A to Z Blog Challenge

Just one more day left until the A to Z Blog Challenge and I have been busy trying to find time to prepare!  Baby Bear and I have been making a list, but I thought that some readers might have something they might like to see…so if you have a suggestion for a letter in the Alphabet, go ahead and leave a comment…We do have “A” for apples and appetizing!  B is for Banana and Bite…
   C is for my Crazy Cat who is desperately trying to catch the only squirrel in the neighbourhood (and they are an invasive species here on the Island, so the whole neighbourhood is cheering, another C, him on!)   Personally, I am tired of the muddy paw marks on all the white ledges in the house!  And if he succeeds, perhaps “S” will be for Squirrel (and my in-laws informed me that there is a butcher not far from here where one can purchase Squirrel…or maybe that was Rabbit…)
   D is for Dressings and Dips, and E is for Easter, because the timing is perfect!  And the rest, you will have to wait for!
Some of the blogs I follow are also diving in for the Challenge…click on the sidebar button to check out more great “A to Z” blogs…I will include a link to one in each of my entries, starting with the appropriate letter (and there are over 650 of them, so I am hoping there will be one for each letter)

And lunch today?  Stuffed Roast pork sandwiches (with salsa), cottage cheese, canned peaches (in the juice not syrup) and some “Whitewater” granola bars (wow…that was all she could say was “Wow”)…Yes, look for the recipe for those as well as some great info on “Whitewater”  Gee, I think I might have just given away another letter!

Happy Packing!

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Ginger Spice Cookies

   Given that we are on spring break (still!), I got to take my kiddos with me to the grocery store this afternoon.  After a morning of picking up fir cones, raking the yard and sorting the bottles and cans to go to the return-it depot, of course, they were “over the moon” to be heading to the grocery store with Mum.  Er, well, not so much.  However, I offered that they could share the money from returning the bottles and cans…Half of the money was going to the Sunday school World Water Day fundraiser for Japan (All the Sunday school classses at our Church are collecting water bottles and the money raised is going to the Red Cross to help people in Japan), and then they could share the other half.  But that I would only be giving it to them once we had finished the grocery shopping.
My dear daughter always wants to push the buggy when she comes shopping, so she headed off in front of us to grab one.  Once inside, I handed the list to my son and told him to tell us where to start.  He asked for a pen to cross things off, and then gave me a big grin.  (to make a long story short, it was a reasonably painless trip, although it took us almost an hour and a half to get the groceries done!)  And they were both very impressed when “they” figured out how much cheaper it was to buy the big big box of goldfish crackers for $6.99, rather than to buy 6 and a half small bags for $2.99 each….I am surprised no one asked if they could keep the difference!   My son’s eyes got very big and round when he watched the total come up on the screen.  “That is a lot of money,” he whispered to no one in particular.  “Aw, Mummy, we forgot to buy cookies!” was my daughter’s comment as the grocery bags went into the buggy (“Would you like help to your car?” the young girl at the cash asked me with a smile…”No thanks” I smiled back, but I sure like knowing that you ask, and that is why I keep coming back!).  My son looked at his sister and said, “Mum is going to make Ginger cookies when we get home instead.”

And here they are!

Ginger Spice Cookies

(original recipe from Chatelaine Magazine, December 2006 however, this is my version)  This recipe easily doubles and is great to make the night before and then chill overnight in the fridge, before baking.

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Makes 36 cookies
Line two cookie sheets with parchment (you can use oil and spray or coat if you don’t use parchment)
1 cup (250ml) all purpose flour
1 cup (250ml) whole wheat or fine grind spelt flour
2 tsp (10ml) baking soda
1 tsp each (5ml each) cinnamon, and ginger
1/2tsp (2ml) nutmeg
1/4tsp (1ml) salt
1 egg
3/4 cup (175ml) olive oil
1/4 cup (55ml) molasses
1 cup (250ml) brown sugar (no packed)
1/4 cup (55ml) granulated sugar

Arrange racks in top 1/3 and bottom 1/3 of the oven.

In medium bowl, whisk flours, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and salt.  In a  large bowl of a standing mixer, combine egg, oil and molasses.  Beat on medium until well combined.  Add brown sugar and beat until fluffy, if using applesauce, add now and beat until fluffy.  Gradually add flour mixture and beat on medium-low until well combined.  At this point, if you are making ahead, cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a clean tea towel and place in fridge until ready to use.  Allow to warm up 10 minutes or so before baking.
Place granulated sugar in a small bowl or on a saucer.  Using a small food scoop or tea spoon, scoop off a small amount and roll between hands to make a ball.  Roll ball in sugar and then place on parchment.  Continue with remaining dough, placing balls at least 4 cm apart on cookie sheets.
Bake on two racks, switching sheets halfway through baking (around 4 minutes).  Continue baking until edges are set and cookies begin to crack, 7-10 minutes.  Remove cookie sheets to cooling racks, and allow cookies to cool 6-7 minutes on sheets (they will be easier to remove), then remove to racks and allow to cool completely.  Store in covered container 5-7 days.  Freeze for up to 1 month.

