The Tale of An Accidental Squash And A Really Good Pot of Soup

squash-soup

I've been working my way through this new vegan cookbook and one of the recipes I had my eye on has a beautiful photo, including what I mistakenly thought was butternut squash (it's actually sweet potato). Once I decided to make it, I headed to the grocery store and grabbed the biggest butternut squash in the display — fully intending to use it right away.

Well, you all know what happened next. I had to go back to the grocery store (hey, with four kids I'm there every day anyway) to get the sweet potatoes. So the squash held court on a patch of highly coveted counter space in our tiny kitchen.

My husband does most of the kitchen clean up (since I'm the one creating most of the kitchen mess), so it was left to him to pick up and put down that squash every time he wiped down the counters. I knew I could get away with it for a few days, until finally and predictably he casually and cautiously asked, Are you using this squash for anything? 

I know how much he appreciates the effort I put into feeding our family, and he never questions how I go about doing it. But that huge squash was really getting on his nerves. 

Most of the week's meals are filled with tried-and-true recipes. I just can't take a chance with food experimentation when I'm facing hungry kids and limited time — and squash would definitely qualify as an experiment if you ask my children. I do my best to cook up a batch of vegetarian soup or stew for the grown up lunches, but I was finding it hard to think of something to do with that accidental squash.  

And so it happened that as I was flipping through my binder of recipes for the weekday homemade chicken noodle soup that I know everyone will eat, another recipe fell out and caught my attention. Its main ingredient is squash. 

But that's not all that made me glad to have found it. The recipe was given to us by a chef at a restaurant we visited what feels like a lifetime ago. We had been camping with three very young children in Prince Edward County, and my sweetheart planned a romantic (and we'll use that term loosely here since we had three kids with us) dinner at a local restaurant called the Waring House. He'd read about it in the paper, I believe, and knew we'd both appreciate the use of locally sourced food. 

Except — if memory serves — we didn't really get to savour the taste of any of it. I don't think it was one of the better eating-out-with-toddlers-and-babies experiences we've ever had, and I don't think it was for any of the patrons that were dining with us that night, either. We were seated in a quiet room with a beautiful view and a very cranky baby. I think we took turns standing outside with her, while the other parent coaxed the kids to hurry up and finish their food already. 

Maybe my soup went cold or I didn't get a chance to finish it, but somehow we came away with a printed copy of the chef's recipe, and it's been sitting in my binder waiting to be made ever since.

Tonight, my husband will come home from a long day at work, and we'll have the soup while it's still warm. And we'll catch up with one another, because no one will have to go outside with a screaming baby. Maybe we'll have a laugh about that disastrous night, maybe we won't. But I do know we'd both say we are glad we tried it anyway. 

And I don't mean the soup. 

 

Squash Medley Ginger Maple Soup

Ingredients:

  • 1 large squash, baked
  • 2 cups of sweet potatoes, baked
  • 2 cups chopped onions
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp grated fresh ginger
  • 1 cup chopped carrots
  • 4 cups of vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method:

Place the squash and the sweet potatoes in a 350 degree oven, halved, cut side down on a parchment lined baking sheet and roast for one hour. Sweat the onions until transparent in the oil and add the cayenne and ginger. Add the carrots, squash, sweet potatoes and stock and simmer for 40 minutes. Puree this mixture in a food processor in batches to get a smooth consistency (I used a hand blender). Return the soup to the pot and add the maple syrup. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serves six. 

 

 

 

Holiday Giveaway: 100 Days of Real Food Fast & Fabulous

Photo provided by Lisa Leake

Photo provided by Lisa Leake

It's the most wonderful, hustle and bustle time of the year. 

Our family is feeling like we've barely had time to pack away our Halloween costumes, before donning our ugly Christmas sweaters to decorate the tree. 

It's all good, though. Holiday get togethers and doing our best to make the season more about giving than receiving means we'll be spending a lot more time in the kitchen in the coming weeks: making our own meals and preparing treats and food to share with others. This week there's a potluck and a girl on a mission to make something sweet for our neighbours penciled into the family calendar.

