I have a kitchen reno post all spooled up, an epic book review post, and now this general catch-up post.
I lost track of time and then all of a sudden December was upon us, with all that "December" entails - frantic gift buying, cookie baking, friend visiting, and memory-making - made all the more challenging by the fact that all our stuff is currently in Momma D's basement/garage. Compounded by the fact that we just spent an ungodly amount of money (that we don't have, per se) making a giant litterbox for our cats in our basement (at least, that's how they're thinking of it) and it was only going to be sealed up with concrete yesterday.
All that being said, here is the latest from my renovation diaries: I can't recommend my Underpinners enough. They BLASTED through the job. What usually takes them 6 weeks took them 4. Yesterday we got our concrete pad poured which means we'll be able to walk on the floor today. As of right now, the staircase is short about 4 steps and we've been going up and down on it into the basement, using a pallet leaned up against the wall as the last 4 "stairs." I'm a little confused how a staircase minus the bottom third can even support any weight, but I guess wood is a magical substance? That's how I'm rationalizing it anyway. I basically HAVE to believe that wood is a magical substance after seeing the state of the 100+ year old joists in my home. Bonus points to this text exchange from one of the guys on my underpinning team:
Steven: "...the concrete pour went smoothly."
Me: "Is that a pun? Cuz if so, I like it."
Steven: "I was hoping you'd catch that."
Obviously, the sexual tension is unbearable. J/K J/K J/K.
We've had a contractor in to quote us on HVAC and framing, drywall, and finishing. As I've mentioned, I'm acting as the general contractor on this job so I'm scheduling my own drains guy, a plumber (who is different from a drains guy, as it turns out), and an electrician. I'm learning a LOT about building code and permits and I'm feeling pretty good about the contractor we've hired. He's worked for a friend of ours and according to my friend, the contractor and I will be a match made in heaven. He's VERY cheap and I basically just need him to be my hands. With my design vision and his labour, we should be able to make a beautiful space together.
We bought our Xmas tree this weekend. Even though the Dotytron is 6'4" and WE KNOW THIS, we saw that the tree was towering over him and still convinced ourselves we could get it into the house? I don't know why. We ended up lopping off about 2 feet and the point is scratching the ceiling. The Dotytron gets super-angsty about the tree every year. He has very specific tastes and they are never appeased. This year, we bought off some dude who owns a farm, sets up shop in the Canadian Tire parking lot, and lives in a trailer for the month of December, probably subsisting on the Canadian Tire chip truck fries, which isn't a bad life, if you ask me (they are hands-down the best chip truck fries I've ever encountered). We bought a white fir, which has a lot of breathing room between the levels of boughs. This is good for decorating - lots of boughs for hanging decorations on. However, the bark seems soft and I think the tree is leaning. The memory of our tree falling over last year is still fresh in my mind, so I feel like I'm walking around with a nervous weight in my chest as I await the call from our caregiver that the tree fell on one/both of the babies and (even worse) all my vintage ornaments got smashed to pieces.
Both Wonder Twins are now walking, with the Quincess having made up for his earlier deficit. He now walks more often and confidently than Lindsay Lou-Lou, and is a big fan of giving himself a round of applause after a display of upright prowess.
This video is long and only appeals to people related by blood to the Wonder Twins. I no longer have time to edit the videos I'm throwing up on here. However, video footage of kids is the best. We went down memory lane and checked out video footage of the Big Yam from two years' ago, this time and it was heart-rending. Also, if you stick around to the 2:20 mark you see Lenny's crip-crawl and at the 3:19 mark you can hear the disgustingly adorable way Quincess says "peeakaboo."
Here is what I've been cooking lately:
Homemade sticky buns! I subbed out 1/2 the flour called for in the recipe with whole wheat flour. The sticky sauce is delightful - a bit of honey adds some depth and acidity to the sweetness. I only used half the amount of the sticky sauce called for, but drizzled a bit on each bun as they were warmed and eaten. Recipe here.
Brisket! I love making brisket because it means we have brisket braising liquid in the house, which means that our shepherd's pies, mushroom pastas and the like are considerably enriched.
This was freezer pozole I warmed up one night when I was manning the dinner mayhem solo. This was a lifesaver.
Biscuits! I'll also post my go-to biscuits recipe below. It's a little fussier than most, but I do love it - the results are tender and flaky, with a good burnished crust. Sturdy enough to take being sandwiched around eggs and bacon, and delicious on their own with butter and jam.
I don't think I've made a double-crust apple pie in over a decade. I made this one and instantly questioned why I had avoided for so long. Based on this recipe from Joy the Baker. Overall, I was happy with all elements of the recipe except I would dial back or omit the nutmeg entirely, and my apples shrunk down a lot so there was huge gap between the top lid and the filling. Possibly due to my choice of apples (granny smith). I might try golden delicious next time and see if it yields better results.
Rice cooker one-pot meals! Soy sauce chicken rice with Chinese sausage (lap cheong), chicken thighs, dried shitake mushrooms, brown basmati rice, and some stir baby bok choy added at the last minute. I used low sodium soy sauce and this was a HUGE hit.
I feel like I eat a variation on this meal about once every two weeks. "Slop on a plate topped with a fried egg and served with guacamole." In this case, we have black bean and sweet potato migas. Traditional migas has you stirring scrambled eggs into the mixtures along with the crumbled tortillas chips. I wasn't sure how that would be received by the younger folk, so I added the eggs on the side.