My son was very pleased to see these come out of the oven!  My suggestion with these cookies is to make a double batch, and freeze half right away, so there will be some for lunches!
At bedtime tonight, my son gave me back his half of the bottle money.  “I think it should all go to the water fundraiser, “he whispered, “Haruka might need water where she is and I don’t want her to be thirsty.”
Yes, he is my honey.

Happy Packing!

 

Creating your lunch box pantry (Pantry renovation Part I)

   Spring Break started around our house this time last week.  And it continues until next Sunday at this time!  Yes, we are blessed (or so some would say) with two weeks of Spring vacation this year.  In light of the two week break, I opted to take one week off from Daycare as well.  So, my Spring Break has just started!
    One of the things that I try to do each time I have some down time is pick something around the house to organize, or de-clutter!  This time it is the Pantry.  My goal is that when we go back to making lunches next week, that things will be organized so that even my 9 year old son can get himself organized to make his own lunch.
   The first thing we did was sort out the lower cupboard where the granola bars and protein bars and what-not are stored.  This cupboard has a drawer that rolls out and is low enough for the kids to get into without help.  Using two vegetable bins (you can find them at Walmart or Zellers or Target), we created a space for bars (of all sorts) and a space for packages of crackers and rice cakes and individual fruit cups and apple sauces.  On this same shelf, there is room for a package of juice boxes and some larger unopened containers of mandarin oranges and applesauce as well as extra jars of peanut butter and honey and jam.  This way if the current jar ends up empty, we will have less of a chance of someone having to holler, “Is there anymore peanut butter?”  
   Next thing we did was move the containers of dried fruit (raisins and apricots, we left the dried cranberries in the baking cupboard) into the same cupboard with the granola bars and crackers and such.  Duncan also found a container for the cashews, and another one for the almonds, that were sitting on a shelf in plastic bags.  He put these containers in with the dried fruit.
   Typically, we keep a good selection of fruit in the fruit bowl and then more apples and oranges in the fridge.  Cut-up veggies are usually kept in small containers on the shelves in the fridge, but they end up anywhere once inside.  Duncan asked if we could use the same kind of containers as we had used for the granola bars in the cupboard, however he soon figured out that they didn’t fit.  Those containers also did not have lids to keep the veggies from drying out.  He explained that he could never find the small containers of veggies when he wanted them.  So, instead, we found a bigger container that fit perfectly on the shelf above the fruit drawer.  We put a small container of celery inside the bigger one, and then filled up the empty space with carrot sticks.  Not everyone in our house likes celery sticks but they all like carrots.  Next, he found the container of dip and the container of vanilla yogurt and placed them on the same shelf with the box of veggies.  
   The third space we worked on was the big cutting board area that sits on the counter right beside the stove.  There is a basket there that holds the current loaf of bread or package of bagels.  Next to it, is where I keep the container or tin that holds whatever our baking is for that day or week.   Duncan went and found the spreader he likes and moved it into the knife block so it would be close to the bread.  He also moved the peanut butter, the nutella and the jar of honey from the big pantry into the spice cupboard, “Because that makes it close to the bread for sandwiches”.  And it really doesn’t matter to me if the peanut butter and such is hanging out with the vinegars, the Worcestershire sauce and the spice jars, as long as he likes it.  
   The final leg of our lunch box pantry Reno was the lunch bags, water bottles and assorted containers needed for the actual packing part.  I have the lunch bags stored in the cupboard right near the big cutting board, and he thought that was great, but the water bottles should be there too, he told me.  So we moved them.  Next, Duncan went downstairs and a few minutes later reappeared with a plastic basket in his hands.  He proceeded to remove a variety of lunch containers from the drawer where we keep those sorts of things (as well as all the other smaller Tupperware type stuff, and assorted plastic plates and cups and extra bits for water bottles, sippy cup lids etc) and put them into the plastic basket.  He then stored the basket on the shelf below the lunch bags and water bottles.  Very impressive.  I didn’t bother to ask him where we should store the half bag of potatoes, two red onions and the butternut squash that he had taken out of the cupboard to make room for the basket.  I guess that is my part of the re-organizing project.
    “Hey, Mum…Do you think I could make lunch?  Well, it could be kinda like a ‘practice’ lunch, just to make sure that everything has a good spot.  Can I?”
“Sure. As long as you eat everything you make.”
Tomorrow, I owe you all the recipe for the Ginger Molasses cookies!
Until then, happy packing!