With four growing kids, the kitchen is already the highest traffic area in our home. If we don't look for ways to be efficient with shopping and meal planning, we start to slip into a pattern of cobbled together meals that don't fuel us the way we need to be fuelled to get through our hectic schedule. Oh, and we get on each other's nerves when all of us are bumbling around in the kitchen foraging for food!

During the week, I am the primary kitchen person. Most nights, it's just me and a couple of the kids at the table. Plates of dinner for the rest of the crew wait for their later arrival. And that was an important decision for our family. It can be all-too-easy to get into a fend for yourself groove when the whole family isn't able to eat together. It happened a lot when the kids were small and I was on my own for meal prep. Once they were older, and I could spend more time in the kitchen, I started to make some serious changes. The first thing to change was the mindset that I didn't need to prepare a family meal if we weren't eating together. Now that we have our routine of setting aside plates for latecomers, I'm more likely to prepare a well-rounded meal. On the weekends, my husband takes over in the kitchen and we do our very best to make sure all six of us are at the same table on one of those nights. 

I'm not going to pretend it comes easily. It's work to come up with ideas and to plan for pulling meals together around our schedule. I rely (heavily) on inspiration from others. And one of the cookbooks and blogs that really works for our family is 100 Days of Real Food and now the newest cookbook in the series 100 Days of Real Food Fast & Fabulous. I stumbled upon Lisa's Instagram feed last year, and I was hooked. 

These recipes meet all my requirements for family meals: quick, user-friendly, real ingredients (that are easy to find in the grocery store and are often already in my kitchen). 

The newest cookbook (which I'm working my way through) has 100 recipes and includes a lunch box section which has some great ideas for grown up and pint-sized lunches. She also provides gluten-free and nut-free options in the recipes. And did I mention easy? I was amazed by the five minute jars of overnight oats the kids could grab in the mornings. And the dinners really are fast and fabulous, I'm not exaggerating! 

EASY FISH TACOS. Photo provided by Lisa Leake

EASY FISH TACOS. Photo provided by Lisa Leake

Like I was saying, the kids are older now. I can spend more time in the kitchen while they're busy doing other things. But here's the kicker: they are also old enough to start pulling their own weight when it comes to feeding themselves and the rest of the family. My husband likes to remind me (often) that he was preparing dinner for his whole family at least once a week by the time he was 10, and I'm doing my best to let go of my need to control the kitchen. The recipes and ideas in this cookbook are completely tween and teen friendly, so no more excuses for any of us. There are going to be some more changes in the new year when it comes to meals. 

I'm so happy with this new cookbook that I'd like to give one away to a lucky reader, so you too can head into the busiest time of year with the best tools to feed your family (and anyone else who you happen to be spending time with over the holidays). 

If you are a Canadian resident, you can enter below. Thanks and good luck!

Disclosure: I was not paid to write this post, but I was generously gifted a copy of the new cookbook 100 Days of Real Food: Fast & Fabulous by Lisa. I love this book so much (and I think you will, too) that I bought another copy to give away to one of you!

 

 

Back To Basics: Bento Lunches

bento-lunch

If you've been in this space before, this post is not surprising. 

What is surprising, is that I waited a whole week before bringing up the word that sends waves of despair through our standing-in-the-kitchen-gulping-caffeine selves: 

LUNCH.

Throw this word into conversation during the months of September-October-November-December-January-February-March-April-May-June and hair-pulling, dramatic sighing, and foot stomping is the norm (and I'm talking about the adults, not the kids). 

I GET IT, YOU GUYS

I've been making lunches for a full decade now. I have kids that are temperature-sensitive. I have kids that are texture-sensitive. I have kids that are mixing-of-foods-sensitive. I have kids who can't stop looking around the room and talking-sensitive. I've faced all of it.

And OH BOY, have I ever become an expert in predicting hangry levels by the weight of a lunch box at the end of a school day. 

It wasn't until I switched to the bento style lunch box that I started to make progress in solving all of the above problems for all of my kids. With the flip-open-top and individual containers, all the food is on display, it's easily accessible, it's separate (!).

