Beef Stew

Put down that can of chunky soup!  Put down that tin of store bought stew.  You can DO this!

There – did I get your attention?  Today’s recipe is for beef stew.  Although I feel bad calling it a recipe, because really, I never do it exactly the same way twice.  I also don’t really measure anything, but I’ll do my best for you!

When I decided to make stew today I didn’t want to run to the grocery store, so I did a mental inventory of my freezer, fridge and counter, and knew I had enough things in the house to do it.  I’m going to give you the ingredients and portions I used in this batch.  It was a really good one, so if you try it, I hope you like it too.


Beef Stew

2 pounds Stewing Beef

2 tbsp. cooking oil

¾ cup white rice flour

Salt and pepper to taste (approx. 1 tsp. each)

Tomato soup

Broth

1 tsp. chili garlic sauce

Onion, chopped (1/2 cup, or more if you love onion)

Garlic, chopped (1 tsp., or more if you love garlic)

Assorted vegetables (on this day I had three potatoes and a sweet potato on the counter, so I used those, and three carrots as well)

Heat your cooking oil over medium heat in a large pan.  While it’s heating, put the flour, salt and pepper in a large Ziploc bag.  Cut the stewing beef into bite size chunks, and put in the bag.  Close the bag up, and shake vigorously.  This will coat the meat with flour.  Place the meat, garlic and onions in the now hot oil, and cook for a few minutes, stirring now and then, to brown all sides.

Next pour in broth to cover.  Truth time – I used chicken broth in my beef stew, because that’s what I had on hand.  You could use vegetable broth or beef broth too.  Whatever you have will work just fine.  Add in the tomato soup.  I used a frozen jar of soup I’d made in the summer.  Mmmmm.   Add in the chili garlic sauce.  This is available in the Asian section of the grocery store, and it packs a punch, so don’t go overboard!

Now, cover and let simmer on a lower temperature for a couple of hours.  The house will smell fantastic.  About 45 minutes before you want to eat, add in the other vegetables.  Try to cut them into equal size pieces, so everything cooks evenly.  I used potatoes, sweet potato and carrots.  You could easily use celery and turnip as well.  Improvise!  You may need to add a little more broth at this time to keep everything covered and cooking happily.

When you’re ready to serve, check your seasoning.IMG_4726[1]  You may need to add a little more salt or pepper, depending on your personal preference.  If it’s a little too runny, stir 2 tbsp. of cornstarch into some water (1/4 cup or so), and add to your stew, stirring as you go.  This should thicken it up nicely.

 

Notes:

1) The quality of ingredients will make a big difference to your taste and stew quality.  I use grass fed beef.  It is SO tender!  I use organic broth as well.

2) This doesn’t have to be gluten free.  If you don’t have dietary restrictions, go ahead and use regular flour.

 

 

 

The Tired Days.

Some days are just tiring. I write as a mom, but these tiring moments are not limited to moms. I know many of my friends who kill it all day at work and then have evening commitments most nights. Life. It’s overwhelming sometimes, isn’t it? I rocked the mom life all day, did a few hours of “work from home work” tonight, and trying now to decompress before bed…so I am going to keep my post short tonight. A life hack for moms, some wise words and encouragement.

Life hack: DIY wipes for your baby (or general house use). The easiest DIY ever and so helpful for all moms. I learned this technique from a mom friend. I love being able to make wipes whenever I need and know what’s in them!
-Get a large bowl
-Put a stack of Bounty napkins (or Bounty paper towels, ripped into individual sheets) about 8 inches high in the bowl. Make sure they are plain – no prints – and don’t skimp. Find good napkins on sales, you don’t want the napkins to be cheap and rip.
-Boil water
-Get 1-2 tbsps of each in a 4-cup measuring cup – Baby Lotion, Baby Oil and Baby Shampoo
-When the water is boiled, add about 3 cups to the lotion mixture, stir very well
-Pour immediately over the napkins on the top and sides
-Place something heavy on top to make sure the liquid goes right through the pile of napkins
-When the napkins are cool, put them in a sealed container and use as needed!

