Cake for breakfast.

“Okay, but why are you sorry?”

“Because you got mad.”

I’m at the stage in whatever process I’m in – book-writing, middle-management, big-kid parenting, all of it – where I would like to turn a few pages back in this choose-your-own-adventure story of life. I accidentally set a meatloaf and four sweet potatoes on fire on the barbecue this week and then cried because Nick ruined dinner by spraying it with the fire extinguisher. How could he. If a little char adds flavour, what might a little incineration do? I guess we’ll never know.

“But do you know why I got mad?”

“It’s just something you do sometimes when I break stuff.”

Remember when we were teenagers and the high school teachers had us fill out those aptitude tests to find out what we should be doing with our lives, as if that meant anything? I took the test twice because my first result was “street performer.” I have no musical talent and it rains for months at a time here. My second result was “embalmer,” and I panicked because HOW WOULD THAT EVEN WORK? (Side note: what the hell, 1990s Surrey School District administration, did you buy the discount testing package?!) I was terrible at science and failing math and worried that I wasn’t meant for anything that would support my future cat family and ability to finally own a pair of Mavi jeans. Instead of aptitude tests, teachers should tell teens about all the things they will have to juggle one day, effectively and with a smile, and all their “what am I going to do with my life?” fears would be replaced by “how can I avoid all of that?”

Maybe worrying about your future career path is pointless. Maybe they should give kids parenting workshops so that they know what to do when they inevitably find themselves bested by the world’s sassiest five-year-old.

Aside from “marry rich” and “don’t teach your children to talk,” I don’t have many answers. But perhaps I can make a suggestion? Don’t try to be the kind of parent and partner and worker the internet thinks you should be, at least not all at once, and don’t sign your five-year-old up for soccer and T-Ball at the same time while you try to write a book and work a full-time job on five hours of sleep per night. Another suggestion? Eat cake for breakfast.

Ontbijtkoek means “breakfast cake” in Dutch, and the Netherlands is a place that in a lot of ways has its priorities in order. There is comfort in something that feels just a little indulgent, but still a little nutritious. Not that nutritious, though it has a reputation for it; traditional recipes for this particular delicacy boast of the whole-grain goodness of rye flour, and that there is no fat to speak of in the bread. Traditionally, it also calls for a bucket of honey and molasses and sugar, but that is beside the point. Health! Health?

I wouldn’t exactly call this health food, but I wouldn’t call it junk either. It is wholesome, somewhere between a bread and a cake. Drier than cake, but sweeter than bread, if that makes sense? It’s a very nice way to start your day, especially with a big cup of coffee or tea, and a generous smear of butter and a drizzle of honey. Coffee and cake for breakfast are how I’m surviving the chaos of little boys, and grown-ups who want to add to my to-do list and food that just engulfs itself in flames at RANDOM and not through any fault of mine. I’ll let you know if it works.

Ontbijtkoek

The rye flour in this loaf makes it more substantial than a typical loaf cake, and the molasses means it’s not as sweet. It’s virtuous cake, if there’s such a thing, and it’s meant to be eaten in the morning.

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • ¾ cup fancy molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup dark rye flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • ½ tsp. Kosher salt
  • 2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. ground allspice
  • ½ tsp. ground nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp. ground cloves

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9″x5″ loaf pan, and set aside.

Whisk together milk, molasses and egg. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine all-purpose flour, rye flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and cloves.

Gently work the wet ingredients into the flour mixture until dry ingredients are just moistened but not lumpy.

Spoon batter into prepared loaf pan, and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the loaf comes out clean.

Turn out onto a wire rack to cool. After ten minutes, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and cool to room temperature. Will keep for about three days.

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Hunger Awareness Week: Barley porridge and “baked” apples.

We’ve talked about who needs food banks (people like you and I), and the kinds of products food banks frequently receive and the services they offer. Food Banks Canada is an incredible, essential resource for hundreds of thousands of people and families every year. It’s inspiring, and there’s a lot you can do to help.

You can donate food. Food drives during the holidays are a great start, and food donation bins at your local supermarket are a great way to give all year. Do you shop at places like Superstore (or other Loblaw’s stores), or Shopper’s Drug Mart? Take advantage of points programs (PC Plus and the Shopper’s Optimum program, respectively) that reward you with points toward cash to buy more than you need and donate the excess, or cash in your extra points for groceries you can donate anytime of year.