This lunch box is often accused of being a display case for showing off. But that's not how I see it at all. For me, it's like packing a mini-buffet or picnic of sorts. And most kids in their early years, prefer to eat this way anyway — nibbling and snacking throughout the day.

Just think about how much attention they need to invest in getting through a school day. Having to pick up individual containers, peel open lids, decide whether they feel like eating what's inside at that particular moment, only adds more "thinking" to a time of day that's meant for recharging and re-fuelling and, yes, socializing.

In short, this lunch box was a game-changer for us. And since I've started blogging and instragramming about it, it's become a game-changer for other families, too. 

Here's a recent post I wrote offering some of the tips I've picked up over my five years of using this system. I promise, there's nothing I'm putting into those lunch boxes that's worthy of a museum. It's just food. I do my best to keep it healthy and the four containers help me (and my older kids, who like to help) remember to follow a system of: veggie, fruit, protein, snack when packing it. 

How To Bento Like A Boss

To see older posts, I've written about bentos, click here and here.

I share photos on Instagram and other helpful pages on Pinterest. I also love the book The Best Homemade Kids' Lunches On The Planet.

If you've ever thought of making a change, let me help you get started. I've once again partnered with my favourite online store Fenigo to give one lucky reader an amazing bento start up prize. 

bento-lunch

Leave me a comment below letting me know how the lunch-making is going at your house, and you'll be entered to win. Canadian residents only. Contest will be open until Friday, September, 17th. 

Lunchbox Revolution

It's true, I was defeated.

Six years, three kids, five days a week, 10 months in a school year (minus glorious, glorious pizza days), and the filling of lunch boxes had me crazed.

Lunchboxes
But that's behind me now. 

Let's go back a little while.

When my firstborn entered school six years ago, I happily complied with our school's litterless lunch campaign. We bought little pots with matching lids, and slapped our teeny tiny labels all over them. I filled those pots with delicious bites, and sent my girl on her way. But as the years ticked by, and little brother and sister began boarding the school bus, my enthusiasm started to wane. She liked this, he liked that and the other wanted her snacks just so. 

Every morning, three yawning children, three yawning lunch boxes, and one yawning mom. 

I was bored, bored, bored. And I wasn't alone; those little pots were coming home with food in them more often than not. 

And then a happenstance glimpse of another child's lunch box changed everything.

"What is that?" I asked my son's classmate.

"An oatmeal flax muffin," she responded.

"And who made it?" I prodded.

"My mom did. She makes everything in my lunch." 

And it wasn't just the muffin (though it was outfitted in a delightful pink cupcake liner). Everything in that child's lunch box was simply adorable. I was smitten. I wanted to take her lunch and have it for my own. I wanted to make a lunch just like it.

Allow me to dazzle you now with some pretty flowers:

Flowerlunch
And scary monsters:

Monsterlunch
And top secret messages:

Loveyoulunch
I found the answer to my lunchbox despair:

MAKE LUNCH LOOK GOOD AND THEY WILL EAT IT!!!

Well in theory, it sounded good, anyway. 

And when I put it into practise, it was (gasp) fun!

While there will never be a lunch like this staring up at my child's face (much to my son's dismay),

Angrybirdlunch
but I've now switched to a lunch box system that holds me accountable. When my kids flip that lid open, my handiwork is on display for all the world to see. I'm obliged to throw in bright colours and interesting shapes, and though I haven't yet mastered the art of rice krispie balls....my kids are biting.

The lunch boxes are coming home empty!

I have a long way to go (though please note the homemade oatmeal flax muffin),

Lunchbox
but I've always loved a challenge. 

I get swept up in the thrill of finding ideas to fill those brightly-coloured containers, and let me tell you there is inspiration to be found

So stop sneering at those lunch boxes. Instead join me in giving them a knowing wink.

Trust me, your kids will thank you.

*************************************************************************************************************************

I was not asked to endorse Mabel's Labels, Laptop Lunches or the wonderful Bent On Better Lunches blog. They're just products and places that make me clap. 

 

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