April 2014

When I was a kid, my dad did a fair bit of overnight traveling for work. I always knew my dad was on an out of town road trip when I smelled the unmistakeable odour of cabbage being boiled for dinner. My mom and granny loved it; my dad couldn’t stand even the smell of it cooking. I therefore called it a victory of considerable magnitude when we had my folks over for dinner recently and he not only didn’t hate the cabbage side dish I’d made with meatloaf – he actually liked it.

I had never cooked cabbage before this year. I neither liked nor disliked it as a kid so I never bothered to try cooking it or even paying much attention to it. I knew I liked coleslaw and cabbage rolls, though, and knew it was a fundamental ingredient in both. It turns out cabbage is an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin C, and vitamin B6. It is also a very good source of manganese, dietary fiber, potassium, vitamin B1, folate and copper, and weighs in at a hefty 22 calories per cup. (That’s about the same as one twisty snack pretzel!)

But you know what I love the very most about cabbage? You can fry it up with bacon, garlic and onions and have the world’s best side dish. My friend Danielle recommended this recipe not too long after Christmas and I’m sure we’ve had it at least twice a month, maybe more, ever since. The smell of garlic and onions frying in rendered bacon fat is a thing of beauty, and despite being fried in bacon fat the sheer volume of low-calorie cabbage turns this dish into a reasonably nutritious, low-calorie AND flavourful option. This is the dish that I want to cook up for Sobeys #PotluckChallenge for Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution Day!

(Remember I mentioned it last week? The Better Food for All site is now live – you can now register your potluck event and to share tips and tools to host the perfect potluck event. And through it all, Sobeys will be donating to the Children’s Aid Foundation in support of cooking workshops for kids across Canada. And don’t forget to visit the Food Revolution Day site, too. Food Revolution Day is coming up two weeks from this Friday on May 16!)

So, back to the recipe – I streamlined and tweaked it a bit from the link above. Here’s how it rolls in my kitchen. Chop up three, or six, or however many you have available, strips of bacon and set them up to cook in a really big pot over medium heat. While the bacon is cooking and rendering, spend an inordinate of time cursing and trying to peel several cloves of garlic (seriously, there must be a trick to peeling garlic that I am missing. Help?) and decide that three cloves is better than the six you were aiming for, and chop that up with half an onion or so. When the bacon is mostly crispy, about 10 minutes or so, pour most of the fat into a jar without pouring it all over the outside of said jar (I am still perfecting this part) but don’t be too fussy about getting it all out. Put the pot with the bacon and a little bit of the fat back on the burner and dump in the garlic and onions. Give it all a good stir and wait for the magic.

While you are waiting for the alchemy, cut up the cabbage and swear that one day you will replace the ridiculous child’s toys that are your kitchen knives. I cut mine into strips that are small enough that they aren’t coleslaw candidates but not so large I can’t stuff a lot of them into my mouth at once. Avoid the core of the cabbage – you’ll have more than enough to fill your pot, trust me! Right about now take a deep whiff of the heavenly aroma that is the garlic and onions carmelizing in the bacon fat. There is no smell better in my kitchen, ever. Once the onion becomes translucent, maybe 5 or 7 minutes, start dumping the chopped-up cabbage into the pot. I dump some in and then use tongs to mix the cabbage in with the garlic, onions and bacon, then add more cabbage and mix some more, until the pot is full or I run out of cabbage. Despite the recipe, I usually only add a smallish pinch of kosher salt and that’s all – I find the bacon plenty salty and the onions and garlic give it all the flavour it needs.

If you perchance have burned the bacon to the bottom of the pot, which never happens to me regularly, don’t worry! Put a lid on the pot when you’ve crammed in as much cabbage as it can hold and let it stew in its own juices for 10 or 15 minutes, stirring frequently with tongs or a big spoon. The juice from the cabbage will soften up the flavourful burnt bits and you can scrape them into the mix as you’re cooking. Take the lid off the pot for another 10 to 15 minutes of cooking and you’re done. It is one of my favourite side dishes (goes great with meatloaf or any BBQ meat) and it’s even better by itself for lunch the next day, cold or warmed up. Best part? The kids eat it!!!!

Since I loved that dish so much I thought I would love this easy variation on the same theme – cabbage wrapped in bacon and grilled in foil on the BBQ. But meh, it was not worth trying a second time. I did expand my cabbage repertoire to include homemade coleslaw last week, though. I’ve always liked coleslaw but hate that the storebought versions have so much sugar and other things I can’t identify. This vinegar coleslaw recipe was fairly easy and I liked the tangy-ness of it.

