Ramping Up to a Baking Frenzy

Baking christmas cookies

The girls’ Winter Fair is this coming weekend and it’s an all-encompassing epic of tastes and sights and smells. Run almost entirely by the parents, it’s also a tonne of work, but oh-so rewarding!

Today we head back to my home town to help my mom with her holiday baking. The girls have the day off school while the parents descend and begin the transformation. My mom’s been largely successful battling breast cancer over the last month and a bit, and we want to help make the holidays less exhausting by lending several hands, especially the tiny kind. I wish we could get home more often, but our schedules have been mad, so I’m looking forward to this day.

We’re making these pecan tassies, which are a holiday favorite. We add a little garnish of drizzled chocolate and chopped red and green maraschino cherries to make them a bit more Yule-tidy. They are decadent, and we’re for sure bringing them to the Fair. Mama S and I also prepped a batch of sugar cookie dough last night for the girls to play with. It’s just not as much fun without cookie cutters or decorations, and I want this to be as much for them as it is for grandmere. Those cookies will be for our home, and for friends visiting home. We’ll also be tackling my aunt Jackie’s famous molasses crackle cookies, which I LOVE. I don’t have the recipe, it’s still in storage with all of my books, but I’ll add it this weekend after I get it from my mom. Dunked in hot coffee, they’re a little bit of heaven. Mama S is going to whip up a batch of her chocolate chip cookies, which are easily the best I’ve ever tried.

N will be making several loaves of bread. Everyone goes nuts for his bread, no matter what type he chooses to make. The man has a gift, I swear. If he lets me, I’ll post his recipes, or better yet, I’ll have him write a post complete with tips.

We’re also down for a huge batch of this lentil kale stew which we’ll have to make with collard greens because the grocery store was all out, and this AWESOME mac and cheese for the cafĂ©, where everyone can buy lunch and breakfast. I’ve been adding a whole head of roasted garlic to the kale stew recipe for added flavour, and I’ve axed the chipotlĂ© from the mac and cheese, and added some Parmesan to the bread crumb topping.

I love this time of year. I’ve been working on a list of potential hand made gift ideas, thanks to my friend Martha (Stewart, of course). I just wish I had more free time!

Rainy Sunday

The carnage left at Holy Chuck

I have the cold that wouldn’t die. So does Mama S, who is now on her third week of coughing. My 9:00 am sleep in was much appreciated this morning, and my plan is to remain in my pajamas until I have to leave the house for production meetings and rehearsal later. In fact, if I’m really clever, I’ll figure out a pajama-like outfit to spend the rest of the evening in.

Holy Chuck was quite the experience last night. I found most of the menu actually impossible to eat – six layers of beef patties sandwiched by layers of grilled cheese for example. I got their jr burger with bacon, cheese, and caramelized onions because I couldn’t imagine eating more beef than that. They grind their meet on site, and it’s all locally raised and never frozen. I could taste the difference. We paired our burgers with a pile of poutine (hand cut French fries of course) and hand cut sweet potato chips with chipotle mayo. Yum. The burger was perfectly cooked, and kind of melt-in-my-mouth amazing. N got a few more toppings than I would have liked, so if we go back I think I’ll try it a bit more paired down. After our meal I was totally satisfied, and didn’t feel disgusting. The shakes there were ridiculous. Made with locally produced ice cream, our Strawberry Cheesecake shake was about 90% ice cream and had chunks of cheesecake and graham crust within. Johnny, the owner, recognized N immediately and was very gracious and warm. He even let us sample a complimentary dessert soon to be added to the menu – cookie dough wrapped in bacon and deep fried, served over vanilla ice cream drizzled with pure maple syrup and dusted with Belgian chocolate shavings. After that, I needed to crawl to the car. Glad to have lycra clothing for that visit. There’s a great debate about whether Holy Chuck can stand up to The Burger’s Priest, and since we’ve never been to the Priest, it will be a destination for a future Free Day. Consider it a research project.

I’m looking forward to this evening, though it means having to tear myself away from our cozy home. Some of you know that I’m the Artistic Director of Les Coquettes Cabaret, which is a theatre company I co-founded seven years ago. We’re working on our December 11th Holiday show which we’re performing at our Toronto home, Revival. I really love show prep, and we’re working on some exciting plans for the coming year. We’re also rehearsing our New Year’s Eve show for the Sanderson Centre which will be the largest theatre we’ve performed at to date. Exciting times all around. I’m mostly really grateful to finally find myself in a place where I really enjoy going to work.

The fam is presently piled on the sofa with N’s mum watching the BBC series ‘Life’. The kids are enthralled, and it’s conjuring such great memories of how much I used to love watching nature shows with my dad. The girls are presently caught up in the drama of the giant octopus, who lays 100,000 eggs and holes herself up for six months to nurture and protect them, not eating a thing. As they hatch, the mother dies of starvation, and her final sacrifice is the baby octopus first meal – their mom becomes a feast. The girls take it all in stride – A is explaining it all to us as the story unfolds. She’s seen it before, and it’s stuck with her, but she is nonplussed by the drama.

The week ahead is busy. In fact all are, leading up to the holidays. Our home business is hectic at this time of year, the school is filled with activity, and Les Coquettes doesn’t stop until the spring, as far as I can tell. I need to find a kick ass mac and cheese recipe that I can make in massive quantity for the kids’s Winter Fair cafe. Suggestions are most welcome.