You can donate money. You can give once, or you can set up monthly donations. You can also make a gift in honour of a friend or family member, either in celebration or in memory. Wondering where your money goes? Read Food Banks Canada’s Donor Impact Report.

You can donate time. Consider hosting a food drive, starting a fundraiser, or setting up a food donation bin in your workplace or school. Get the whole family involved and make hunger an issue you tackle together.

You can change the conversation online. We talk a lot about food porn and foodies, but not enough about food security or food justice. Tweet about hunger. Participate in #FoodbankFriday on Instagram and share your donation with your audience to inspire them to do the same. And share on Facebook about food drives in your area to draw attention to campaigns to food bank stock shelves in your community.

You can bug your politicians. And, as we’re right smack in the middle of election season, you can ask your candidates what they plan to do to address poverty and hunger in your community and across the country. Make them earn your vote, and put them to work once they’re elected. Politicians aren’t food insecure; don’t let them forget that many people are and that they can do something about it. 

Overnight barley porridge with applesMy last Hunger Awareness Week recipe is a breakfast recipe, because people who have a little something in their bellies to start the day perform better at work, have fewer accidents, and have the energy to get through the day. Kids who eat breakfast are less disruptive in school, pay more attention, and are less likely to act out. This recipe for overnight barley porridge is easy, and requires just five minutes in the morning. Take advantage of your microwave to fake the taste of baked apples. This is way better than cold buttered toast as you run out the door.

Overnight barley porridge with “baked” apples

Porridge:

  • 1 cup pearl barley, rinsed
  • 1/4 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon

Apples:

  • 1 lb. sweet, firm-fleshed apples (such as ambrosia, honeycrisp or braeburn; about two medium apples), peeled, cored and diced
  • 1 tsp. butter
  • 2 tsp. brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon

In a saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, bring barley, salt and three cups of cold water to a boil. Once it’s hit a rolling boil, turn off the heat and slap the lid on it. Let it sit on your stove overnight.

When you wake up in the morning, place diced apples, butter, brown sugar and cinnamon in a microwave-safe bowl, and cover with a lid or plastic wrap. Microwave on high for four minutes.

Meanwhile, add half a cup of milk, brown sugar and cinnamon to barley, and stir to break up the grains. Heat for three to five minutes, until liquid is bubbling and grains are hot.

Serve porridge in bowls, topped with apples and additional sugar, as desired.

Spaghetti squash muffins.

spaghetti squash muffins

I make a lot of muffins.

Not on purpose, really; I have a picky eater and more produce than I know what to do with and I’ve got to get something that grows into him somehow and he’ll eat baked goods. All the baked goods. So, over the past year or so, I have honed my muffin-making prowess to the point where I believe I could now fill a book with deceptively healthy muffin recipes. When did I get so dull?

If it makes me seem any cooler, I am currently drinking a vodka and soda out of a topless sippy cup because we have a ran-out-of-clean-dishes situation.

Vodka. Topless. There you go, there’s some good stuff, right?

And we have reached that part of the year where all my good intentions in June have manifested in abundance come late-September, and now we’re into October and I have to do something with all the squash. “Good intentions” might be the wrong way to put it – I was a little more delusional than well-intended, I think, because while I love spaghetti squash, I don’t love having to eat a dozen of them all at once, but I never think about that when I’m enthusiastically thumbing seeds into the ground. So, between what grew in the garden and what I couldn’t resist at the farmer’s market, I am forced to get creative.

One does not simply feed a picky eater stringy bits of yellow squash. No.

Fortunately, I’m acing muffins these days and you can put spaghetti squash in muffins. You can. And it’s pretty good.

This recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups of cooked spaghetti squash; most of the time, that’s one whole spaghetti squash. If you’re a little short, just add a bit of applesauce to make up the difference.