I’m open to suggestions, though – got a family favourite coleslaw recipe to share? I personally like mine on the oil and vinegar side of the spectrum, but I am not opposed to a creamy recipe if its a keeper. Do you cook cabbage? I’d love to hear your favourite recipe or tips!

And now for the giveaway part! Thanks to our friends at Sobeys and their Better Food for All campaign, I have a $50 Sobeys gift card to share with one lucky winner. You could buy a lot of cabbage at Sobeys for $50, I’m just sayin’! Want to win? Leave a comment on this post telling me what your favourite dish is to bring to a potluck. Or are you the one who volunteers to bring the plates and napkins?

Here’s the fine print:

  1. This is a giveaway for one $50 gift card for Sobeys.
  2. To enter the giveaway, simply leave a comment on this post (not on Facebook, must appear on danigirl.ca/blog) telling me your favourite dish or item to bring to a potluck.
  3. One winner will be chosen at random from all comments posted.
  4. Everyone who “likes” Postcards from the Mothership on Facebook will get a bonus entry. (This promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook.) If you already like Postcards from the Mothership on FB, just say so in your comment.
  5. This giveaway is open only to residents of Canada, excluding residents of Quebec. (sorry!)
  6. This giveaway will run until 11:59 pm EDT on Friday May 9, 2014.
  7. If you win, you must be willing to provide your full name and address to me so I can mail you the gift card.

Thanks to Sobeys for sponsoring this one and good luck to everyone who enters. 🙂

Disclosure: The author has received consideration from Sobeys or Sobeys’ media partners in exchange for this content. Sobeys has not reviewed these claims and is not responsible for the content.


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A tale of three books

by DaniGirl on April 26, 2014 · 7 comments

in Books, Photography

Once upon a time, and for quite a long time, I harboured secret dreams of being a writer. When I was in school, I wanted to be a journalist and even applied to the journalism program at Carleton. Over the years, though, I discovered blogging, and developed a little bit more self-awareness, and fell in love with photography. The blog allowed me to write in fits and starts when the mood moved me without committing to the long form of a book (I always saw myself as more of a short story writer anyway) but still scratch the itch that was my need to tell stories. The self-awareness revealed that not only do I have the attention span of a flea, while I love the act of writing, I am not really a writer in my soul. The photography gave me an outlet even more powerful and more intoxicating than writing to tell the stories I wanted to tell.

I hold books to be sacred things. If I were to think of a single thing that has most influenced who I am, what I believe, how I dream and what I love it do, that thing would be books. While I am content with the idea that I will probably never actually write a book, I am deeply and madly honoured to have been associated with not one, not two, but THREE books in the last month or so. You’ll have to pardon the hyperbole. I’m so excited that I’ve even regressed to typing two spaces after my periods.

The first book I want to tell you about is a book of poetry. It’s being published by a small literary press in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and the poet is a young New Englander named Brian Simoneau. The publisher found my photo of Watson’s Mill on Flickr and sent me a note asking if they could use it. It’s not represented by Getty, so I negotiated a fair price – including a vanity copy for me and one for the Mill! – and we had a deal. I haven’t seen the final layout yet, but this is the photo they will be using:

Foggy Mill

Neat, eh? The publisher has promised me a mock-up of the cover soon, and the book will be available in September. I’ll share when I have them.

The second book was written by the person who posted the very first ever comment on this blog. Dean Dad, recently linked to his alter-ego Matt Reed, has been blogging just a little bit longer than me but has engaged a huge audience over the years with his blog Confessions of a Community College Dean. We became friends and kept in touch over the years, bonded by a shared appreciation of the wonders of parenting and the absurdities of working in a bureaucratic environment. Or maybe it was the wonders of bureaucracy and the absurdity of parenting?

Regardless, I just found out recently that Matt wrote a book based on his experiences called Confessions of a Community College Administrator. I was delighted for him, and when I congratulated Matt on his accomplishment, he casually mentioned that he had thanked me by name in the acknowledgements. (!) How cool is THIS?

Thanks again Dean Dad – erm, I mean Matt. It’s been fun bumping along this bloggy road with you over the last decade. 🙂

And last but not least, of course, is the book I first told you about in January. When I found out that my photo of Lucas drawing a hopscotch on the driveway was being used as a book cover, I was so excited I did a little dance around the room. It’s something I have hoped to see for as long as I’ve been licensing my photos through Getty Images. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine it might be used on a book that has been touted as one of the “most anticipated books of 2014” or a Publisher’s Weekly starred review.