A Saturday in November

One of our more creative Free Days

It’s the perfect kind of November day for a Saturday. A day typically spent indoors should be one that is gray and relatively unappealing. This combination of chill temperatures and somber skies makes it very easy to focus.

Our Saturday morning ritual has become something I look forward to. N and I get up early with the girls, who have started classes on Saturday mornings. Mama S sleeps in after a long week of commuting to and from her job. After the girls are dropped off, N and I scoot to the nearby Second Cup where we grab a warm beverage and find a cozy corner to sit with our laptops and catch up on work, or catch up on writing, or catch up on the myriad frivolities of the Internet. We’ve got a couple of solid hours of “me” time before we gather up the girls and head home. Then we work as a crew to clean our home, which leads us usually to the dinner hour.

The grown ups in our home are trying to follow Timothy Ferriss’ ‘The Four Hour Body’ and Saturday has become our ‘free day’. Six days of careful food choices are capped with one day where we can eat anything our hearts desire. We’ve made the girls a part of this too – very carefully. We explain that we take care of our bodies by choosing to eat very healthy and exercise, and then on ‘free day’ we can enjoy some treats that might be less healthy. We aren’t the kind of parents who restrict foods from them though. We try to maintain a healthy, balanced diet for them rich in protein, but if the occasion for a treat arises, and good nutrition has been a big part of their day, then it’s usually a ‘yes’.

I’ve discovered in my own quest for healthier living that education and temperance are key. I like food plans that make sense and are easy to maintain, and I have learned to be forgiving of myself if I can’t stay on track. N and I are fortunate because we work from home, so we aren’t constantly tempted by fast food options or social indulgences. We have also been successful at building a morning work out into our schedule. For Mama S, who works out of the house, it’s a bit more of a challenge to stay consistent, but she’s genetically blessed with amazing muscle mass and so, in my opinion, is ahead of the curve.

Today’s indulgence will be a grown-ups only dinner at Holy Chuck. while the girls are spending time with N’s mom. I’ve been craving poutine all week, and it was high on my list for free day. N met the owner of Chuck and Co. at a foodie dinner this week and it didn’t take much to sell Mama S and I on the idea of burgers and gravy smothered fries.

Free day will become our biggest day for recipe sharing I think. We tend to be our most creative then. Last week, for example, we spent the entire day working together on this Epicurious Chicken Pot Pie. It literally took the ENTIRE DAY to make, but we all love being in the kitchen, so with some great tunes and a glass or two of wine, it was a pleasure. If you are less inclined to devote your day to cooking, I recommend breaking the recipe up and prepping it over a couple of days. The dough and the chicken broth can be made ahead. This was the very best chicken pot pie I have ever tasted in my entire life. I cut the sage by half because Mama S isn’t a big fan, and N was worried that the dough was too sticky, but we went with it and it turned out perfectly! I did notice the potatoes could have been a bit more pre-cooked before baking in the pie, and I truly recommend you read this recipe ahead of time as there are lots of steps. We managed to smash this with the help of N’s mum and brother, and the girls were rather disappointed to have nothing left for Monday lunch. Next time, we’ll make two!

I’m starting to get all Christmasy. It’s my favorite time of year, and I really want to make it special for our family, even though none of us are particularly Christian. I love the warmth of the season though, and all of the cooking, baking, making, sharing, presents, delicious aromas, etc. We have a couple of holiday traditions that we look forward to all year long:

1. The Ross Petty Pantomime

We took the girls as a family for the first time last year, and they continued to talk excitedly about the show for an ENTIRE YEAR afterward. I’ve worked in theatre for my entire adult life, and the shows are a real delight for all ages. Campy goodness, shameless gags, singing, dancing – they have it all. We got to enjoy the show last night. This year was inspired by the Wizard of Oz and A (our 5 and a half year old) got pulled up on stage where she unflinchingly charmed everyone before a crowd of easily a thousand people. Earlier, she turned around coyly in her seat and batted her eyes at a fourteen year old boy who gave her a peanut M&M without her even having to ask. Mama S says she takes after me. Our dear friend Ming Wong works as a costume cutter for the Panto, so she was able to hook us up with a mind-blowing friends and family discount, but the evening is great entertainment and silly fun, so I think we’d go regardless. It made H (our 8 year old) belt out her Snoopy laugh several times, and that itself is worth the admission.

2. The Winter Fair

Each December the girls’ school puts on a fund raising event called the Winter Fair. It’s a collaborative effort made possible by the labours of the parents and teachers, and it is absolutely magical. The school is totally transformed into a Winter Wonderland and with games, and crafts, and puppet shows, and delicious food to fill the day it’s a highlight of the year for all of the school community. I’m trying to lure some of our friends with wee ones to the fair this year.

November has consistently been a challenging time of year, where I find myself battling old sadness, where big unsettling changes tend to happen, and where the shift into the bluster of Autumn can make me feel really small and uncertain. I’m learning that embracing this shift towards quiet, inward turning is empowering and I’m learning that creating warmth and love in the form of mulling spices and chimney smoke is almost as powerful as sunshine.

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