Earthquake Emergency Preparedness at Home

 It is a bit of a running joke amongst members of my family when they visit our home…”Nobody gonna go hungry in this house any time soon!”  I don’t know how often I have heard my parents mutter this phrase over the years.
Well, in my defense, I do feed upwards of 10-12 people over the course of a given day, and my experience is that those said people like when there is food in the house!  However, it could also be said that I could feed the whole neighbourhood for a week if I had to.
So, when I began to prepare my “Emergency Preparedness Plan” for Daycare (all licensed facilities in BC are required to prepare and maintain both a full emergency kit as outlined by the BC government and a full facilitiy Emergency Plan for a variety of Situations), the food part was easy!  As was much of the “kit”, due to the fact that as a family we do our share of camping and therefore have things like a camp stove and fuel, a large selection of flashlights, wind-up radios and flashlights, extra blankets, first aid, water and so on (visit Canada’s emergency preparedness website for a full list of items both necessary and suggested, www.getprepared.gc.ca ).
But last Friday, in the wake of the horrific events unfolding in Japan, and then a Tsunami alert announced for much of Vancouver Island, as well as just about all of the Coastal areas of the Pacific Ocean, I spent a good part of the day and into the weekend, thinking about our emergency kit and plans, and went looking for holes.  I discovered that I only knew for certain where one flashlight was (without going into the emergency kit in the Trailer or the shed); that there were no toothbrushes in the “to-go” bags, and that it was time to replace the water (12 litres each for 10 people!).  The next thing I did (which might sound strange to some folks) was start making a list of what we would eat as we worked our way through three days stuck in the house.  I plan to stick a copy of this list into the emergency kit as well as tape one to the shelf in the crawl space where we keep much of our bulk pantry items. 
One of the things to remember, if you are in a situation where you can cook (either on your gas bbq outside or over a camping stove), begin by using the food in your fridge or your freezer.  The first day, the food in your fridge will still be good, but you will need to cook it that day.  The next day, the food in your freezer (as long as you have not been opening the door of the freezer) will still be good, but again, you will have to ensure that you can cook it!  Just remember that any food that would need to be refridgerated after cooking (so those leftovers you would normally use for lunches!) need to be eated up that same day.  By the second morning, you will be ready to move on to your dry goods, as well as any bread or baking that is in your freezer.
Some suggetions for Emergency meals at home that don’t require heat (for when you run out of gas for the bbq or the camp stove, or if you don’t have access to either of those items): Dry cereal with tetra pak milk or canned milk, or powdered milk if you have that much water.  If it is the first day, you may have some yogurt to use up in your fridge.  Eat the fresh produce you have in the house like bananas or berries, save apples for the end as they have a much longer shelf life.  Use up any lettuces you might have on that first day, and have a salad with canned tuna or sardines, and some cheese.  Canned, ready-to-eat soups can be eaten cold, and if you are feeding more than one person, it is great to lower the sodium of these items by using no-salt-added canned tomatoes, to the soups to stretch them to feed a group of four or six.  Canned fruit is a great way to get vitamin c and fibre into everyone, so keep things like canned pineapple, mandarins, applesauce and fruit cocktail in your emergency food kit.  Dried fruit, like raisins and cranberries or apricots are great sources of fibre.  Canned or bottled 100% juice is good too.  Be sure and add some low or no-salt canned vegetables to your kit.  Things like canned peas, corn and beets are full of nutrition and can be eaten cold as long as you remember to include a manual can opener.  Packaged oatmeal cookies or granola bars are great if you are stuck in the house, but also if you get told you have to leave, these are things that can travel well to your next destination.  Energy bars are good too, but often need to be eaten with water or juice.
Something else to think of when you are preparing your emergency food kit, include some candy or chocolate bars (altho these need to be eaten up about every 3 o 4 months as they don’t have a long shelf life).  Fruit gummies are great for the kids, and (as will the colouring books and crayons and story books) will help them feel like things are sort of normal (unless of course, you never give them those!), just like when you tell them to go and brush their teeth after they have eaten them ! (because you remembered to include toothbrushes and toothpaste in your emergency kit!)

