Eating and thinking and thinking about eating

We’re trying to eat more thoughtfully these days. I still like Michael Pollan’s advice: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” My brother has been trying to follow a mostly vegan diet for a while now, and while I don’t think I want to give up meat entirely, and I know for a fact I don’t want to give up dairy and eggs, it has made me think about including more meat alternatives in our weekly meal plans.

It has not gone unnoticed. A week or so ago, one of the boys walked into the kitchen and eyed a few pots and pans full of a new recipe I was trying out. “Is there any meat in this meal?” he asked with not-so thinly veiled suspicion, and a very slight linguistic thump on the word meat. One week I had so many misses in a row that I stopped on the way home from work one day to pick up hot dogs and Doritos for dinner by way of apology and to mollify the masses before they started a revolution against the cook.

And then, I crossed a line. I admit in hindsight that it was a mistake, but give myself high marks for optimism. I thought I could pass off veggie dogs for “real” hot dogs. Spoiler alert: epic fail. Epic. But more about that in a minute.

It actually took me a bit to find veggie dogs. I don’t know where they hide them in my regular grocery store, and I had to ask for help finding them in Farm Boy. (If you don’t learn your lesson in my cautionary tale, you’ll find them in the dairy aisle.) So I pick up a pack and I know the name brand is one that I’ve seen folks speak poorly of, but there’s only one brand available and I figure I’ll give it a whirl. I take a look at the ingredient list and I’m troubled. First, it’s about 50 ingredients long. Second, I can identify very few of them as actual food. So now I’m conflicted. “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” But you never know if you don’t try, right?

The minute I tear open the package, I know I’m doomed. There is no. way. these are going to masquerade as regular hot dogs. The texture is… wrong. The edges where they pressed together in the package are too hard and the corners too sharp. Hot dogs should not have sharp corners. But the grill is preheated and everything else is ready to go, so I forge ahead.

The situation does not improve. They don’t behave like hot dogs on the grill. I’ve had turkey, chicken, beef and pork variations of hot dogs on the grill, and these don’t cook like any of them. They don’t FEEL like any of them.

Not Dogs - veggie hot dogs

So I figure maybe if I char them real good, it will hide the “not dog”-ness of them. And then, to my dismay, they don’t really char evenly so much as develop carbuncles.

Not dogs indeed.

Not dogs - close up

Well, I’m in too deep to quit now, so I serve them up. I’ve let Beloved in on the secret, but casually deflect the boys’ questions about the provenance of the not-dogs. “Is this a new kind of hot dog, Mom?” and I nod, traitorously ambiguous.

And then I take a bite of one and it’s – wrong. So wrong. I mean, I am not a hot dog or sausage purist by any stretch of the imagination, but I know for a fact I should not have to work that hard to get through the skin of the wiener and the texture is… wrong. A level of wrong even I cannot overlook. And they’re utterly flavourless. The boys have been taught not to be overly critical, and if they don’t like something, their feedback should be along the lines of “this isn’t really to my taste” as opposed to “ewww, gross!” I would have forgiven them if they transgressed, but their comments are carefully equivocal: “I find the texture a little offputting” and “are you sure these are hot dogs?”

The asparagus I’ve grilled to go with the not-dogs disappears quickly. Buns are picked off and eaten. Nobody reaches for a second helping. When I confess later, the boys are outraged in a hilarious and understandable sort of way. This experience has become a bit of family lore that I suspect will stay with us.

And so we learned. Yves brand, at least, is “not to our taste”. I’d be willing to try again (shhhh, don’t tell the boys!) if you have a favourite brand of veggie dogs or sausages that mimic at least a little bit more closely the experience of an actual hot dog or sausage. And, ideally, have more actual food bits in the much shorter ingredient list.

I’ll have to bide my time, though. That’s okay, I can be patient and ply them with real hot dogs until their sense of trust is re-established. I’m in for the long haul.


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I was standing in the cereal aisle at Loblaws, having a conversation with their in-house dietitian about making thoughtful, nutritious donations to local food banks during the holidays. We were comparing the sugar and fibre content of various cereals, when she looked at a box that was higher in sugar and lower in fibre than the thresholds she’d recommended and said, “If it’s a choice between a child eating a bowl of this or going to school with an empty stomach, this is still by far the better choice.”

My own stomach clenched at the very idea of one of my boys – of any child — spending the whole day at school with an empty stomach simply because there was no food in the cupboard to feed them. I felt tears prick my eyes and very nearly swept the whole shelf into a donation bin. How is it that we have so much and that there are families in our community who don’t have enough food to get them through the day?

Did you know that for more than 850,000 Canadians, one-third of whom are children, the holiday menu will be determined by what’s available in the local food bank? If you’re a long-time reader, you know that for the last few years I have been on a nutritional learning curve of my own, learning to cook from scratch and make smarter food choices for myself and my family. I have to admit, though, that I never put much thought specifically into the nutritional content of the food we donate to the canned food drive or the various food hampers put together in our communities. I was intrigued when Loblaw reached out to me to collaborate on a blog post about the importance of choosing nutritious foods and ingredients to donate to local food drives instead of just emptying the cupboards of whatever your family hasn’t eaten. Loblaw grocery stores have been active in promoting and supporting local food drives this holiday season, and have set a goal to raise $1.8 million and 1.3 million pounds of food for Canadians.

Look for the donation bin at Lobaw food stores near you

Look for the donation bin at Loblaw grocery stores near you

To be honest, I didn’t even know Loblaws offered an in-store Registered Dietitian program before they reached out through this promotion. You can get personalized advice, attend a group session or register for a class in many Loblaws stores across Canada. I went to the Robertson Road Loblaws to speak with Chantal, a dietitian who covers several local stores. We did a little store tour and she gave me insight on making smarter donations to local food drives. Although every donation is welcome, here are some ways to make donations that are healthier and more nutritious:

  • Choose canned protein sources that are packed in water instead of oil
  • Pick low-sodium or no-salt-added food products
  • Consider donating ingredients instead of processed food products (e.g. flour, sugar, spices, nuts and seeds, oils, etc.)
  • For added fibre, donate brown rice instead of white rice
  • Choose whole-grain food products like cereals, crackers and pasta instead of ones made with white flour
  • Granola bars and cereals should contain less than eight grams of sugar and more than five grams of fibre

(Bonus: not only are these good tips for making healthier food drive donations, they’re good rules of thumb to follow for your own family’s nutrition, too! I learned other great tips from her as well. Did you know that longer-grain rice has a lower glycemic index, meaning that it is digested more slowly and makes you feel full longer? And that while green lentils tend to hold their shape when you cook them, red lentils turn mushy and virtually disappear, so they’re a good way to hide a little extra fibre in your soups?)

I’m a big fan of peanut butter donations. Whenever peanut butter goes on sale, I pick up a few for us and a few extra and drop them in the donation bin. One thing I hadn’t really thought of is that the food banks also serve people with special dietary needs like diabetes, gluten sensitivities and high blood pressure, so donating products specifically for people with dietary restrictions is a great choice. Meal supplements for seniors (like Ensure) are welcome donations. Donating dried beans and legumes or shelf-stable nut milks could be beneficial for vegans and vegetarians. And anything for babies (diapers, wipes, formula, iron-fortified cereals and other baby foods) would help young families in need.

Some great food drive items, as recommended by a dietician

Some great food drive items, as recommended by a dietitian

Chantal was full of terrific suggestions for smart food donations beyond peanut butter and processed box foods. She gave me a list of a dozen most-needed food items:

  1. baby food and formula
  2. no-salt-added canned fish and meat (e.g. salmon, tuna and chicken)
  3. no-salt-added canned vegetables
  4. no-sugar-added canned fruit
  5. whole-grain cereals
  6. whole wheat pasta
  7. low-sodium pasta sauce
  8. legumes (both canned – watch for no-salt-added – and dried beans, lentils and chick peas)
  9. peanut butter
  10. rice and whole grain products
  11. snack foods such as granola bars (watch for less than 8g of sugar and more than 4g of fibre), apple sauce, unsalted nuts and seeds, and dried fruit
  12. soup broth

Loblaws also has a “guiding stars” program, where foods with more stars point you toward nutritious foods that contain vitamins, minerals, fibre, omega-3 and whole grains versus saturated fat, trans fat, added sodium and added sugar. The more nutritional value a food has, the more stars it receives, so you can look for the two- and three-star foods to help you make nutrition-conscientious food drive donations.

While food donations are always welcome, many food banks such as the Ottawa Food Bank are able to make cash donations stretch much further by buying in bulk. Cash donations also allow food banks to invest in perishable items like fresh fruit and vegetables.

Each year, my teenagers’ school hosts a canned food drive where they collect tonnes of food for donation to smaller food banks such as the Shepherds of Good Hope. I’ll be more conscientious next year when making my donations, and resist the urge to simply reach into the back of the cupboard for the food we haven’t gotten around to eating. In fact, Loblaws has provided compensation for this blog post, and I want to use part of that to take the boys on a dedicated trip to do some shopping specifically for our local food bank via the bin at the Loblaws here in Manotick. I have some great ideas on which foods I want to pick up! I can talk to the boys about the importance of giving AND squeeze in a lesson about healthy food choices, too. That’s a win-win!

Disclosure: I was compensated for my time in researching and writing this blog post. However, as always, all opinions are my own.


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I didn’t learn about s’mores until I was an adult. We weren’t a camping family, though toasting marshmallows was an occasional but revered treat growing up. How I survived into adulthood without the melty, sticky joy of toasted marshmallows and chocolate smushed between graham crackers in my life is a mystery.

I saw a variation of this fire-pit free oven-baked s’mores recipe online, and adapted it to what we had on hand one day when I was looking for a quick treat for the kids. Yes, of course it was for the kids. Lucas loved it so much we had s’mores instead of birthday cake for him one year. I think it might even be easier than the authentic version!

oven-bakeds'mores dip

You’ll need a bag of marshmallows (we use the big ones, but not the giant ones), a bag of chocolate chips (we used milk chocolate, for the classic s’mores flavour, approximate bag size 270 grams) and a box of graham crackers. This recipe is ridiculously forgiving – use skor chips, rainbow marshmallows and bacon dippers if that floats your boat!

You’ll also need a baking dish. The original recipe I saw used a cast iron pan, but my version pre-dates my cast iron pan ownership, and now that I do own one, I’m not sure I’d want marshmallow glue glommed all over it. I use a pyrex pie plate, but just about any baking dish approximately 8 to 9 inches across would do the trick.

Preheat your oven to 400F and move your rack up to one of the higher levels.

Sprinkle half the bag of the chocolate chips into the bottom of your baking dish, distributing them more or less evenly across the bottom of the dish. Add a few more, and maybe eat a couple when the kids aren’t looking.

S'mores oven baked dip

Now place the marshmallows on top, flat side down, touching each other. It took about half a bag to fill the pan.

Place the dish in the oven and WATCH IT CAREFULLY. It will only take a few minutes for the marshmallows to start to puff up and toast on top.

Marshmallow dip in the oven

You want to hit the sweet spot (pardon the pun) where the marshmallows are toasty on top, gooey in the middle, and the chocolate chips are melted. Five, maybe ten minutes, but seriously, don’t take your eyes off them or the whole thing will burn. Ask me now I know!

Take it out of the oven and serve immediately. Serve with graham crackers for scooping and dipping. We were so keen to eat ours that I entirely forgot to photograph this important step.

My kids each have a different approach on how to eat this. One dips his crackers like chips in dip, but another scoops and uses a second graham cracker to make a more classic squashed and sticky s’mores experience. Make sure you scoop deeply enough to get some chocolate with each bite!

CAUTION: the dish is very hot. You may want to scoop some out on to a separate plate for really little fingers.

2017-08-12 18.25.47

This is the simplest dessert I know, and one of the boys’ favourites! Let me know if you try it. It’s a great way to have the summery flavour of s’mores all year long!


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It’s a weeknight and Beloved is working late, which almost never happens. I’m in charge of making school lunches, which happens as seldom as I’m able to get away with, and I realize that we have no home-baked snacks. Beloved, who is usually in charge of lunches, has taken to heart my preference that we reduce our processed food consumption as much as possible, and pretty much every day, the boys have some sort of home-baked snack in their lunches.

Except, Beloved is away and we are out of cookies. This is a confluence of events I could not have foreseen in my wildest nightmares, let alone foreseeing it in the Bearpaw aisle when I did the groceries earlier this week. This is my comeuppance for being the uppity family that doesn’t rely on Oreos and Pirate cookies anymore. We don’t buy that kind of snack food BUT WE’RE OUT OF COOKIES on my lunch duty day.

As I’m poking through the cupboards thinking of sending them with crunchy lentil surprise (SURPRISE!), I come across three audaciously freckled bananas. Just this past weekend, I threw away the 352 frozen freckled bananas that we have been keeping stashed in the freezer in case the banana bread fairy were to drop by and find herself impelled to bake a loaf or seventy. Huh, I think. I could make banana bread.

So you might have noticed earlier that I made reference to Beloved doing the baking. I don’t bake. I will admit that over the last five years or so, I’ve turned into a confident, creative cook of the sort I did not even know existed within me five years ago. But baking, with its reliance on measuring and recipes and exactitude paying attention, has always eluded me. Beloved is a much better baker than I am. But it’s banana bread. How hard could it be? *insert ominous music here*

I find a decent recipe on Canadian Living, and run a comparison of the ingredient list to what we have in the pantry and we have a match. (Seriously, when did I become a person with a pantry sufficiently stocked that I can bake on a whim? Probably around the same time I became a person who bakes on a whim? Perhaps you might keep a watchful eye for other signs of the pending apocalypse.)

I’ve got the dry ingredients done when we develop a banana issue. Apparently three bananas fall far short of the required two cups. I look longingly at the now-empty banana hook, but additional ripe bananas fail to materialize. I figure the bananas are probably only adding flavour anyway, and I am not fond of an overly obnoxious banana taste, so I carry on with about 2/3 of the prescribed banana. In mixing the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, the additional purpose of the bananas becomes clear: my batter has the consistency of, um, not batter. Something drier than batter, more like the houseplant that you forgot behind the shutter for a year. I cast one more longing glance at the empty banana hook, and then start rooting through the fridge thinking of banana alternatives. More eggs or milk will mess with the structure too much. What else do we have?

Cream cheese? Great for mashed potatoes, not so much for banana bread. Spicy adobe peppers? I’d actually eat that, but the kids’ mouths would burst into flames. I’m reaching for the sour cream and have to move the apple sauce out of the way when I realize – APPLE SAUCE! Substituting one mashed-up fruit for another seems like a decently plausible idea, and it vastly improves the texture of the batter.

It sure LOOKS like banana bread.

IMG_2477

Beloved will be so surprised when he gets home from his meeting and he finds my first ever loaf of chocolate-chip banana bread a sink load of every dirty dish in the kitchen waiting for him!


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Over the last few years, we’ve slowly been tweaking our family’s dietary habits. I’ve talked a lot about how I’ve learned to cook, and I try to make smart choices when I buy ingredients. This means choosing local and sustainable whenever possible.

So when I heard that one of our family favourite places to eat, SUBWAY® Restaurants, are now sourcing their produce from local Ontario farms, I was happy to join their marketing campaign. What’s not to like when your goals of healthy eating (more fresh veggies!) meets conscientious choices (buy local!) meets fiscal responsibility (affordable meal out for the family) all while making meal time just a little bit easier?

We love SUBWAY® Restaurants for fast, fresh, family-friendly food on the go. The kids like the control of customizing their own subs, and I like the fact that it’s an easy way to get a couple of servings of fresh vegetables in. (You can read more about SUBWAY® Restaurants nutrition FAQs on their site.) My personal fave is a veggie sub on whole wheat with Swiss cheese with a lot (no really, more please, I like a LOT!) of hot sauce. I like the idea that the vegetables are now sourced in Ontario through Burnac Produce, because of the positive environmental aspects (reduced emissions from transporting foods) and because buying local supports jobs and economic activity in the province.  

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Here’s our family tip to make dinner out at SUBWAY® Restaurants even more of a treat: we order footlong subs for the kids, but only eat half of the sub for dinner. The other half gets wrapped up and put in lunches for school the next day. Win-win!

Burnac Produce is now supplying fresh, local veggies to Ontario’s 1,300 SUBWAY® Restaurants:  find a store near you!

#EatFresh!

Visit Sponsors Site

Disclosure: This post brought to you by SUBWAY® Restaurants. The content and opinions expressed are that of Postcards from the Mothership.


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We ended up with leeks in our CSA share last autumn. This is not a food I’d ordinarily eat, and I wasn’t entirely sure what to do with them. Beloved has long had an affection for potato leek soup, and we conveniently also had potatoes in our share, so I surfed around the internet to get some ideas. I pulled together some inspiration and what I have learned over the last couple of years from Chef Michael Smith, and created my own recipe: potato bacon leek soup.

Potato bacon leek soup (7 of 7)

It’s deliciously easy! This is what you need:

Potato bacon leek soup (1 of 7)

White potatoes (probably any kind of russet or non-baking potato would do), four or five medium ones
One leek, tip cut off and half and half green and white
Stock or broth, about two cups. You can also substitute white wine, or even water, or any combination of the above.
Four or five strips of bacon

Potato bacon leek soup (6 of 7)

And I forgot to add these to the first ingredient photo – they come later!
One or so cups of cream
One or more cups of frozen peas
Salt and pepper

Start with the bacon: cut it into chunks and fry it up in a heavy soup pot. (I heart my dutch oven!)

Potato bacon leek soup (3 of 7)

While the bacon is frying, chop the potatoes into chunks (leave the skin on) and slice the leek lengthwise to rinse between the layers. I read online you are supposed to do this, so I do. Not sure how necessary it is, but I don’t like sand in my soup. Slice the halved, rinsed leeks into 1 cm pieces.

Use a slotted spoon or tongs to remove the crisped bacon and set aside. Pour off some, or most, or none, of the fat. (Save it for frying up perogies later in the week!)

Potato bacon leek soup (2 of 7)

Toss the leeks into the rendered bacon fat and fry for just a few minutes, until they start to soften.

Potato bacon leek soup (4 of 7)

Toss the potatoes on top, stir to coat with the bacon fat and fry a bit longer. Add salt and pepper liberally.

Potato bacon leek soup (5 of 7)

Add liquid (stock, water, wine, whatever you have on hand) to just cover the works, sprinkle about 1/3 of the cooked bacon back in and bring the works to a steady boil. Simmer long enough for the potatoes to become very soft, at least 20 – 30 minutes. (Pro tip: if you’re late getting started, cut your potatoes into smaller chunks. They soften faster!)

I use an immersion blender to blend the soup, but I’m sure you could carefully do it in a blender or even food processor, or with a very vigourous potato masher, if you don’t mind a chunkier soup. Once it is blended to your taste (we like it thick), pour in the cream and stir well. Give it another few minutes on the heat to warm it back up and season again to taste if necessary. When you are ready to serve, pour in the frozen peas. They’ll instantly thaw AND bring your piping hot soup down to a perfectly slurpable temperature.

Scoop into serving bowls and sprinkle the reserved bacon on top.

Potato bacon leek soup (7 of 7)

This is the only soup that my kids actively love – most soups and stews are just tolerated. It is ridiculously easy to make, reasonably nutritious and stores well in the fridge for terrific next-day lunches. This may be a soup that we keep eating all year ’round!


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Ketchup wars

15 March 2016 Canadianisms

I have been following with interest the story of French’s versus Heinz ketchup. If you’ve missed it, the story so far goes something like this. Last year, worlds collided in the condiment aisle when Heinz introduced mustard not too long after French’s introduced ketchup. There was a lot more going on behind the scenes than […]

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In which I not only stalk Chef Michael Smith, but convince him to FaceTime with the boys

25 February 2016 Ah, me boys

It’s been nearly two years since I first wrote about stalking my culinary hero, Chef Michael Smith. Since then we’ve been to his Flavour Shack in Souris several times, and for my birthday dinner last year we splurged on an incredible family dinner at his new FireWorks restaurant at the Inn at Bay Fortune. And […]

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The ultimate Canadian winter comfort food: Stew-tine

17 January 2016 Eating and thinking and thinking about eating

You know what food I love on a cold winter weekend? A hearty beef stew. You know what else I love? Thick, salty oven fries that are crispy on the outside and perfect on the inside. In a flash of brilliance, I pulled the two of them together into my new favourite winter-time dinner: stew-tine! […]

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How a chalkboard saves my sanity at dinner time every single day

11 January 2016 Eating and thinking and thinking about eating

Beloved called me at work the other day. “I feel so lost, so adrift. I’ve lost my rudder and I feel like we’re directionless.” Nope, not an existential crisis – he was upset because it was three days after grocery day and the chalkboard where I faithfully write our weekly meal plan was still blank. […]

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