Spaghetti squash muffins

  • 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats (not instant or quick-cooking)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp. flax seed
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked and drained spaghetti squash
  • 1 cup grapeseed or other neutral-tasting oil
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 tsp. vanilla or maple extract
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts

Cook your spaghetti squash. There are a bunch of ways you can do this – I usually just throw the whole thing into a 400-degree oven and let it go until it’s soft, but that’s not terribly helpful. You can also microwave it, which is faster. Check this list out, and cook it however you like; just be sure to discard the seeds and scrape the flesh into a colander in the sink to drain it; drain for about 15 minutes, after which the squash should be cool enough to work with.

Preheat your oven to 350°F. If you have two muffin pans, you are very lucky – grease them both, or line the little cups with whatever kind of liner you like. I’m cheap, so one muffin pan plus grease it is.

In a large bowl, combine your flours, oats, sugars, flax, baking soda, spices, and salt. Mix well.

In another bowl, mix squash, oil, eggs, and extract. Fold into your dry ingredients until they are just moistened; add your walnuts and fold again.

Spoon your batter into muffin tins until each muffin cup is about three-quarters full. You should get between 21 and 24 muffins.

Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Whoever you’re deceiving with these will never notice that these are kind of good for them, I promise.

Picky.

Overnight pancakes.

MESS.

For the past two weeks, this household has been in the sick of things, each of us weighed down by an assortment of pains and ailments, from migraines and colds to flus and sinus infections. I wish I could say that I have taken charge of our healing by simmering wholesome and restorative meals rich in love and nutrients. That would have been nice of me.

Last Wednesday the sick was so bad I skipped lunch and napped under my desk for an hour. The next day I took a sick day, and by the weekend I was sure I was going to die. I begged Nick to smother me, and when he wouldn’t I chastised him for not taking advantage of the out I had offered him. I tried to smother myself but the cat thought we were playing a game and ruined it.

By Monday this past week I was certain I had cracked some teeth coughing, so I made a dental appointment. The good news is the teeth are fine; the bad news is my sinuses are pretty angry and infected. The worst news is that my wisdom teeth are pretty much one with my skull now but they have to be removed so it sounds like it’s bone-saw time. That’s the worst time!

2013 has not been off to a good start. And now that I have managed to attain a functional balance of NyQuil, antibiotics and codeine, the baby has finally succumbed and is fevered with a face full of ick.

It’s times like these when I can’t fathom coming down off my prescription and cough syrup high to go to the grocery store. We are out of eggs. And we had a late night. So somewhere between rescuing the little guy from a coughing fit and the two of us passing out in the dark, I whisked together some flour, water, yeast, honey and salt for pancake batter. If all three of us woke up in the morning, we would have pancakes. It would be a kind of reward.

Nighttime batter

 

Morning batter

This recipe makes 6 pancakes, and will serve between two and three people, depending on how hungry you are, or how much bacon your version of Nick decided to make. I like these topped with berries, or with chestnut cream. Because they are more like fried bread than flapjacks, you could take savoury liberties with them – try them with sour cream and apple sauce, or with cottage cheese and thinly sliced scallions, if that pleases you.

As a note – the berries on these were a mix of a pound of frozen strawberries, a tablespoon of cornstarch, a tablespoon of honey, and half a teaspoon of vanilla, simmered until the berries softened and released their juices and the whole thing thickened pleasingly.

Pretty pancakes.

Lazy pancakes

  • 1/2 tsp. dry yeast
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. honey
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 tbsp. vegetable or canola oil
  • 1 tbsp. butter

Whisk ingredients together in a bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and stick it in the fridge overnight.

30 minutes to an hour before you’re ready to cook, take the bowl out of the fridge and let it rest at room temperature. Heat the oil and butter in a large pan over medium-high heat.

Gently spoon your pancakes into the pan, taking care not to stir the batter. Cook until edges appear crispy and bubbles form through each cake, about two minutes. Flip, and cook an additional two minutes, or until golden and puffed.

Serve hot, with a compote of berries, or maple syrup, or sour cream and apple sauce.

Fluffy!

A request and a winner.

At the risk of alienating breakfast mush enthusiasts … I’m kind of over oatmeal. I need a break on the whole slop for breakfast routine.