Thanks for stopping by!
Happy Packing!

http://www.pep.bc.ca/hazard_preparedness/prepare_now/prepare.html

Tasty Lunch box treats

Yum Yum Yum!  Who doesn’t love to find something sweet and homemade tucked into their lunch?  I bake a lot, although apparently not often enough, given that there is “nothing” to eat again.  We have a few regulars (altho none made currently!  Just our regular recipes): banana bread, pumpkin loaf, blueberry-spelt muffins, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and ginger molasses cookies.  Oh yes, and applesauce cake.  All recipes that have been tweaked enough that I feel good about my kids eating any of them for breakfast!  Whole grains, fruit, low in fat and many with added yogurt to increase calcium and protein.  But, every once in a while, I hear my mother’s voice in my head saying, “Oh gee whiz, can’t we just make something without worrying about whether it is good for us or not?  Just make it with white flour for a change.”
So, last night, I set out to do just that…I had found a fabulous recipe for Chocolate chip cookies on The Sisters Cafe.  I loved Melanie’s tips for making cookies, especially the one about making big cookies!  So, I printed the recipe and headed for the kitchen.  My kids were going to be so thrilled, Mum was going to make BIG Chocolate Chip Cookies.  I stood in front of the baking side of the pantry, reading through the recipe.  Well, there it was, the first problem.  The recipe called for 2 cups (less 2 TBSP) of cake flour.  Okay, yes, I had cake flour, but it was whole wheat Cake flour.  Oh well, whole wheat would have to be it, as I wasn’t heading to the grocery store at 8:30 at night.  Next item?  1 2/3 cups of bread flour…eh mm…I know, you have already figured out problem number two…Baking soda, baking powder, coarse salt.  Got em all.  Butter?  Yes sir.  Probably should add a little extra given all the whole wheat flour.  Sugar…1 1/4 cup light brown sugar…Nope, gonna have to be “Best Brown”  which is lovely and rich and in no way “light” in colour.  And we will have to increase the brown sugar just a little, because I have just discovered that there is almost no white sugar left.  Perhaps there is some left in the sugar bowl?  Eggs: well, we have one large and many many extra large.  Since I have used whole wheat flour, I figure that the cookies can handle one large egg and one extra large egg, and I make a note to remember to go the long way after school the next day and hope that the egg stand has eggs left when we get there!
Vanilla extract?  Got it!  (2 large bottles in fact…Friends keep going to Mexico and bringing it back for me.  I am so spoiled!)
And, no we don’t have any fancy 60%  cacao chocolate disks…Hershey’s Chippits are going to have to do.
I can feel my Super Mum star slipping away before it even rises…Must make BIG cookies!  That should overshadow the whole wheat flour…That and lots and lots of chocolate chips (and why not?  The recipe calls for 1 1/4 lbs!)
So, I make up the dough (and it makes a lovely dough, in spite of the whole wheat flour!)…stick it into the fridge (chill for a minimum of 12 hours, ideally 36 hours).  If I left chocolate chip cookie dough in the fridge for 36 hours in this house, there would be none left at the end to make cookies!  12 hours it will be.
Then, I slept in this morning!  Nothing to get into a panic about, however, it doesn’t leave any time for baking cookies before going to school.  So, lunch treats were: yogurt (the vanilla plus kind that tastes like pudding, because Thrifty’s has it on special: 3 big containers for $7.00), carrot sticks and cucumber rounds, apples, and granola bars…Both kids are looking for strawberries, but I explained that those went in their lunches the day before.  “What about the cookies, Mum?”  “They aren’t finished yet, we can make them tonight.”  And I successfully distract them with scrambled eggs and toast.
After supper tonight, I got the dough out of the fridge and set about making some BIG cookies.  Until I got out the 1/3 cup measuring spoon and took a really good look at it.  Those are going to be REALLY BIG cookies.  And I couldn’t do it.  Ended up, I got out my “large” food scoop (really an ice cream scoop with a fancy name), and used that (I think the measurement of it is close to a 1/4 cup).
Turns out the large food scoop was the perfect size, and the cookies got rave reviews (including some chocolate smiles because of all the chocolate chips). So yummy! “Mummy, they’re so big!”  my daughter said and my son wanted to know if he could take them in his lunch.  “I guess so, ” I said.  “I won’t tell my teacher”  he smiled.  Apparently, my children didn’t even notice the whole wheat flour…
I will make sure and pack him some extra carrot sticks to hide the cookie with!
And for lunch tomorrow, my lovelies will enjoy leftover quiche and salad, as well as their BIG cookies!
Happy Packing!

