Turkey learning

Did you know that you can learn a lot from a turkey? It’s true. Turkeys are, after all, so very different from people and yet so very much the same. This afternoon, shortly after lunch, B and I set out to see what we could learn with the help of one of my favourite cookbooks, Commonsense Kitchen: 600 Recipes Plus Lessons for a Hand-Crafted Life, and an 11 pound turkey.

It was supposed to be a cooking lesson. A new recipe for roast turkey that involved stuffing the bird with apples rolled in salt and pepper and rosemary. I’ve had my eye on that recipe for a while and with fresh young turkeys on sale a while back, I promptly bought two, stuck one in the freezer, and cooked up the other… completely forgetting to try the new recipe and not make the usual bread-based stuffing in all its variations that we usually do. This weekend, with the second turkey waiting oh-so-patiently in the freezer, I knew just what I had to do.

I had to teach my kids how to cook a turkey.

As any plan is wont to do when you have your heart set on it, this one went awry right from the beginning. K, usually an eager cook, had no desire to join me in the kitchen. But that’s not where the plan went most sideways on me.

B was keen enough to help, but she wanted to bake muffins, not make a turkey. I quickly talked her into baking one large and several small cheesecakes instead, and so we did.

But that’s not where the plan went most sideways on me either.

With the cheesecakes baking in the oven, it was time to tackle the turkey. We plopped it in the sink to unwrap it and take the giblets and neck out, and that is where everything took a left turn from “cooking lesson” aaalllllllll the way over into anatomy and physiology. You might want to stop reading right about now if you are prone to squeamishness.

“I remember what’s in the bag! There’s stuff in the bag! Like guts, right? The liver and kidneys and stuff?” my happy little girl asked, eyes sparkling with the joy of knowing.


Out came the liver and kidneys and heart, slippery and slimy, dark reddish in colour and oh so fascinating when you consider that it is merely a smaller version of what you, yourself have inside of you. They were examined closely, turned this way and that, and we talked at length about the different roles your organs play inside your body.

Next up was the neck with its long strips of muscle surrounding numerous vertebrae. We had to pull off one of the vertebrae to better examine it, of course. And then we had to look and see where the channels might be for the blood vessels and arteries, and lo and behold we found the spinal cord right where it was supposed to be, and so we examined that, too.

This Mama tried to steer us back towards the job at hand — getting a turkey in the oven on time for dinner with friends this evening. We rinsed the turkey and rubbed the skin with apple cider vinegar and a combination of spices. And noticed the little holes in the skin where the feathers were attached. And noticed how stretchy the skin is, and how it is attached to a layer of fat which is attached to the muscle underneath, and just that fast we were back into our discussion of anatomy while the poor bird lay waiting… and waiting… and waiting…

By now I had figured out that there was no way we were going to get through the rest of the job without discussing every other possible thing we could see, so we tipped the turkey up and examined the insides where we had a clear view of the rib cage and the spine. That done, we were finally on our way to filling the bird with spiced apples and getting it in the roasting pan.

It was fun, in an odd way, to have such a hands-on anatomy lesson with a curious little girl. She wasn’t squeamish at all after the initial moment of “Eww, slimy!” and she eagerly explored internal organs and skeletal structure and musculature with her fingers as we worked and chatted. We traced the path the ribs took. We felt the bumpy knobs of the vertebrae. We talked about how we had, in effect, only half a leg and the funny knobby bone at the end was where the kneecap goes in humans.  I had figured she might balk at some point. Holding the heart, maybe. Or the liver. But no, not my girl. Fascinated by everything she saw and full of questions.

When we finally got the bird in the pan, I realized that I had forgotten to tuck back the wings, so I quickly twisted the tips around to tuck them under the back where they wouldn’t burn.

“Mom! That’s the wing, isn’t it?”

(To get the full effect, just imagine an outraged 9 year old in a ladybug-spotted apron pointing at the pan with one finger while holding the other arm tight to her chest.)

“And you just… bent it backwards?”

She bent her own arm into an awkward pose behind her back to illustrate what she was thinking and all I could do was answer “Yes, yes I did.”

“Ewwww! That’s so gross!” she cried, and just that fast she couldn’t get out of the kitchen fast enough.

Holding its guts in her hand? No problem. Rubbing spices into its skin? Easy peasy. Separating vertebrae from the neck and examining them an inch from your nose? Too cool.

But gently tucking the wings behind the back? 


Go figure.

Dinner tonight should be interesting.