**Note: Don’t put the kettle on top of the napkins. I learned this the hard way. I did it many, many times with no problems (never full of water). And then….when my daughter was 6 days old (after a c-section even), the partially full kettle tipped over and gave me 2nd degree burns from my waist to knee on one leg. Yeah…that wasn’t the best day!

Wise Words – Any other moms out there an introvert like me? Found a good article that sums up some things I have found to be true on my introvert days (some days I fake it as an extrovert. 🙂 ).

Take a look here!

Encouraging Words – Have you ever heard this quote? “The days are long, but the years are short.” It’s true…all so true.

Need some encouragement today? Take a look here!

That’s all for me today! Time for some iced tea, some incredible Steeped Tea guacamole, a little work, and then rest.

Oven Caramel Corn

In our last blog post, Kate wrote about Family Game Night.  If you haven’t read it, you need to.  🙂

When you have a games night, of course you need snacks!  One of our family’s favourites is caramel corn.  And hey, why buy it when you can make it?  And quite honestly, homemade is probably better than store bought anyway.  While it’s not low calorie, at least you know what’s in it.  No matter how much I make it doesn’t last long.  Obviously this is gluten free, and depending on whether you use margarine or butter, can easily be dairy free as well.

IMG_4722[1]

 

There are different eating styles in our family.  Some just eat it, and they don’t care in what fashion this happens.  Others eat all the lovely big popped pieces first, and then disappointingly have the broken bits left.  Some (Kate) eat all the little pieces first, and save all their beautiful pieces till the end.  And I can personally attest to this – don’t try and reach into Kate’s bowl for one of those lovely pieces she has saved.  The results will be damaging to you.  Ha, ha.

So here you go – my recipe for caramel corn.  Be sure to read down to the bottom for personal notes, as always.

18 cups popped corn
2 cups brown sugar
1 cup butter or margarine
½ cup corn syrup
1 pinch of salt
½ tsp. of soda
1 cup of nuts, if desired

Mix sugar, butter, syrup and salt, and boil over medium heat for 5 minutes.  Add soda and mix well.  Pour over popped corn; stir until corn is coated fairly evenly.  Put in a roaster and bake for one hour at 200-225 degrees F, stirring every 15 minutes.  Remove to bowl(s), mixing with large spoon so it doesn’t all stick together.

Notes:

  1. I have never measured the popcorn. I usually make two hot air poppers-full. Not that it helps you to know that. 🙂  I just make enough to fill my roaster.
  2. I have never used this full recipe of coating. I don’t think it needs that much. I generally use 2/3 of the amounts listed there, and it is plenty.
  3. When you add in the baking soda and stir, the mixture will become lighter and “puff up”. Put on the popcorn directly – don’t let it sit around, or it will seize up and become useless.
  4. I usually do the 225 degrees.
  5. I don’t use a large spoon to mix in the bowls, I use my hands. Don’t tell my family. Ha, ha.
  6. There is nothing healthy or organic in this recipe.  Once in a while, you need to indulge.

The Four-Generational Games Night.

We have always been so blessed to live surrounded by family…and we have enough family to go around, that’s for sure! My dad was one of 11 siblings and my mom’s dad was one of 11 siblings, too. With a family that large, we don’t know everyone as intimately, but we are a family that loves family gatherings! Growing up, when we were doing something as an “immediate family,” it always involved my Grandma and Grandpa and my uncle (conveniently only a few years older than myself and my siblings) as well. Thankfully, most of us still live right in the same city/surrounding area.

So, even though neither of my brothers were available for games night last Saturday, it still ended up a four generational event. Let me tell you…there are many wonderful, hilarious things that happen when four generations are all together. From 5.5 months to 70, we were playing games! Now, my toddler son is an extraordinary extrovert, so whenever someone comes over, it is the greatest day of his life. Before the party even started, our friends came over with bubble tea for our son, so he was pretty  giddy and excited. Before we got to games, we let him get some of the wiggles out. He ran….and ran…and ran around the living giving everyone silly nicknames, running full-tilt, head down and crashing into his Papa. From there, we got to play the “walk like the animal” game, which resulted in him running around the room like a bat to frighten his Grandma (on purpose) and then ‘skunking’ everyone.