What I really love about the story of this book, as opposed to the story IN the book, is how I have forged a connection to the author, Brando Skyhorse. As I mentioned back in January, I found the book cover using a Google Image search, and when I found it I tagged the book on Goodreads as ‘to read’ and commented ‘this is the book with my photo on the cover’.

To my surprise and delight, I received an e-mail a few days later from the author himself. He said,

Hi Dani –

I’m Brando Skyhorse, author of Take This Man. I just discovered today via Goodreads (which led me to your blog) your stunning picture graces the finished book jacket.

This book was an incredible challenge for me to write. Often times the only thing that kept me going was trying to visualize what the final jacket (and title) would be. I could never see it, though. When my editor emailed cover samples we had close to a dozen wonderful designs to choose from yet I kept returning to your image. Something about the child – whose name I now know is Lucas – drawing on pavement with chalk felt absolutely right. Maybe you’ll see what I mean if you read the book.

In short: THANK YOU. Your picture is an incredible gift that’s made my book complete.

Isn’t that wonderful? I swear I smile every time I read it. Not only is my book on a jacket cover, but the author is a REALLY NICE GUY. We’ve corresponded through the past few months, me telling him how honoured I am to have my photo on his book and him giving me status updates along the lines of ‘”Our” book got some great news this week!’

So my photo is on the cover, it sounds like it’s going to have a pretty impressive release later this spring, and the author is incredibly kind. What could be better? Oh yes, it’s an absolutely breath-taking book, one I promise you will never forget. I’ve gone a little rambly on this post (quelle surprise!) and I want to do the book justice with my review, so stand by and I’ll get that posted soon(ish) in a separate post.

But seriously, a photo on a book of poetry, name credit in the acknowledgements of another book, and Lucas on what sounds by all accounts to be a barn-burner of a best seller. Who needs to actually WRITE a book with all of that?!?


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I started to rant about this on Facebook, but the ensuing conversation in my kitchen inspired me to bring it back to the blog.

Waaaaaaaaay back in 2006, I ranted my displeasure at being offered the choice between a “boy” toy and a “girl” toy happy meal at McDonald’s. I’d asked for a Polly Pockets toy and a Hummer toy, and the cashier repeated back to me “one girl happy meal and one boy happy meal”. At the time, I was at the counter with my two boys standing there at my elbow watching me order. Infuriated, I pointedly re-ordered my meals with toys by type, not gender. In the intervening eight years, I have ordered more than a few happy meals, and each time I have been careful to correct the order taker, who invariably specifies boy or girl toy instead of the actual type of toy on offer.

Apparently I wasn’t the only person rankled by this distinction. In a Slate.com article, high school junior Antonia Ayres-Brown tells the story of how she took her complaint about the boy/girl gender discrimination all the way to the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities and not one but two CEOs of McDonald’s. The current CEO finally listened (although her complaint to the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities was dismissed as “absurd”) and Antonia received a letter back from McDonald’s with the following promise:

It is McDonald’s intention and goal that each customer who desires a Happy Meal toy be provided the toy of his or her choice, without any classification of the toy as a ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ toy and without any reference to the customer’s gender. We have recently reexamined our internal guidelines, communications and practices and are making improvements to better ensure that our toys are distributed consistent with our policy.

It’s about bloody damn time, McDonald’s. But let’s go that final step down the road to righteousness, shall we? Why not simply offer one kind of happy meal toy at a time, and offer it to everyone? Some girls like Skylanders, some boys like Polly Pockets. Wendy’s and Harvey’s have been offering a single “flavour” of kid meal toys for years and there has been no anarchy, no fire and brimstone coming down from the skies, no rivers and seas boiling, no dogs and cats living together. I’m pretty sure they bypassed the mass hysteria, too, although the blogger hysteria is clearly still on the table.

You might ask why I think this is important. As I said, it’s the conversation in my very own kitchen that got me all worked up again. In seeing the reference to Antonia’s victory on Facebook, I mentioned it aloud to Beloved. My 12 year old mentioned that there have been “girl” toys through the years that he had liked, and I asked him if he would ever hesitate to order a happy meal with a toy he liked if it was labelled as a girl toy. “Not really,” he replied with a shrug, but that didn’t particularly surprise me. He’s not terribly concerned with rules and norms and what other people think on the best of days.

It was the six year old’s reaction that made me sad. “Would you order a happy meal with a girl toy if you thought the toy was really cool?” I asked him.