Muffins in the morning

There were muffins in the morning yesterday. There are often muffins in the morning around here, if you want to know the truth. Fast to mix up, only 20 minutes in the baking, they fill the house with that marvelous rich scent of vanilla and chocolate and flour and cinnamon, and are oh so delicious for breakfast when they are still warm from the oven. Muffins are a frequent occurrence around here.


Especially in the morning.

I have taken to getting up early in the mornings. I have blogged before about living with unpredictable chronic pain and how my day effectively ends at 2 p.m. whether or not I am ready for it to be over (and whether or not there are still things left to accomplish in the day). Early in the morning, the house is still and quiet. The sun has not yet started peeking through the windows. The birds are still quietly nestled in their nests and the neighbours… well, some of the neighbours are up. I can see their lights through their windows. Most, though, lie sleeping in houses filled with darkness and warmth.

Best of all, early in the morning, once I have run through a quick stretch and a not-so-quick bit of physiotherapy, I feel fine.

Oh, not fine fine, for this pebble I carry with me is still there as it always, always is. But I have discovered that I can add several useful hours to my day without making my end-of-day end any sooner. I can get up at 7 and function well until 2 when my body tires and my brain gets fuzzy and my pain levels climb to the point of exhausted frustration. Or, I can get up at 5 and function well until that very same 2 o’clock finish line.

So I have taken to getting up early in the mornings. I check my email. I read the news headlines. I feed the birds and the fish. I get an hour or two of work accomplished before I need to wake the kids. On weekends, I knit, or sew, or read for a bit while savouring the peace that has settled over the house like a loving blanket.

And I bake muffins.

Muffins I hardly ever get to eat, I should mention, since I have an almost teenaged boy in the house. Who loves muffins. And thinks nothing of eating two of them in a row, plus putting one in his lunch box and having another as an after school snack and maybe, if I let him, one for dessert after dinner, too.

And then, late at night, well over an hour after he’s been tucked in and chatted with and kissed and hugged and hugged some more, his lanky frame appears around the corner with his hair tousled from his pillow and his skin prickling with the sudden change from warm bed to cool air.

“Mom?” he says, as if neither of us know what’s coming next. “I’m hungry. Can I have a muffin?”


Triple Chocolate Extra Pepperminty Peppermint Bark

You know, I had every intention of taking a ton of great photos and close ups of every step of making our Triple Chocolate Extra Pepperminty Peppermint Bark, but it just didn’t happen. I have no excuse. The camera was right there. Yet somehow I took a grand total of 2 photos of the entire process.

It’s a good thing it isn’t a very complicated process.

The first step is to gather your ingredients. I’m not specifying quantities because this is a super flexible recipe. You can do this with a single chocolate bar of each type and have enough bark for one or two people to share, or you can buy an entire truckload of chocolate and send the entire neighbourhood into a sugar high that lasts for days.


Dark chocolate
Milk chocolateWhite chocolate
Peppermint flavoured candy canes
Peppermint extract for chocolate (not water based)

Grab a cutting board and a good chef’s knife and roughly chop each of the types of chocolate into chunks for easier melting. Make sure you keep each pile separate from the other – you will want to wipe down your knife and cutting board between chocolates.

You will also want to push the bowls of chopped chocolate to the far back of the counter to keep little fingers from eating it all before it can be turned into peppermint bark.

(You may also want to give yourself a stern talking to so that you don’t eat all the chocolate yourself before it can be turned into peppermint bark.)

Next, drop the unwrapped candy canes in a zipper baggie, then wrap that in a tea towel. Lay it on a sturdy cutting board and use something heavy like a meat tenderizer or a small hammer to smash it repeatedly until you have crushed candy canes. The kids like doing this part. If you are more sane and less inclined to like loud banging noises in the kitchen, you can chop the candy canes with your sturdy chef knife until they are in fine enough pieces, but be aware that whacking them with a meat tenderizer is waaaaaaaaay more fun.

Next, line a cookie sheet or three (depending on how much chocolate you are melting) with waxed paper.

Melt the dark chocolate in the microwave on half power for 30 seconds at a time, stirring in between, until it is silky smooth. Add in several drops of peppermint extract and stir well to mix. Taste test – it should taste rich and pepperminty, but not overwhelmingly so. I have a photo of this part:


Pour a glob of melted dark chocolate in the middle of the wax paper and quickly spread it out over the cookie sheet. It will start to cool rapidly and become harder to spread, but don’t worry. It doesn’t have to be perfectly smooth, just mostly even in thickness.  You will be adding 2 more layers of chocolate, so really just a few millimeters thick is sufficient.

I have a photo of this step, too:


Stick this pan in the freezer to harden it quickly and keep it cold.