Games night begins. We get our son in the high chair (no tray), so we have enough seats and he can still participate. Nana’s on toddler-duty and Papa is on baby-duty. I am in charge of the tea (a fabulous Smooth Cinnamon Vanilla). We have 5 adults, 2 kids, a table full of snacks, teacups, and cards. We decided on Phase 10, a classic card game, and somehow that simple game took us two long, full, chaotic hours.

7:30-8:00 – Kids are in crazy mode. Our baby is all smiles, bouncing around on Papa’s lap, trying to grab cards, drinks, food….whatever she can get her hands on. Our son is all smiles, bouncing around in his chair, trying to grab cards, drinks, food…whatever he can get his hands on. Adults  are trying to find some semblance of  conversation. One adult (who will remain nameless…) is trying desperately to understand the game. We end up getting our son’s “Woody cards” (aka. Toy story UNO), so he can “play” along with us. However, this resulted in Phase 10 merging with Toy Story UNO, and now alongside playing our game, we were also playing a made-up version of another game where my mom got “Buzz’ed” and was doomed to lose the round, I was given a Woody card, Wheezy and Alien dudes which helped me get an extra Bulls-eye, and our son gave himself a Buzz card, which allowed him to retrieve six more cards. Two games at once, with adults yelling, “Skip you!”, “I got my phase!”, and “We’re leaving you behind!”, our son yelling, “You got buzz’ed!”, “Bulls-eye!!!”, and “Ahhh…ZURG!”….it’s no wonder the nameless adult was having trouble keeping up. Oh yes, and in the midst of this, our baby was arching herself way back in the Bumbo (Papa’s arms/cards/food/drink couldn’t handle it any longer) in the back middle of the table and the middle of the chaos, toy in hand, and then flinging it backwards in a strange game of ring toss.

8:00-8:30 – Our son goes to bed, slightly overtired, not wanting to say both goodnight and goodbye, and growing pains to boot. My husband dealt with that one, and we paused our game, got in a little normal, adult conversation, and then I got the baby to bed as well. We were sure the chaos was behind us.

8:30-9:00 – A certain adult is still not quite understanding the game….and even so, was tied for the lead and leaving most of us behind. The children stayed in bed, no more tears, and just when we thought the evening was coming to a peaceful close…I see something. I do a double-take, as I catch something out of the corner of my eye, and to my absolute disbelief…..there is a mouse running from under the fridge to under the dishwasher in our kitchen!

9:00-9:30 – Feet are off the floor (for two adults anyway). All five of us sit in disbelief and I try to convince myself that I truly saw nothing. We continue on with the game, my head cocked to the side, shifting eyes back and forth….and then there it is again! That ignorant little mouse waddles out from under the dishwasher and then just stands there, front feet on the dishwasher, taunting us. My dad has always been a man of action. If something needs to be done – he’s already doing it! Thankfully, my husband is very similar, especially when it comes to stupid, ignorant mice in our house. My dad has a container, and he is ready to catch it, shake it around and stun it, and then toss it outside. My hubby has gathered four mice traps and plots a line of traps to corner his every move. The mice has retreated, and clearly won’t be coming back out with them standing around, so we get back to our arduous card game. Everyone is totally concentrated…on the mouse of course. Two adults have their feet up, and my hubby is obsessively checking for the house. He decides, against the pleas of the women, to pull the portable dishwasher out (my suggestion of smoking him out was disregarded). Nothing. We were totally (NOT) prepared to have the mouse run out and go zipping past us under the table. My hubby is moving and shaking the dishwasher…nothing. So, now, of course, we are making up stories about the mouse hanging on to the bottom of the dishwasher, running around inside the dishwasher, jumping out at me the next time I open it….delightful. We are mostly thankful that the kids are in bed, so we can call the mouse stupid and ignorant. We are all very mature. 🙂

I don’t know what it is about knowing that there is a mouse in your house that makes you so indignant. I think I truly understand how they mousehuntfelt in Mouse Hunt
We have had mice periodically over the summer/winter…they have eaten buns, butter, and even some tea. *gasp*

The games ended. The adult who routinely had to be reminded of the rules won. Everyone crept to the door. The mouse stayed put, sneering and dancing under the dishwasher, mocking us.