Last night we had my mom over for dinner so we had a classic Sunday night lasagna with caesar salad. I made two, so we have one for the freezer. Each lasagne got a layer of 1lb of frozen chopped spinach incorporated, which means the kids got some vegetables in there as well.
In terms of kid eating habits, I can say that one of the good points of having a nanny is that the babies pretty much only eat my food, and are thus maintaining their ability to be good eaters. They obviously have their favorites - yogurt, hot dogs, and sweets - and we have definitely been more lax about letting them have the odd treat than we ever were with the Big Yam. They also have their preferences - they will rarely touch raw vegetables (save avocado, and the odd grape tomato), but they eat cooked ones fine. The Quincess loves his carbs, hard. We have been referring to him as the "rice queen" (tongue in cheek, of course) because he loves rice so much. They will also eat anything in a pie shell - so a spinach and ricotta pie or a quiche loaded with vegetables goes down the hatch easy, to the point where one 9" pie isn't enough for the whole family. This is frightening. The Big Yam is a bit more resistant. He eats baby carrots, and loves cooked beans and peas. Other vegetables are a bit of a crap-shoot, but we can make him try, with reasonable success. One of the things working in our favour is his lack of numeracy skills. When we're negotiating the number of bites he has to eat, he frequently overshoots. "How many bites do you think?" "TWENTY TWELVE!"
As we enter the holiday season, here are some fun gift suggestions for kids the Big Yam's age. This is all spurred by this awesome birthday present my sister got him, which is a logic/reasoning game called "Rush Hour Jr.":
Different levels require you to block the ice cream truck in with other vehicles and the kid has to figure out how to get the ice cream truck out the opening, while only moving the other vehicles as their orientation/path dictate. It's super-fun, and the Big Yam has a great time playing it. This lead me to other games made by the same company, Thinkfun. They're all kind of nerdy, fun, logic/reasoning games.
This game allegedly teaches kids coding and programming and is "the most backed boardgame in Kickstarter history." It's won a tonne of awards.
Bug Trails is a colour-based dominoes-type game. I tried to find it for a stocking stuffer, but no luck.
Mighty Mind is a classic, Montessori-type "toy". It allows kids to make the shapes/figures outlines on the cards using shapes. Kids learn dexterity and geometry and develop their spatial reasoning. This was a component on the gifted test, and I have always nerdily been into IQ test type "games" - so this is right up my alley. They make a magnetic version which would be good for travelling/road trips. I bought this as a stocking stuffer on the pricier side of things.
Magformers are a magnet-based building system that allows kids to do non-directed building and construction of three dimensional objects. The fact that the sides of the shapes are magnetized is a big plus for me - not only is it cool, it's also handy for clean-up purposes. For reasons I can't quite fathom, Magformers are RIDICULOUSLY expensive. Like, the standard set is $100. That's crazytown. This reminds me that I should start looking online on Craigslist or Kijiji to see if I can find anything used.
For kids who like BopIt! (which my kid does), then Simon is the classic. It's a pattern matching game - Simon shows you an increasingly complicated sequence that you have to match. They apparently make a pocket-sized one (again, this would be good for travel) that I've heard retails for $9.99 but for some reason Amazon.ca is listing it for SIXTY FIVE DOLLARS, which is bananas. I'm not sure why it's so expensive, unless there's been a run on them?
We kept it fairly simple (?) for the Big Yam this year. We got him a robe, because our house is always cold, a fact that should be ameliorated once we get all our ducts connected. One of the good things about the basement reno is that pulling everything open and apart revealed that we have entire sections of HVAC that aren't connected properly, which we will have rectified and then maybe our house won't be an icebox all the time. I bought him some books. We got him the magnetic Mighty Mind and my mom bought him the Robot Turtle game. I also got this Thinkfun dice game as a stocking stuffer, alongside some boxes of Smarties (which he loves), a magnifying glass, and some cheap wind-up toys. The babies are being given the gift of life, in addition to a set of jammies that matches a set we got for the Big Yam. I also bought a set of second hand gears for them, which should go along with a hand-me-down gear set that I gave my nephew ages ago.
What are all you parents getting for your wee ones this Xmas?
4 2/3 c. all purpose flour
1 1/2 t. cream of tartar
1 1/2 t. baking soda
1 1/2 t. salt
1/2 c. cold vegetable shortening
approx 2 c. buttermilk
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into chunks and softened at room temperature
1 T. unsalted butter, melted.
- stir together dry ingredients, then blend in shortening with your fingertips or a pastry cutter until no big chunks of shortening remain. The mixture should look like a crumbly streusel.
- add 1 3/4 c. buttermilk and stir, adding the remaining buttermilk a bit at a time if the dough seems dry. You want a soft, sticky dough. Dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface and pat into a flat rectangle, about 1" thick.
- Take 1/2 of the butter and spread it on the top 2/3 of the dough. Fold the dough in thirds like a letter, and then turn the dough letter 90 degrees. Pat it out again into a 1" thickness and repeat with the remaining butter.
- Pat out the dough 3/4" thick and then use a circle cutter to cut out the biscuits. Brush with the melted butter and bake in a preheated 450F oven until golden brown, about 20-25 minutes.