To be honest, I don’t want to do much about breakfast, because I am someone who can live quite happily from 6:30 am until almost noon on a single fat-free latte. My stomach doesn’t even notice this neglect until it’s time for lunch, and then it is an angry beast who demands carbs and cheese and I reward it handsomely for its patience. Unfortunately, Stomach and Metabolism aren’t on speaking terms so while Stomach is fine on a little bit of tea and frothy milk, Metabolism is like “Oh, really? Don’t you know about six small meals a day to maintain a healthy weight? HERE’S AN EXTRA FORTY POUNDS, SMUGGY.” So, breakfast. Jump-starting the day, and all of that.

I tried smoothies – both with yogurt and vegan-styles – but those are worse than eating nothing. It’s like that little bit of fruit and yogurt and flaxseed reminds my metabolism that I am awake and doing stuff in a way that a latte does not, and my stomach gets pretty angry about it. I have found myself eating broken, linty teething cookies from the dregs of my purse in fits of famished panic. I’ve swallowed gum. In trying to do something healthy, what I’ve done is turned myself into the kind of person who angrily eats beef jerky from a vending machine at 9:30 in the morning.

Bacon, eggs and toast are good, but they’re hard to eat when you’re trying to evenly apply mascara with one hand while fighting off a cat and a baby while the two of them battle over who gets to be the one to unroll all the toilet paper directly into the toilet. Cold cereal leaves me starving immediately after I eat it. I hate bananas so much. But I need options.

I’ve put my question out into the ether (the Googles) and it’s too much. I can’t read 80,000 blog posts and forum discussions about 80,000 slightly different recipes for green smoothies – it’s overwhelming, and I distract easily. Also my kale has wilted in the crisper. So, why not try a smaller sample group?

What do you eat for breakfast on your weekday mornings, and does it keep you from starving? Can you recommend a smoothie recipe, a breakfast sandwich, or some other magical, convenient (homemade) weekday-morning-friendly thing that will leave me full  until lunch(ish)? I suppose it could even be oatmeal, but maybe something new and different to do with it.

I should also announce the winner to that little photo giveaway we talked about last week. I was supposed to do it at 5:00 and then I set my oven on fire, as you do, and as a result lost track of time.

Winner!

The winner is Aim Harder, who wants to prove to her new little person that it’s not so scary out there in front of the camera. Congrats, Aim, and all the best! Shoot me an email at emily.wight@gmail.com and I’ll put you in touch with Bethany so you can schedule your session.

Toad in the Hole.

We’re moving next week, and we’re hiring movers, which we have never done before. We can’t really afford them, but I figure it’s the cost of saving our marriage and friendships, because while our new building has an elevator, our current one doesn’t and we’re on the third floor. This, and the fact that it’s Buy Nothing Day, have reminded me that we have too much stuff – so much stuff, and I wonder how much of it we would even miss if it was gone. You’d be surprised at how many chicken figurines and plastic dinosaurs two people can cram into fewer than 1,000 square feet.

Or maybe you wouldn’t?

One of the things we don’t need to spend so much on is take-out, which we’ve been eating too much of because my job is less a job and more a way of life, and because the dishes are dirty and one of us has to clean them and it isn’t going to be me. But those are excuses, and I know that. I am never so busy that I can’t just take half an hour and make dinner; that I’m doing so little of that is laziness. During the Depression, no one got to say “Uggggh, work sucked today, let’s just get wine and Thai food and watch dumb crap on TV with our pants off.” They might have wanted to, but they turned their powdered milk and canned tomatoes and elbow macaroni into a dish that would span four meals because that’s just what you did.

We need a little more “that’s just what you do” and less “eff, I just don’t feel like it.” I need to stop using fatigue and ennui as an excuse.

It’s Friday, and I probably could have gotten away with just calling in for sushi, but I wanted something homemade, something made out of stuff I have in the cupboards and fridge. So here’s a dish I’ve made a million times, one that won over Nick in the very beginning when he was just a fetus of a husband, back when we were young and never watched TV because we had too many roommates hogging the remote and no cable anyway. It’s something I made here a few years ago, but that has evolved and grown into a better dish – why did I never think to add cheese before?! Anyway, here’s Toad in the Hole: Version 2012. It’s an eggy, pancakey thing – basically Yorkshire pudding with stuff baked in – and it’s good with salad, but it’s better if you serve it with onions and cabbage fried with bacon. Because what isn’t?