*The mouse met a timely end at 9:45 when he dared to sneak across the kitchen and eat some of our delicious, human food.
**But SERIOUSLY, how did that mouse stay hidden underneath the dishwasher while my hubby pulled it out and shook it all around…

Applesauce Chocolate Chip Mini Loaves

I looked at these and said to myself, “Say hello to my little friends”.  Sometimes I make myself laugh.  🙂

These little guys are quite tasty.  They hold together well, and I pretend they are healthy because they have applesauce in them.  Ha, ha.  I left these on the counter with a note to my husband, “Don’t cut into or eat these until you take some pictures.”  I was teaching piano, and I knew if I didn’t leave a note, some would disappear before I was done.  He was a good boy and took pictures for me.

Here is my recipe for Applesauce Chocolate Chip Cake Mini Loaves:

½ cup white rice flour
¼ cup plus 2 tbsp. brown rice flour
1 tsp. xanthan gum
½ tsp. baking soda
1/8 tsp. salt
½ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. mace
1/8 tsp. cloves
¼ cup butter
½ cup sugar
1 chia egg
½ cup applesauce
½ cup chocolate chips

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Place a pan of water in the oven to keep the loaves moist while they cook (on a lower rack).  Sift the dry ingredients together.  Beat your butter and sugar together (either with your own strong arm and a wooden spoon, or a mixer), and add chia egg.  To this, add the dry ingredients alternately with the applesauce, beating after each addition until smooth.  Stir in half your chocolate chips.  Place in four greased mini loaf pans.  Mine are like these. Sprinkle remaining chocolate chips on top.  Bake for 35 minutes or so, until done.

IMG_4718[1]Notes:

  1. I cannot have dairy, but butter doesn’t bother me, so I used butter. I think a dairy free margarine would be fine as well.
  2. I used organic white sugar
  3. Chia egg = 1 tbsp. chia seeds, and 3 tbsp. water. Let this sit for at least 20 minutes until it forms a gel.
  4. I still had applesauce in the freezer from last fall, so I used homemade, which had some sugar in it. Store bought would be fine, and if you want to cut down on sugar, use the sugar-free variety.
  5. Confession – I used more chocolate chips. Ha, ha. More chocolate is always better than less.
  6. Of course, baked goods are always better with a cup of tea.  My current favourite is French Toast Oolong from Steeped Tea.

The Price is Right.

Sometimes in life, you get a phone call that excites you far more than it should. In early summer 2013, I received such a call.

I have watched Price is Right my whole life. My family can get oddly obsessed about being quirky while watching TV shows, and Price is Right is no exception to that. My brothers and I (and my mom) would watch and shout out a number as the show was starting, and that would be our podium for the show – anyone who came to that numbered spot for the next riveting hour would be “our person.” We would bid  and guess and shout at the people bidding $1 like our lives depended on it, and carefully calculate for the final Showcase Showdown to desperately try to be within $100 and win it all!

Fast-forward to the (almost) present day. My mom and I have always been obsessed with entering contests. You won’t win unless you try, right?! So, for awhile, I plugged away earning points through a local radio station and figured I would just throw all my entries into one pot and hope for the best. Along came a contest for Price is Right tickets, and 175 entries later, I was getting a phone call as the winner!

A live, crazy, hyped up version of Price is Right isn’t really my husband’s thing, so I invited my mom to come with me. When the day arrived, we were eager, early and on the road to Toronto. My mom has many good points, but driving on the highway is not one of them. It didn’t use to be one of my good points either, but then I drove across Ontario over and over again for work (for 5 years), so out of the two of us, I win the driving award. I have no idea what was happening in and around Ontario Place that day, but traffic was not kind to us. We go to Ontario Place, nice and early as we love to do, and the entire parking lot was full. If you know Toronto, you know that when you start to encounter full parking lots, you could be in for a world of pain. We keep driving and all the parking lots near Ontario Place are full….full….full. We try to sneak into one or two along the way, but the parking attendants are clearly at the end of a long shift on a (very) hot day and are not having any of our pleasantries.