Next, melt your milk chocolate, but do not add peppermint flavour. Working quickly so as not to melt the now-frozen dark chocolate, spread the milk chocolate over the dark chocolate in a thin layer and stick it back in the freezer.

Now it is time to melt the white chocolate. Again, we do not add peppermint flavour to this; however, we will be adding crushed candy cane bits to the top while the chocolate is still warm and soft, so you will want to have those handy as the chocolate starts to set up fairly rapidly.

Melt the white chocolate until it is smooth and spread it over the dark and milk chocolate layers. You will need to work quickly and not go too thin here as the heat from the melted white chocolate will melt the milk chocolate slightly and it will start to mix together and look muddled and murky. Once the white chocolate has been spread out, immediately sprinkle crushed candy cane bits over the top. Gently press any larger pieces into the chocolate so they do not fall out. Return the pan to the freezer until it sets up quite hard.

Take the now frozen tray out of the freezer. You have a choice here – you can calmly and rationally put the sheet of frozen chocolate on your cutting board and cut it into pieces, or you can pick up the waxed paper layer and start smashing it on the counter and hammering it with the flat side of your meat tenderizer until it shatters into random pieces. (And send bits flying across your floor. Not that I know that from personal experience. Ahem.)

And there you have it –  Triple Chocolate Extra Pepperminty Peppermint Bark.

Which I do not have a photo of, except for what you saw yesterday.

I guess I’m going to have to make some more.

Quick, Easy, and Frugal Teacher Gifts

Teachers are wonderful people. We have been blessed over the years with some truly fabulous teachers for our children. There has been the odd teacher here and there who is not a good fit for one of the kids, but mostly we have been lucky.

Every Christmas, I struggle with what to do to thank the men and women who work so hard on our children’s behalves. I don’t want to clutter up their lives with things, especially knowing that there are only so many things a teacher might like to get, and with anywhere from 18 to 30 students getting those same 10 things for them every single year, they probably don’t want yet another mug or calendar or keychain with your initials on it.

I’ve been told by teachers that gift certificates are always appreciated – to Tim Horton’s coffee shop, or better yet, to the teacher supply store. I understand. I do. But I also know that I want my kids to have a hand in the gifting, and when they were little, gift cards were not on their list of cool things to give their teachers.

One year, we made salt dough Christmas ornaments. (One can never have too many ornaments.) One year, we made homemade chocolates. One year we made super simple post-it note holders.  Last year, we made paper ornaments big enough to joyfully adorn a classroom (and easily recycled at the end of the season to reduce clutter).

This year, we went in a new direction.


Once again, we chose a super simple, inexpensive, crafty-ish gift the kids could help make. We started with a pack of 100 popsicle sticks we bought at Bulk Barn for $1.50,  some semi-dark chocolate, and a few drops of peppermint flavouring oil. Honestly, the peppermint flavour is the most expensive item, but we had it left over from previous years of making homemade chocolates, and you could easily skip it for this project.

Start by melting the chocolate. We used the microwave on half power in 30-second bursts, stirring in between, until the chocolate was just about silky smooth with a few lumps left in it. We then stirred it until the lumps vanished and we had a smooth mixture that was starting to cool slightly.

We lined several cookie sheets with waxed paper, then dipped each popsicle stick into the chocolate and twirled it a little to make sure the chocolate was adhering all the way around and presto! Chocolate stir sticks that are perfect for stirring your hot chocolate with to make it even richer and creamier than it usually is.

The chocolate-covered sticks were then laid gently in rows on the cookie sheets and left to harden. You can put them in the fridge or freezer if you are in a hurry.


While the chocolate hardened, we started filling little treat bags with marshmallows. Then we filled more treat bags with tiny peppermint-flavoured chocolate pieces that I found in a gorgeous antique-styled tin at Chapters, of all places. You could use miniature chocolate chips just as easily, or even skip this step altogether. Another bag was filled with hot chocolate mix, and then we filled the final bag with a half-dozen or so of the dark chocolate peppermint stir sticks.


Add a mini candy cane for good measure, pack it all in a cute tin from the dollar store, and voila! A Hot Chocolate Kit for under $5 per tin. Don’t have a tin? Just buy some lunch bags, draw a snowman outline on them with a Sharpie marker, then have the kids paint them.


We were having so much fun, we made some for the neighbours, too. Except if you look closely, you’ll see that the neighbours are also getting some Triple Chocolate Extra Pepperminty Peppermint Bark in theirs.

I’ll tell you how we made it in another post.


The start of a new school year always brings with it a certain amount of chaos, and no matter how much planning I do, we always seem to fall victim to those random moments of throw-your-hands-in-the-air because no one seems to know exactly what we are supposed to be doing next.