To enjoy the Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies, find the recipe at
http://sisterscafe.blogspot.com/2011/03/secrets-to-perfect-chocolate-chip.html

International Women’s Day

And I am thinking about my Gran.  What an amazing woman.  She was a daughter, a baby sister, a Mum, an aunty, a friend and the Best Gran ever.  She ran her house with the fierce pride of a mother bear, and fed everyone who came through the door (mostly the back one!).  She loved to dance and to ski, and had the most beautiful gardens I have ever seen.  But mostly, she was always there: when her kids came home from school, when her husband came home from work, when her grandchildren came to stay.  And as Grandpa said, “She’s the boss”.
Thank you, Gran!

The litterless lunch

   So, you have raided your pantry, consulted with all the likely suspects, created a menu that everyone thinks they will eat (or not!  But that is the way it goes…), and made your list.  Now, you are off to the grocery store.  But wait!  Before you start through those doors…Are you ready?  Sure, of course you are.  But are you really ready…If you bring your children with you when you shop, then you know what I am talking about…”Oh please, can you buy?”…”But everyone else gets them!”…”Pleeeeease!”
   Grrrr…it is enough to make me turn around right there, without a single item.  Yes, we have done it, left a full grocery cart in front of customer service….I always apologize to the cashier working at the customer service desk and ask where is a good place to leave the buggy, since “we” won’t be staying to finish our shop.  They smile apologetically and  are more than gracious as I leave, dragging two screaming children out to the car.  But I digress, as that no longer happens, because my children truly understand when I say, “Should we just leave now?”, it means that we just might!
   Fortunately, both my children had the same grade one teacher ( she is a wonderful woman, who has three just-grown boys, and really “gets” kids), and therefore, both learned from her what a “litter less” lunch is.  “It means that our yogurt should be in one of those Tupperware containers, you know, the ones with the coloured lids?  And we should bring a regular kitchen spoon, not a plastic one.”  And we are not allowed to bring our sandwiches in baggies (what is a “baggy”, Mum?), we should get a container that you wash afterwards.  Madame says that there are lots of them at Value Village, can we go?”…And a water bottle that we can refill at the water fountain in the classroom, not juice boxes, and you remember, we aren’t allowed to bring pop, right, Mum?”…(Pssst, she doesn’t let us drink pop, except when Mr and Mrs Krall come over, she isn’t gonna put it in our lunch!)…And I smile and open the container drawer in the kitchen, “Why don’t you see what we have in here first, before we go all the way to Value Village?”  And it is incredible what they find…All those things the teacher mentioned, including a Spider man sandwich box (“Oh yeah!  I forgot about this one!”),  a couple of Lunchbots, a Tiffin, some Tupperware yogurt containers and about a half dozen water bottles…
   So, armed with the wisdom of “Madame”, my seven year old and I head to the grocery store, and as we enter the produce section, she instantly spies the mini packs of “baby-cut” carrots.  “You know, Mum, this is creating a lot of garbage.  We can make the same snack at home if you buy the big big bag of carrots and then peel them and cut them up and put them into a container.”…Really?  Sounds good.  She hovers over the small (and I mean tiny!!) container of raspberries, mesmerized for a moment.  Then she recovers and says, “It’s not raspberry season, so we shouldn’t buy these.  Besides, they probably came from…from Hawaii or something”…Oh, okay.  “What about apples?”  I ask.  “Apples are an excellent snack, so are bananas.  Really healthy and they have their own wrappers!”  She pauses, wrinkling her brow in thought, “And we have a compost bucket in our class, so I don’t have to bring the core home.  Compost is good for the garden, you know.  You could put your coffee grounds in too.”
…Our shopping trip continues up and down each aisle, each one creating similar conversation.  How the big box of crackers is better than buying those little cheese and cracker things, references to homemade soups and big containers of yogurt (“But you’ll have to buy two, because Daddy likes blueberry and I like vanilla.”)
We are just about to the checkout, when she spies me passing the aisle with the pop and chips.  “Mummy!  You’re forgetting something….”  She is giving me that, I’m-smarter-than-you-are look, and points down the aisle.
   “What?”  I ask.
   “Mr. and Mrs. Krall are coming for dinner tonight, and you promised-”  “Yes, you can have ginger ale”.  I roll my eyes and she gleefully grabs a big bottle of ginger ale.  “Thank you!”

Not all our shopping trips are as peaceful as this one, but it is good to know that those conversations hold enough meaning for her to repeat them at home.  And giving them that sort of knowledge makes it easier when you say “no” to things like those pre-packaged lunches or cute little packages of cookies.  All of a sudden, you are empowering them to make a difference and do something good for the Earth, which feels better to children than just thinking their Mum or Dad or Grandma is being mean and doesn’t want to buy “fun” stuff for thier lunches.  Of course, right now, we are having the fight about how she’s been using the same lunch bag forever!

Happy Packing!

A great place to find Litterless lunch packing items :www.noplastics.ca