We continue to drive – in and out of parks and other parking lots and are coming up with nothing. In a stressful situation like this, our mother daughter quirks begin to show. My mom, who truly does not like travel (and especially driving in Toronto), is pretty much ready to give up on the whole situation and just drive home. 🙂 We muster through, of course, and resort to our ridiculous sense of humour to laugh our way through the day. We circle back around to the Molson Amphitheatre, hopeful for some reason that a spot might open up… ha ha right… We end up driving…and turning…and driving….and turning…and finally find this out of the way parking lot. We boldly approach the parking attendant who starts waving us away. He has no idea who he is dealing with, though…we are tired, giggling, self-confident women and we ARE finding a parking spot. I don’t really know why he let us in, but he did, and we drive through this very odd parking lot (up a hill with parking on either side here and there, totally away from the main road) and finally park the car. The beauty of Toronto is that even this tiny out-of-the-way parking lot still costs $20. Thanks, Toronto. 🙂

So now, all we have to do to grab our pupriceisrightmaprses and…oh yes, find the Molson Amphitheatre. We honestly had gotten so desperate for parking that we weren’t even sure where we were. Turns out, we had parked about here:

This would probably be a good time to mention that my mom was waiting for surgery on her toe and every step was pretty much like bone grating on bone. Not ideal, but somehow, that just made us laugh even more.

We finally arrive aPriceisrightt the Price is Right show and it was totally worth it! We got to wear ‘official’ name tags and then we waited in line before the show opened for the chance to spin the ‘big wheel!’ Okay, so it was a miniature wheel sponsored by Pizza Pizza and the grand prize was a free…pizza, but it felt just as cool as the real thiPriceisright3ng.
Just like the phone call, we were far too excited to spin this wheel! And when my mom spun $1.00…..well, let’s just say we still talk about it and that free pizza. 🙂Priceisright2

We sat down, took a selfie, and let it soak in. One of us was surely just moments away from walking away with a huge prize!! We actually found out when the show started, that this was a 10th anniversary week show, and they were doubling the amount of prizes. Our confidence in the prize we were going to walk away with doubled, at least, and I am pretty sure we were both picturing ourselves driving away in a “BRAND NEW CAR!!” (insert Rod Roddy’s voice here)

Priceisright4 Like any good contestants, we immediately started to size up the competition. We were pretty close to the back, so we had a lot of opportunities for observation. And then we noticed him…. Just two seats down from us was an older couple. The wife looked like she was having a mildly pleasant time. The husband? Well, he looked like he would rather have shards of glass in his eye. I literally don’t think he could have looked less enthused. It was almost criminal to sit at The Price is Right and look so morose.  The show got started, and there were actually lots of chances to win! The four contestants up front were changed every round, and if you were called up and didn’t get a chance to play, you still walked away with a $100 gift card! There were tons of chances for people from the audience to win alongside the person playing, too. We were far too confident in being called up or winning from our seat, and our laughter and screaming was definitely making up for the guy beside us. And then it happened….that morose, bored, incredibly unhappy man’s name got called. What are the chances?! I think I have seen turtles walk faster. He tried his very best to make his way to the front with as little vigor as possible, put up a horrible bid, and still walked away with his $100 gift card. He wouldn’t spoil our evening though, especially when the attendant randomly choose our row to move up about 50 rows and fill in some closer seats.

Needless to say, our names didn’t get called and we didn’t win, but it was definitely an awesome night. Totally worth the evening and the hassle and I would go again for sure!

I won’t bother to recount the drive home, but let’s just say that after walking in the dark to find our car, we hopped on the road to a closed Gardiner Expressway, and my mom vowed not to return to Toronto again for a very long time. 🙂

The Dog Blog.

