Spring Break

I have nothing to do until September.

Of course, that’s not entirely true. I have no Coquettes shows to work on until September, but I have plenty to keep busy with. Namely, parenting, which is my favorite full time job in my work history. I love my kids, and with our two weeks of March Break now concluded my days are so much less full; I wasn’t really sure how to start this week.

The Noodle is eating solids now, and sitting up mostly unassisted. He’s so long that his five-month-old body is wearing nine-month-old clothes, and his only intelligible word is “Mama”. Every day I love him a little bit more.

Hannu spent most of the break with her dad and I while Mama S whisked Aylu away to Texas to visit Auntie Crystal who just had her third little boy. Hannu and I got to bond over crafts, books, and baby. It was such a delight to have some real one-on-one time with her. She’s an angel, and that’s no exaggeration. We spent a leisurely weekend at the Niagara house working on building a Gnome Home for Ayla’s seventh birthday, and even Daddy got in on the fun. I also took Hannah to Smock – this fabulous craft café on Roncesvalles. She had a blast, and we need to go back there soon. It’s such a peaceful space, and I felt inspired just being there. 2013-03-19 13.40.24

Ayla came back from her trip mid-week during the last week of the break. She was a fire ball, and I had to get used to her amazing energy all over again. What an incredible girl. I harnessed her power in a very fun game of “Let’s Do Spring Cleaning”. She took such pleasure in cleaning our home together, and I was seriously impressed at her attention to detail. We cleaned and cooked and had a big celebration for the Equinox and Navroz, which is the Muslim New Year.  Our menu included sautéed asparagus with butter and lemon pepper, this amazing soufflé recipe from Alton Brown and this yummy strawberry rhubarb crumble for dessert which I found on Epicurious. I would make the crumble the day before next time, because it was so much better for dessert. Ha!

2013-03-21 17.46.45I’ve always wanted a ‘Spring Tree’ to decorate, so Nekky hacked some low-sprouting branches from the maple tree in the back yard and we potted them. I then spent all day on Thursday creating ornaments with the girls, and then we decorated our tree. When Hannah and I were out on our Roncesvalles adventure we picked up some pale pink tulips and pussy willows to adorn our home. It’s really quite festive in here. I think it’s really important to honour the changing seasons in our home because I think it helps to keep these city kids connected to nature. It’s also really meditative for me; I find myself really noticing the subtle changes that are starting to occur in our neighbourhood gardens while I’m out strolling with Noodle, and I’m really appreciating each increased degree in temperature.

Spring is all about new beginnings, and this is a huge theme in our household. Our home business is getting tired, and we are craving change, and greater prosperity and adventure. What happens when it looks like the end of the road is in sight for one era, and a new road is opening up before you? The three of us grown ups are united in our dreams of travel with our children, and a lifestyle that affords us such opportunity, and we all want to be pro-active in creating our own dream life. I want the very best life for my children, and that life consists of huge horizons, adventure, family and friends, opportunities to do good for the world, and a thirst for knowledge and experience. 2013-03-21 12.15.30

We are talking about exciting possibilities, we are making plans together and dreaming together, and working together to make great things happen for our family, and the very best part is that we are doing this together.

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A Saturday in November

A particularly creative free day

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.

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.

Ramping Up to a Baking Frenzy

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 café, 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 chipotlé 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!

Nearly Over the Hump

Artichoke pendant lamp shade

This has been a mostly good week when it comes to separation anxiety. Mostly.

Monday came and went in a flurry of keeping busy, running the business, making dinner. Tuesday started out the same, but somewhere during dinner prep I thought of him and the girls and the busy noise and sweet activity of our bustling week night kitchen and then the sadness started to creep in. My lady went to baseball, and I tried to banish the sadness with books, and then this made me unconscious. I went with that, and took myself to bed early.

Today, as always, is an entirely new day and it’s a good one! I worked hard, and when my eyes were starting to cross from staring at the screen too long, I planted an herb garden on our balcony. The master bedroom has a lovely balcony that we really haven’t used, but I’m trying to turn it into a morning coffee, evening cocktail paradise.

I need a bistro table with three chairs.

I also need a handsome shade umbrella and a very sturdy stand.

Then I need some flowers that are hopefully late summer/early fall blooms.

Next summer I will tackle the rooftop patio on the third floor. Or maybe this summer, if time allows. Early autumn dinners would be lovely under the canopy of trees.

My herb collection consists of:
Flat leaf parsley
Coriander
Dill
Rosemary (I want more of that, in it’s own fragrant pot)
Tarragon
Thyme
Oregano
Basil

Sarah brought home some tomato plants that a co-worker grew from seed and they are thriving! They’ve even got little green fruits ripening on their vines.

Ella the bunny just about ravished me as I tried to carry the paper bag filled with plants through the house. She’s been very naughty since the kids and daddy have been away. Every single night she pees on me or near me, at about the same time. Her consequence has been to lose some of the freedom we’d been giving her. She never has these accidents randomly, so I think it’s some kind of weird bunny dominance behaviour. Guess what bunny? You’re gonna lose that battle.

I found some STELLAR recipes on Epicurious. What a tried and true resource that website has proven to be! For weeknight meals I always search the fast & easy section, and then sort by which meal and by rating.

On Monday night I made Chicken Breasts with Tomato Herb Pan Sauce. It was ridiculously good. I followed the advice in the reviews – more butter, some white wine, some de-glazing – and it was perfect. It was even fantastic the next day.

Last night I made Pork Tonkatsu with Watermelon Tomato Salad. This dish was all about the salad, which was so light and refreshing! The pork was yummy, but my attention was divided by a phone call, so only the first batch was perfectly cooked. Make only what you can eat, unless you plan on a sandwich the next day.

Another new favourite time-killer is pouring through Etsy. There are some birthdays and celebrations coming up, and I’ve decided to only buy gifts from that website from now on. I love it so much! We have a UPS inbox in Niagara Falls New York which only costs us about $20 a month. We visit family in Niagara-on-the-lake regularly and the inbox is just a short trip away. It’s really changed the way that I shop, and Etsy is a nice way to still support artists. I’ve decided to start featuring some of my favourite Etsy finds here too. The beautiful lampshade pictured above is a reasonable $55 and can be found here.