“No,” he replied with a tinge of regretful sigh. “I can’t play with toys that are for girls.”

Sigh.


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I love Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. I was just beginning to think about learning to cook food rather than heat up food from packages when we started watching his Food Revolution television series back in 2010. Since then, I’ve become even more comfortable and adventurous in my cooking endeavours, so much so that when I invited my parents over for dinner not too long ago, my father got half way through his meatloaf and said with no guile whatsoever, “Wow, when did you learn to cook?”

It may have taken me until the fourth decade of my life, but to the surprise of my family and me alike, I have learned to cook! And you know what? When you actually understand what you’re doing, it’s a far less cumbersome and hateful chore. And when you’re cooking from scratch, you understand exactly what you are eating – no preservatives, no fillers, no stabilizers or unpronounceable chemicals, just FOOD!

That’s why I am happy to work with Sobeys in promoting Canada’s Biggest Potluck Party, in support of Food Revolution Day on May 16. When participants share a post or photo of their potluck with the hashtag #PotluckChallenge, Sobeys will donate $1 to the Cooking Toward Independence Project. The new initiative run by the Children’s Aid Foundation will improve the lives of young people leaving the child welfare system across Canada when they turn 18 by funding cooking skills workshops and creating access to healthy food.

It was this quote from Jamie Oliver that made me want to get behind this project. He said, “Every child should understand where food comes from, how to cook it, and how it affects their bodies. Food Revolution Day is about getting kids excited about food, helping them get food smart and setting them up for a long, healthy life.”

This is exactly the right time in our lives for this. Just a few weeks ago, I supervised while Tristan cooked up bacon, eggs, toast and fresh fruit salad for dinner one night. Simon has been pestering for his turn to make dinner as well. In fact, he said just the other day he has been trying to decide whether he wants to be a teacher or a chef when he grows up. I told him he could easily do both – any woman would love to be married to a fellow who not only knows how but is more than willing to cook dinner for her!

Leading up to Canada’s Biggest Potluck Party, Sobeys invites Canadians to test their own kitchen savvy and compare their skills against others with an interactive quiz available at BetterFoodForAll.com. The quiz says I am an “aspiring apprentice” – that seems about right. What did you get?

The website also includes information about Food Revolution Day and, later this month, will feature potluck inspiration and the #PotluckChallenge photo stream. There will be tips and tools to inspire you, and you’ll be able to register your own potluck event. And through it all, Sobeys will be donating to the Children’s Aid Foundation in support of cooking workshops for kids across Canada.

I feel like I got off to a late start in letting the boys help out in the kitchen. We talk a lot about nutrition and where food comes from and why healthy eating is important, but they haven’t taken much of an interest in food preparation before now. They make their own sandwiches and occasionally pack their own lunches, but I really feel like I should be empowering them with more responsibility.

How does it work in your house? When did you (or have you ever) start to give your kids responsibility in the kitchen? Do you agree with the idea that teaching kids to cook is a health issue as well as a social one?

In my next post, I’ll share some ideas for kid-capable recipes, and maybe even a progress report on getting the boys inspired in the kitchen. And stay tuned, there may be a little something extra in it for one of you, too!

(Disclosure: The author has received consideration from Sobeys or Sobeys’ media partners in exchange for this content. Sobeys has not reviewed these claims and is not responsible for the content.)


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Easter eggs 2014

by DaniGirl on April 18, 2014 · 2 comments

in Ah, me boys, Photography

Beloved asked me, as I was mixing the dye for the eggs with the water and vinegar, if I’d still be taking photos of the boys colouring Easter eggs when they were in their twenties.

Easter eggs 2014

Easter eggs 2014

Easter eggs 2014

Easter eggs 2014

Easter eggs 2014

Of course, I replied. That’s the point.


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This blog post is part PSA and part rant.

The PSA part is that the city is planning to update the play structures at George McLean park in Manotick. (Thanks to the Manotick Village and Community Association for the notification on this one!) According to the MVCA parks and recreation page:

The City is replacing aging play structures in George McLean Park, and would like community input as to the type of new play structures it would like to have.

The city has advised of the following mandatory play equipment changes:

1. The sand will be removed and replaced with wood chips
2. The little merry-go-round/roundabout will be removed for safety reasons.

The city has asked residents to provide their comments on replacement options and if possible to also complete this questionnaire..

Comments and completed questionnaires should be sent to secretary@manotickvca.org.

The deadline for feedback to the City is April 11; removal and replacement of the structures is expected to begin in August.