I like dogs.  I think I always have.  Growing up I had a dog named Sam, who was some sort of black lab cross.  I think my parents had been talking about getting a dog, but I do believe my mom was surprised when one night, halfway through his work shift, my Dad showed up with Sam, dropped him off, and went back to work.  I guess he’d seen an ad in the newspaper and went to check it out….and brought home the dog.  Sam was already one, and must have been abused at some point, because he couldn’t handle being around when Dad was putting a belt on or taking it off.  He was a great dog, but he had one major fault.  Sam could run like the wind, and occasionally did, off-leash and out of range.  Dad had to rescue him from the shelter a few times, and I have in my possession a note from me to Dad, pleading for him to get Sam back just one more time, after he’d run away yet again.

Picture below, my handsome Dad, my younger brother, me in full-blown geekdom, and Sam, looking to see where he can run to next.Scan0025

Having had a great experience with a dog growing up, of course I wanted my children to have that as well.  Thus began the great “find the right dog for our family” hunt.  This hunt was lengthy and filled with ups and downs.  We have had……seven……different dogs, for varying amounts of time.  Here they all are, in no particular order (mostly because the order got foggy after a while).  Ha, ha.

Cody – Cody was a beautiful puppy we bought from someone’s home.  He was fluffy and cute.  He was going to be big.  However, Cody started displaying violent tendencies to everyone except Kate, who just told him to cut it out.  She was TWO at the time, and he listened to her.  As he grew we realized his tongue was blue.  Oops – looks like we bought a Chow Chow, or a Chow cross somehow.  We also found out he was from a puppy mill.  Someone much more suitable for this dog took him off our hands.

Bogey – Bogey was a gorgeous English Springer Spaniel puppy.  He was a great dog.  We were responsible owners, so we had him fixed.  In doing so, he lost his marbles (in more ways than one!).  He started chasing shadows into the fence, and basically lost his mind.  Someone without small children took him, since a lunatic dog and two little kids don’t mix well.

Tilly – TScan0026illy was a farm puppy – a sweet, big, collie/retriever cross.  We had Tilly for 2 years, and then it was discovered that our oldest son is allergic to big hairy dogs.  Sigh.  My cousin took Tilly for us, and Tilly lived out her years in happiness with their family.

Yogi – Yogi was the biggest disaster for us.  We visited the home he was in THREE times to make sure he was a good fit.  No problems.  Brought him home, and literally, that dog (a one year old cross something) tried to bite everyone in sight.  Not good. The children were standing on the picnic table to get away.  My Dad wandered into the yard and the dog put a hole in his leather jacket.  We tried to call and talk to the owners, but no one answered.  They were probably off gleefully celebrating somewhere.  My husband loaded that dog back into the car and took him back.  No one home.  He left a note on the door, and tied him in the backyard.  While doing so he found holes which indicated Yogi had been trying to make his way to China.  Looks like we dodged a bullet there!

Daisy – Daisy was a sweet five year old cocker spaniel whose family didn’t have time for her.  Being five, she was set in her ways, and never did stop howling the whole week she was at our house.  The owners figured out a way to take her back.

Midge – we adopted Midge, who was two, from a wScan0027oman at our church.  We surprised the kids with Midge, and Midge worked out for us.  His biggest issue was an intense hatred of the mailman – apparently he’d been maced by one as a puppy.  As a result, Midge also hated mailboxes.  He was a terrier cross, and had the deepest bark!  Midge was with us until he was 14 ½.  He certainly wasn’t perfect, but he was part of our family.

Toby – after Midge passIMG_1898ed, we felt lonesome for a dog, so my younger son went looking for a breed for us.  He found Goldendoodles, which don’t shed (much) and are good for people with allergies.  We found a local breeder named Thistleridge Doodles, and picked out our puppy – a jet black guy, out of a litter of twelve.  He was the only black one, with really curly hair and a sweet face.  His parents were an English Retriever and a Standard Poodle, and neither was black or over 55 pounds. Toby started off at five pounds, but kept doubling in weight at each monthly  vet appointment, until hIMG_0343e reached a whopping eighty pounds!  Apparently he is the biggest dog ever to come out of one of their litters. Both his size and colouring came from some genetic throwback.  Now that our children are all married, it’s just my husband and I, and this big six and a half year old black dog.  Toby is loving, quiet, and loves children – which is great, with multitudes of piano students in and out every week!

There you go – that is my long and winding story of the dogs in our life.  Let me know if you can top it!