I am, by nature, a planner. While I can fly by the seat of my pants when I need to, I really don’t like doing it. I like plans. I like routines. I like orderly days and peaceful dinner hours. And I have learned, over the years, that I need to have my plans written down somewhere, preferably on a calendar. I am forever telling the kids “If it isn’t written down on the calendar, it doesn’t exist.”

Over the years, I have developed certain strategies that help us enormously with the day-to-day routine of living well. One of the best things for our kids when they were little was the Accountable Kids system, and it served us very well for quite a number of years. This year, The Man We Call Dad finally took our Accountable Kids boards off the wall. The kids have outgrown it, you see, and it was time to move to a more mature system. And, for the first time ever, the kids are on different systems.

K bought himself an iPod touch this summer, with money carefully saved for months on end, and he has installed a number of fabulous apps to help keep himself organized. Cozi calendar, for one. Home Routines, for another. They are apps that B and I use too (she uses them on my phone), and we love them. We do. But I still need to see my calendar, the whole month at once, to have an idea of what’s ahead, so I keep a paper calendar on the big bulletin board in my office.


There are some things missing from my calendar this year.

Like homework assignments. Project due dates. And our weekly menu.

I like having a freezer full of meals that simply need a little defrosting and a few hours in the crockpot. I like having a pantry full of staples for making bread and muffins and cookies. I like making so much of our food from scratch, or from the garden. And I hate that moment when you are tired from a long day, frustrated with homework, and staring at the fridge realizing belatedly that you failed to take anything out of the freezer the night before and you have no idea what to make for dinner.

Enter the weekly menu.

Every week, I pull out things from the big freezer in the basement and move them to the tiny upstairs freezer half of our fridge, and then I write them in on the calendar, assigning them at random to the various days of the week. In previous years, when we limited ourselves to one single sports activity or lesson per kid per week, that system worked just fine. Last year, with a couple of activities per kid, it worked fine.

This year? Not so much.

This year, we have kids who are older. Opinionated. Curious. Eager to try new things. And we have, contrary to all good sense, signed them up for more than two extracurriculars. Which means that our lovely little calendar that keeps this Mama organized… is full to bursting. And don’t even talk to me about Thursdays.

The worst part of our newly crazy schedule is that some days of the week, there isn’t any room for my meal planning. I can fit things in most days – provided I can describe dinner in one or two words, three at the most (if I write small), but some days of the week, there isn’t room for anything else. Which means that on the busiest days of my week, I have no idea what we are having for dinner!

So, smart Mama that I am, I dove into Pinterest to see what I could find.

I found cupboard doors painted with chalkboard paint. I found picture frames turned into whiteboards. I found recipes galore (and was duly sidetracked for a while). And I found a few, a very few, printable meal planners. I love Pinterest. But I didn’t like the meal planners I found.

They were bright. They were busy. They included shopping lists. They included spaces for nutritional values. They required cutting out zillions of little slips of paper with meal names to glue onto clothespins to peg to the side of a clipboard decoupaged with the days of the week to make them work.

In other words, they were either not at all my style, or they were far too complicated, or they required an entire afternoon and evening of crafting to get them done.

So I made one of my own. And I printed it out. And I laminated it. And I’m sharing it with you.

Adventures in canning!

As a child, the idea of making and canning your own preserves was an ordinary one. My grandmother canned her own jams and jellies frequently. My favourite was the wild strawberry jam made from the tiny little strawberries that grew on the hill at the back of her property. It was equally good on toast and on vanilla ice cream.

My mother canned things, too. Most memorable was the summer that gave us a bumper-crop of plums from the trees in the backyard and she filled jar after jar with plum jam, plum jelly, and plum chutney. She gave jars away to everyone she knew that Christmas, and still had more than we could ever use left over afterwards.

Yesterday morning, after the zucchini bread was in the oven, I was in the mood to make some preserves of my own. I started with a lovely raspberry-blueberry jam using raspberries from our garden coupled with wild blueberries for a more interesting flavour. But jams are easy, and old hat for me, and I wanted to do something new that I had never done before.


I wanted to make my own salsa.

I must admit, I cheated a bit. I bought a packet of salsa spices already mixed and followed the recipe that came with it. 4.5 cups of tomatoes, seeded and diced, plus some onion, green peppers, red peppers, and fresh cilantro, all from the garden. Simmered all together with 3/4 cup of cider vinegar then processed for 20 minutes in a water bath, it certainly smells delicious.

It looks lovely cooling on the counter, too.

I think we’re having tacos tonight. We have to try the salsa, after all!