Make it vegetarian by folding mushrooms and shallots fried in butter into the batter. Use what you have, but don’t make a special trip to the store. It’s best if your milk and eggs are at room temperature, but it’s not the end of the world if they aren’t.

Toad in the Hole

  • 2 tbsp. butter or two strips of bacon, chopped
  • 2 to 4 sausages
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk or buttermilk
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • Pinch salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese

Preheat your oven to 425°F.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, milk or buttermilk, eggs, mustard, and salt and pepper until smooth. Set aside.

In a cast-iron pan over medium-high heat, melt butter or cook bacon. If you don’t have a cast iron pan, stick a pie plate in the oven as it preheats.

Melt butter or cook bacon. If cooking bacon, scoop out of the pan and drain it on paper towel. Brown sausages in melted butter or bacon grease – it doesn’t matter if they are cooked through, but you want them brown on all sides. Remove from the pan and slice into bite-sized pieces.

Add bacon, if using, and sausages back to the pan, or to the heated pie plate (if using), pour batter over top, sprinkle with cheese and stick in the oven for 25 minutes, until batter has puffed and turned golden. Slice and serve immediately with mustard or sour cream.

 

Candied pork belly.

I’m going to tell you a secret.

When your friends have children and they can’t stop telling you how easy it is, and what a super duper joy babies are every day especially at 3:00 a.m., and how diapers aren’t really that big a deal, you should take their claims with a medium-sized grain of salt. Especially if those friends only know, like, a handful of people who have babies and most of them live outside the city which is too far to take public transportation for play-dates.

They want you to have your own kids and join them. I am shameless about it.

Babysitters are expensive, so it’s nice when you can convince a few people close by to procreate and trade free babysitting, or even just spend Saturday nights together, drinking red wine and sighing heavily over the cost of daycare. And it took a little while, but I got one! My friends Aimee and Evani are expecting their first miniature human burden! This is very exciting news, as they just moved ten minutes away and right across the street from the place that sells dosas for $5.99 on Mondays. We are going to do so much commiserating! I am going to eat all the curry pancakes!

In the meantime, it’s important for a pregnant lady to have brunch made for her once in awhile. So this past weekend, Aimee, Evani, and Vanessa – three lovely, funny ladies – and I plonked down at my dining room table and we ate until we could barely muster the energy to stand up and waddle to the couches afterward.

For Aimee, I candied some pork belly. And now we are never having mere bacon at brunch ever again.

I stole the brining and braising of the pork belly from the Momofuku cookbook. You can find the recipe for the pork belly buns online, but I highly recommend this cookbook. Everything I’ve made from it has been worth making again and again.

Candied pork belly

  • 2 1/2 pounds pork belly, skin removed (about one kilogram)
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup brown sugar, divided
  • 1/2 cup plus 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt, divided
  • 1 cup apple cider or unsweetened apple juice
  • 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

Whisk together four cups of water, 1/2 cup of brown sugar, and 1/2 cup of Kosher salt until mostly dissolved. Place in a large, sturdy zip-top bag or container with a lid, and pour the brine over top. Seal and let brine in the fridge for 24 hours.

Remove pork belly from brine, and place fat side up in a 9″x13″ baking dish. Preheat oven to 300°F. Pour apple cider or juice over pork belly, cover the whole thing with aluminum foil, and cook for 2 1/2 hours.

Remove from oven, cool completely, and stick back in the fridge for at least three hours but preferably overnight.

Remove chilled pork belly from fridge. Cut in half width-wise (with the grain of the meat) and then into length-wise slices  (across the grain of the meat) about 1/4-inch thick.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment or foil, and lay slices of pork belly evenly across the pan. Mix remaining brown sugar and salt with smoked paprika, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper. Sprinkle half of the mixture over the pork belly slices.

Turn on your oven’s broiler, and stick the pan right underneath. This part is going to require constant vigilance – it will take just a second to burn, so you need to pay attention. Watch the surface of the pork belly; what you want is for the sugar to melt and bubble. When it’s done that, take out the pan, flip your slices, and sprinkle the remaining sugar mixture over top; stick the pan back under the broiler and watch for the same sizzling.

Serve hot, with brunch foods.