(I know the deadline was last Friday – I’m hoping we can get a bit of an extension for comments.) So families, if you are interested in what happens to George McLean park, please take a moment to express your opinions.

Here comes the rant.

The city wants to remove the roundabout for “safety” reasons. This makes me crazy. That roundabout was our hands-down favourite feature of that park. Look!

Easter family fun

It’s old, I know. My attachment may be purely nostalgic. Maybe there is a perfectly good reason for this gorgeous retro roundabout to be removed – but I suspect there is not. I fear the safety issue is not in its construction or durability but in its inherent design. I fear that what we are facing is not a safety issue but a liability issue. We are not protecting the kids, we are protecting the city.

Yes, kids will go flying off the roundabout- remember how much FUN that was? Did you ever get one of those metal bars to the cheekbone? I did – and I learned to keep my face out of the way the next time. And I learned about centrifugal force at the same time. Fun + learning = learning that stays with you!

I’m not the only one ranting about disappearing roundabouts. Check out these articles from Free Range Kids and KATU media in Portland, Oregon, both published within the last few months on this subject.

I fear, however, that I am waging a lost battle.

If you have a few extra minutes to spare, please read this brilliant article from the March 2014 edition of The Atlantic entitled The Overprotected Kid. This is exactly what I am afraid we are denying our children when we coddle and overprotect them:

[Ellen Sandseter, a professor of early-childhood education at Queen Maud University College in Trondheim] began observing and interviewing children on playgrounds in Norway. In 2011, she published her results in a paper called “Children’s Risky Play From an Evolutionary Perspective: The Anti-Phobic Effects of Thrilling Experiences.” Children, she concluded, have a sensory need to taste danger and excitement; this doesn’t mean that what they do has to actually be dangerous, only that they feel they are taking a great risk. That scares them, but then they overcome the fear. In the paper, Sandseter identifies six kinds of risky play: (1) Exploring heights, or getting the “bird’s perspective,” as she calls it—“high enough to evoke the sensation of fear.” (2) Handling dangerous tools—using sharp scissors or knives, or heavy hammers that at first seem unmanageable but that kids learn to master. (3) Being near dangerous elements—playing near vast bodies of water, or near a fire, so kids are aware that there is danger nearby. (4) Rough-and-tumble play—wrestling, play-fighting—so kids learn to negotiate aggression and cooperation. (5) Speed—cycling or skiing at a pace that feels too fast. (6) Exploring on one’s own.

This last one Sandseter describes as “the most important for the children.” She told me, “When they are left alone and can take full responsibility for their actions, and the consequences of their decisions, it’s a thrilling experience.”

And here’s a fascinating and relevant set of statistics about just how little of a difference our endless safety standards are having:

According to the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, which monitors hospital visits, the frequency of emergency-room visits related to playground equipment, including home equipment, in 1980 was 156,000, or one visit per 1,452 Americans. In 2012, it was 271,475, or one per 1,156 Americans. The number of deaths hasn’t changed much either. From 2001 through 2008, the Consumer Product Safety Commission reported 100 deaths associated with playground equipment—an average of 13 a year, or 10 fewer than were reported in 1980.

In other words, we’ve taken away all the fun, all the learning, all the exploration and adventure, and in exchange we’ve gained — nothing.

Speaking of statistics, check out this link from the Royal Society on the Prevention of Accidents. The leading causes of accidents on children’s playgrounds are swings (40%), climbers (23%) and slides (20%). Roundabouts come in at a measly 5%! And nobody is talking about taking away the slides or the swing. (Thanks to Jane at the MVCA for the link!)

If you’d like to have your say about what happens to the George McLean park play structures, please complete this PDF questionnaire from the city. (If I can get my hands on an electronic version, I will share it.)

And while you’re at it, please put in a kind word for our roundabout. Some things are worth saving!

Got anything to say on the subject of the modernization of retro playground equipment? You know I’d love to hear from you!


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We Day 2014: Learning that anything is possible

12 April 2014 Life in Ottawa

Imagine having the power to light the fire of inspiration in the hearts of 16,000 young people, and then sending them back into their homes and communities thrumming with the idea that they can be a powerful force of change in the world. Imagine the ripple effect of that empowerment and positivity. That’s what happened […]

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We Day is coming back to Ottawa!

3 April 2014 Ah, me boys

Next Wednesday, 16,000 students and educators from 420 schools throughout Canada will be gathering at the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa to mark Canada’s National We Day 2014. For the third year, TELUS is partnering with Free The Children as National Co-Title sponsor of We Day, and they’ve invited Simon and I to attend the […]

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