl of soy, vinegar etc to pan and cook until thick, 2-6 minutes.
Warm the nuts and/or coconut for a minute or so in a separate pan if so desired.
Plate the stir fry and garnish with green onions, peanuts and/or coconut.
DECEMBER 7, 2011
11TH DAY OF ADVENT
18 DAYS ‘TIL CHRISTMAS
SOME STORIES SAY IT’S A PALACE OF ICE AND SNOW,
OR A FACTORY, OR, AS IN BABAR’S PRJMNESWE,
AN ELABORATE UNDERGROUND NETWORK OF CAVES.
WHERE DO YOU IMAGINE SANTA’S ELVES DO ALL THEIR HANDIWORK?
DRAW YOUR OWN PICTURE OF SANTA’S WORKSHOP TODAY!
Here’s a look at today’s Advent Shadowbox insert:
Here’s a look at the Advent Shadowbox from afar: