Thursday, January 31, 2008

Hoping for a snow day.

When I was a kid, I missed exactly ZERO days of school due to inclement weather. Not that we didn’t have snowstorms, we just didn’t get the day off to deal with them. My parents, being from Northern Ontario, didn’t see a little snow and wind as any reason to keep us home from school if the school board didn’t see the need. So, even on the worst days, I would grab my best friend and force her to walk the 2 km (through a corn field!) to a school that had MAYBE 30 kids there. Our school board often cancelled buses, but never closed the schools.

During university, we had one day where school was cancelled. That was due to an ice storm, which made driving impossible. The bummer was that the ice-encrusted power lines also made the power go out for two days, which was really cold and unpleasant.

During my first few years of full-time work in Toronto, we had lots of snowstorms, but I don’t recall even one snow day. Not one.

THEN, I moved to my current job (not in Toronto) and it’s been a snow day paradise. If I don’t get at least 2 snow days a year, I feel completely ripped off. A couple of things happened to bring me this glorious state:

1. (this is sad) A teacher from a neighbouring school board was killed in a car crash when trying to get into work on a day when buses were cancelled but the schools were open; most of the school boards then took a no buses=no school policy.

2. The university where I work had an interim VP Administration who “had better things to do” than make decisions about snow days, so he decided that if the school board closed, so did we. So, now we all benefited from the more lenient school board policy.

We haven’t had a snow day yet (the last snowstorm happened on a Sunday), but they’re calling for a whopper of a storm to hit in the early morning hours tomorrow, just in time to make a big mess for rush hour. Folks around here are taking bets on when/if the snow day will be called. I’ll be watching the Weather Channel obsessively, hoping that the storm doesn’t fall flat.

I think the only thing better than a snow day on a Monday is a snow day on a Friday. Of course, there was that year when we had three snow days in a row. That, was awesome.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Whole wheat flour recipes

I didn’t get around to posting this weekend. I’m not sure why I said I would – I’m barely near the computer on the weekend. Anyway, I did manage to email myself these recipes to work, so I have something to post today. All of these recipes are from my “recipe cheat sheet”, a laminated 8 ½ x 11 piece of paper that has all of the ingredients and cooking times/temperatures on it for quick reference. What this means is that I make these recipes all the time.

Of course, I will be making them a lot more now that I have my very own KitchenAid Stand Mixer (black – thanks for asking). It was on sale and I just could not let it go any longer. I baked up a storm this weekend: Brownies! Blueberry waffles! Banana bread! Whole wheat bread! Ginger snap cookies! I don’t know how I ever got along without “Stan”. Homer has requested a Lemon Meringue Pie. I didn’t get around to it this weekend, but you can guarantee it will be on next weekend’s menu!

General whole wheat flour substitution rules (my rules, not “official” rules or anything like that):

I sub whole wheat flour in recipes where the colour of the finished product will not be negatively affected. For example, in the Oatmeal Chocolate Chip cookies, below, the cookie is already bulky, grainy and darkish, so the sub of ww flour will go undetected. I would not use it in sugar cookies, nor shortbreads, as people expect those to be white. Most muffins are fine to change out the white flour for whole wheat, but I wouldn’t in a lemon loaf, because the pretty yellow colour turns a little muddy and unappealing.

I would not sub ww flour in anything that needed to be stretched or rolled. The gluten in white flour is much more elastic and better-suited for this type of recipe. Pizza dough is the exception, except that I look specifically for a whole wheat pizza crust recipe instead of subbing into the white-flour version.

Whole wheat flour will absorb more liquid than white, so if you’re subbing it into an existing white flour recipe, maybe reduce the amount of flour by 1 tbsp/cup of flour. I usually sub measure for measure and just eyeball the mixture when it’s ready to go. If it seems too dry, I add just a little more liquid.

Here are some of my go-to recipes, all using whole wheat flour:


Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
1½ c flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 c crisco
1 c sugar
1 c brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
3c quick oats
1c dark raisins
1 6oz pkg choc chips

Mix sugars and shortening. Add eggs and vanilla. Add dry ingredients and mix together. Add in raisins and chocolate chips. Bake at 375* for 8-10 min.

Ginger Snap Cookies
¾ c. soft shortening
1 c. sugar
1 egg
4 tbsp. molasses
2 tsp. soda
1/2 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger
2 c. flour
sugar for dipping

Mix together wet ingredients until light and fluffy. Add dry ingredients and mix well. Form balls and roll in sugar. Bake on a greased cookie sheet at 375* for 8-11 min.

Breads & Muffins

Carrot Bread
¾ c oil
2 eggs
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1 c sugar
1½ c flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 c grated carrots

Mix wet ingredients. Add dry ingredients. Add carrots. Bake in greased loaf pan at 350* for 1 hour.

Banana Bread
1¼ c sifted flour
½ tsp salt
1 c sugar
1 tsp soda
2 eggs
½ c oil
3 small, ripe bananas

Mix wet ingredients, including banana. Add dry ingredients. Bake in a greased loaf pan at 350* for 40-60 min.

1¼ c flour
¾ c cornmeal
¼ c sugar
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 c milk
1 egg
2 tbsp oil

Mix wet ingredients. Add dry ingredients. Bake at 400* in greased 8”x8” pan for 20-25 minutes, or in greased mini muffin cups for about 15 minutes. Serve warm.

Orange Muffins
1 whole orange
½ c orange juice
½ c chopped dates
1 egg
½ c butter, softened
1¾ c flour
¾ c sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking powder

Cut orange in quarters and puree in a blender or food processor with the orange juice until smooth. Add in dates, egg and butter. Mix up dry ingredients in a large bowl and add the stuff from the food processor. Mix just until incorporated. Bake in greased muffin tins at 400* for 20 min (about 15 minutes for mini muffins).

Basic Bran Muffins
1 c Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Baking Soda
½ tsp Salt

1 c Sour milk (add milk to 1 tbsp vinegar or lemon juice to make 1 cup)
1 c Natural Bran (found with the oatmeal and other hot cereals - remember to store this in the freezer)

1/3 c oil
3 tbsp Molasses
1 egg
¼ c Brown Sugar
½ tsp vanilla
¾ c raisins

Add the bran to the sour milk and let it sit for a bit. Mix up the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, mix up the wet ingredients, then add the bran/milk mixture. Add the dry to the wet, then add the raisins. Bake in greased muffin tins at 375* for 20-25 min (about 15 minutes for mini-muffins).


3/4 cups melted butter
1-1/2 cups sugar
1-1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3 eggs
1/2 cup cocoa powder
3/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips(you can put 1 c. walnuts in too, if that's your thing - I don't because there is a no-nut policy at school and I like to have the option of including them in the kids’ lunches)

Mix wet ingredients with sugar. Mix dry ingredients and add to wet. Add chocolate chips. Put in greased 9x13 pan. Bake for about 20 minutes at 400*. If you like icing on your brownies, ice it while the brownies are still hot (about 5 minutes after you take them out of the oven). This will make the icing thin-ish and glossy. Wait until the brownies have completely cooled to cut into squares, otherwise you will have a gooey (yet delicious) mess.

2c flour
1 tsp salt
4 tbsp sugar
4 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
1½ cup milk
4 tbsp oil

Mix wet ingredients, add dry ingredients. Make pancakes. If you’re going to be letting the batter sit for a bit, add more milk to the batter. The longer the batter sits, the more the liquid will be absorbed by the flour and the consistency will be more muffin-batter than pancake batter.


Friday, January 25, 2008

Weekend Precap.

It’s shaping up to be another busy weekend at Casa Simpson. Between dance lessons, birthday parties, skating dates and the usual grocery shopping/cleaning/baking extravaganza that seems to punctuate most weekends, we’ll be hopping.

Lisa has not one, but two birthday parties – one on Saturday and one on Sunday. Lisa just turned 7 and now all of her classmates are turning 8 (not fair! she cries in vain). The one on Saturday is a swimming party (indoors, obviously). FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, it’s bad enough that I have to worry about the summer swimming parties, now here’s one right smack dab in the middle of a Canadian winter. GAH! Is no one else paranoid of kids and pools? I mean, there will be 20 kids there. Sure, there will be a lifeguard and the parents of the kid, but that ratio is far too low for my liking. Are you with me on this or am I truly a nutcase?

I usually don’t mind shuttling my children around to birthday parties, as it usually spells at least 2 hours of time to myself between the time I drop off and the time I pick up. I usually spend it shopping or running errands, but at least I’m alone, which doesn’t happen too often on a weekend (or ever). The swimming party means that I’ll have to stick around, at least until the water part is over. At least the Sunday one is in the kid’s house (sensible parents), so I’ll get a little time then.

I was calculating the other day that I have spent $1,404 (lifetime) on Lisa’s dance lessons (probably because she needed a new pair of shoes and I got a deal by buying them used for $20). She does Highland Dancing, which Homer thinks is stupid (because he hates bagpipes), but I think it’s kind of cool. It’s different, there is an opportunity to compete at Highland Games across North America and Britain and there’s a very strong cultural connection. Anyway, my $1,404 investment has paid off (in Lisa’s eyes anyway) because she was asked to play a special part in her school’s opera (yes, opera) this spring. The details are a little fuzzy, but the gist of it is that she will be dancing the Highland Fling (holding birds?) while the main characters make googly eyes at each other. Eat that, Homer. Highland Dancing is going to make our kid a star!

A long time ago (like before Christmas) Artemisia asked me to post some recipes that were not ruined by substituting whole-wheat flour for white flour. I have a whole list of them, but keep forgetting to bring them to work where I write most of my posts. I’m going to make a concerted effort to get to that post this weekend, because everybody loves a recipe post, right?!

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Repressed high school memory. Until now.

I had a call from an old high school teacher last week, asking for me to be involved in the planning of an upcoming reunion for the school (not for a specific class, but for the whole school). This teacher is also a friend of my Dad’s, who assured him I would have some interest in participating. Thanks, Dad.

The jury is still out on whether or not I will participate. I left the door open, but made sufficient excuses to decline at any moment (I don’t live in my hometown, I have three little kids and a full-time job, the weekend on which the reunion is planned is actually not that great for me work-wise).

The thing that struck me funny about the phone call, though, was a compliment that was, apparently, paid to me. Upon hearing that I might be interested in playing a role (on the word of my father), the chair of the reunion committee (another old teacher, Mr. P.) said, “Oh, she would be good. She was a smart girl.” I actually laughed out loud when I heard that.

My one and only class with Mr. P. was Grade 10 Geography. He was one of those arrogant teachers who took great pleasure in humiliating students who didn’t do their homework or just didn’t “get” the material. I’ll never forget the day he put three maps on the blackboard that had been coloured by the students as part of a homework assignment. One was beautifully coloured with absolutely no white space left on the page. The oceans and lakes were blue, the Canadian provinces were perfectly outlined and coloured according to his instructions. The second was coloured nicely, but the student had not followed his instructions for properly colour coding the provinces and territories. The third was technically coloured properly (the right colours in the right places), but the quality of the colouring job itself was worse than he would expect from his 3-year-old. That third one was mine.

My friend was someone he often chose to pick on – she was quiet and clearly didn’t care about geography, so usually just sat silently as he asked her over and over to come up with an answer. I got in the habit of whispering the answer to her before he even asked the question so she could shoot up her hand and beat him to the punch. After awhile, he stopped picking on her, which was great until she turned the tables on me. I still would whisper the answers to her, which apparently, annoyed her. She started raising her hand and saying, “Lori knows!” It got to the point where Mr. P. would ask a question, my friend would raise her hand and Mr. P. would say, “Lori, what’s the answer.”

So, now Mr. P. is the chair of the reunion committee and remembers me as being “a smart girl”. I wonder what else he remembers.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

He's not really getting it.

So, I broke the news to Lisa and Bart about M0by’s passing.

Lisa broke down into a puddle of tears. She wanted to make sure that he had been taken to the vet. That he wasn’t just really tired and sleeping deeply. That it wasn’t just a bad dream. After an hour or so of allowing herself to cry, she decided to draw a picture of M0by. Then, she looked out at the night sky and decided that the brightest star was the one he would be living on, watching us. Then, she gathered up about 10 books about dogs to read before bed. She asked if we could print the picture I posted yesterday so we could frame it and put it up. When she woke up this morning, she said she dreamed about puppies. She’s okay.

Bart, on the other hand, is a whacko. Seriously. From the moment he learned of M0by’s death, he asked at least 300 questions, some of them a little warped. A sampling:

Can I see a picture of dead M0by?
How did he die?
Where did he die?
Did his tail fall off when he died?
Were his eyes open when he died?
Did he fall in the pool and die?
Did he fall off the roof and die?
Did he really die?
Maggie, did you know that M0by died? Aren’t you sad? Lisa’s sad.
Can I go to [cousin's] house to see if M0by’s dead?
Is he dead in the house now?
Guess what, Lisa? M0by fell asleep and can’t wake up.
Let’s call [cousin] and see if M0by died.
When will M0by be not dead?
Mom, did M0by’s legs hurt so he died? My legs don’t hurt, so I won’t die.
… and so on.

I was exhausted by all the questions. The first thing he asked this morning was “Mom, is M0by still dead?” I’m guessing he’s just not grasping the whole concept of death.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Sad today.

Today I got word that a cherished member of our family passed away.

We learned just before Christmas that my brother’s dog, M0by, had cancer and did not have long to live. They could have put him through chemo treatments, but that would have only extended his life for a few months and would have subjected him to unnecessary trauma. They opted for some medication that would ease any pain and to let him go surrounded by the family and the familiar surroundings of which he was such a big part.

He looked fine at Christmas, maybe a little slower than usual, but he was the same gentle teddy bear that he has been since day one. He got a lot of extra attention that day; most of us knew it would be our last chance to stroke his soft fur or nuzzle his snugly neck. M0by was the “first grandchild”, joining the family 10 years ago. He was welcomed and loved wherever he went; he was the perfect dog. Rest in peace, sweet M0by. You will be missed.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Why do you have three children?

Bart asks this question a lot these days. I’ll be finishing up the dishes and he’ll look at me with his big, blueberry eyes and ask, very sincerely, “Mom, why do you have three children?”

At first I answered with snark: “Good question. Why DID I have three children?”

Then, I tried some inappropriate humour: “Too much wine and too few condoms.”

Then, I tried to answer like a good, caring mom: “Because we decided that three children was what we needed to make our family perfect.”

Finally, when I had run out of answers, I asked him his thoughts on the matter. Here it is, from the imagination of a four-year-old:

Bart: Lisa, Maggie and me climbed the ladder and were fixing the roof with a hammer, a wrench and a saw. You weren’t there yet, because you had to work. Daddy had to work too. Then, we needed help with the roof, so we took you off the shelf and you climbed the ladder.

Me: So, does that explain why we have three children?

Bart: Yes, because we three liked each other and liked to build the roof.

Me: So, Mommy and Daddy climbed the ladder and picked you to be our three children?

Bart (laughing): Nooo! You didn’t pick us. We picked YOU!

The funny thing is that he has repeated this tale over and over, like it makes all the sense in the world.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Tell me why I need a Stand Mixer. Please.

Somehow in the last year or so, I have convinced myself that I want a stand mixer.

I do a fair amount of baking; mostly cookies, muffins, quick breads, pies, etc. My mother doesn’t have a stand mixer, so I have always thought a hand mixer was all I needed. So, why do I have this burning desire to make room on my countertop for one of these beautiful appliances?

ooooh aaaah... so purdy

If you have a stand mixer, would you mind answering a few questions for me?
What brand/model do you have? Do you like it?

What do you use it for?

Why do I need one (or why do I not need one)?

If you don’t have one, do you share my pathetic yearning for a kitchen appliance, or just think I’m totally weird?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


I’m a little grumpy today, so here are some random, grumpy thoughts.

*I have some kind of sinus thing going on that is making the whole left side of my face hurt. I even went to the dentist on Friday thinking I had a cavity, but it’s just the sinus thing. Ibuprofen helps, but not so much when the drugs are at home and I’m at work.

*I just learned of a personnel change at one of the departments at work and it just keeps pissing me off. There are mixed opinions on how/why the old guy left, but by all accounts, it wasn’t a friendly parting of the ways. The new guy is someone I can’t stand (and I really can’t say that about many people). He has worked in another department for years at a managerial level. He is one of those people who brings problems to the table instead of solutions, which makes him a shitty manager (in my opinion). He has been in his new job for exactly 6.5 days and I have had exactly 3 run-ins with him. He doesn’t like me either, because I always throw his problems back at him and make him find his own solution (which he never does). At least in his old position I had very little reason to deal with him. In his new position, he’ll be in my face, complaining, a lot more.

*I had an unexpected half-day off yesterday because the babysitter called to say that she was sick and wouldn’t be able to pick up Bart at noon, nor Lisa after school. It sounded like she had the same sinus thing as me, except she was running off to the doctor to pick up a prescription. “Free” healthcare is great most of the time, but I also think it makes people a little less willing to buck up and let an illness run its course.

*With my half-day, Bart and I headed out to I*K*E*A to pick up a shelf. Several years ago, I built an island/table thingy in my kitchen and always wanted some cube shelving for the adjacent wall. A couple of months ago, we bought a wall unit that was 1/3 of what we needed for the space. After several attempts to get it up on the wall, we determined that this one shelf was far too heavy and that three would be out of the question (because of the way the shelf was constructed, we couldn't screw it into a stud, and none of those wall plug deals was doing the trick). When I picked up the new shelf, I realized it was also too heavy, so I have to re-work my plans again. I just want some nice shelves to display some nice baskets (that will be filled with crap, but at least the crap will be off my island), some pictures and maybe a few nice bowls. Why are they all so damned heavy?

Hopefully tomorrow will be a little more uplifting! Grrr.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Do You Boynton?

My kids have an ongoing love affair with Sandra Boynton books.

When Lisa was little, she loved the Opposites book so much that it literally fell apart. At 19 months, she would amaze strangers by “reading” the book to herself wherever we were (beach, grocery line, restaurant). We put it back together with duct tape and it lasted through Bart as well, although Bart was more of a But Not the Hippopotamus kind of guy.

When Maggie was born, my awesome cousin gave her two Boynton collections, which included a fresh, new copy of Opposites, along with 6 others, including her faves, Barnyard Dance and Pajama Time.

This Christmas, the same awesome cousin (who is a literacy specialist with her school board and always gives very cool book gifts) gave each of my kids a Sandra Boynton music and lyrics collection. They are so, so awesome.

Maggie received Dog Train (which turned out to be the top pick of all the kids). The songs are funny, both to adults and kids and the tunes are catchy. Weird Al Yankovic and Kate Winslet do an awesome duet called “I Need a Nap”. Also Simpson-recommended is Doshie Luther’s “Wave Bye-Bye” where a 4-year-old finds herself at a grown-up party with her parents and wants to just get the hell out of there. Best line:
They said it was a party
But they made a mistake
How can it be a party
when there isn’t any cake?

Bart received Philadelphia Chickens, which is like a Broadway production featuring the voices of Meryl Streep, Scott Bakula, Laura Linney and Eric Stolz, among others.

Lisa received Rhinoceros Tap, advertised as “15 Seriously Silly Songs”. Bart likes the “Bad Babies” song best, which is a look at babies from a 5-year-old’s perspective.

Each CD came with a hardcover book with the music and lyrics and Boynton’s awesome illustrations and they even got the matching stuffed animal for each of the books. If you click on any of the links above, Amazon has a "Listen to Samples" feature. Do it... you'll be hooked!

If you are looking for kid music that doesn’t drive you around the bend, I highly recommend these three CD’s.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

What's the deal?

Are pantyhose supposed to be disposable?

I don’t wear pantyhose very often - mostly because I don’t wear dresses or skirts much in the winter. I only have two skirts (both are part of a suit) and really no winter dresses (as in, dresses with sleeves, because I can’t stand being cold). I don’t own these garments because I don’t own a long winter coat. I mean, I DID own a winter coat, but then someone stole it from a restaurant about 4 years ago and I haven’t seen one I like since. Not that I’ve looked too hard, because the lack of coat leads to the giving away of unworn skirts and dresses, which lessens the need for the coat.

Anyway, it’s really warm out today, so I put on one of my skirt suits and a brand new pair of pantyhose. Like, I pulled them out of the package and slipped them on. Two seconds ago, I crossed my legs and now have a big run that goes from my crotch to the middle of my calf on the inside of my leg. Luckily my skirt comes to my knee and I’m wearing tall boots, so it’s not really a crisis, but STILL! I cannot get more than one wear out of pantyhose, ever. I don’t think I’m wearing the wrong size – I fit quite neatly into the size guide limits. I’m not doing anything taxing on my legs, like sitting on a spiky chair, rubbing against a cactus or wrestling with a porcupine.

So, what’s the deal with pantyhose? Are they meant to be disposable? If they are, why do they cost so much?

Monday, January 7, 2008

Well, hello there!

Happy New Year!

We had a great holiday, but it’s good to be back into a routine. The kids were driving me a little batty towards the end, as I’m sure I was driving them batty. They were excited to get back to school; even little Maggie smiled and waved when I dropped her off at daycare. I was worried that we would have to start all over with her after two weeks off, but I was, thankfully, wrong.

My favourite thing about starting a fresh, new year is all the great magazine articles, TV shows and news segments about living a healthier lifestyle. Seriously, I eat this kind of stuff up. The funny thing is that most of the information is not news to me, but serves as a fun little refresher course and motivation to try to do better.

Discovery Health had a couple of shows that I watched and saved to watch again. My favourite was The Truth About Food: How to be Slim. This is one of a BBC series of six shows about how food affects your body and it was excellent. The biggest thing that I took away from this show was that including low-fat dairy in your diet will allow your body to turn more fat to waste than a diet that excludes dairy. This goes against what a lot of diet plans advocate (most notably, the wicked Gillian from You Are What You Eat).

I did make two New Years Resolutions this year. The first is to take better care of my skin. I`m not getting any younger, and my skin is giving away my age. I know that 90% of the problem is that I am dehydrated. I KNOW I should be drinking 2 litres of water a day, but I don`t. I KNOW that if I cut down on sugary foods, I can avoid my ever-present rash, but I don`t. I KNOW that slapping body lotion on my face is probably not wise, but I do it anyway. So, I have started to incorporate more water into my day, I have said no thanks to candy and I actually bought some face cream.

The second is to be more regular with my exercise. I have the perfect workout just steps from my front door (a staircase up an escarpment with 336 steps) and I intend to make better use of it. I`ve resigned myself to the fact that I am just not a gym person – I need to be able to work out on a moment`s notice, whenever I can squeeze it into my day. Hopefully the end result will be a smaller butt (I measured and it is a full 10 inches bigger than my waist – 10 inches!), but at the very least it will be good for my heart.

I hope you all had a great holiday. Over the next few days, I hope to catch up on some of what I have missed out there in the blog world. I feel like I have been away forever!