What’s for supper? Vol. 4: More muffins and spaghetti sauce


What did we eat this week?

MONDAY


Monday was Labour Day. My husband took the children to visit family but it was David’s turn to process our family’s friendly virus. I took a pass and stayed home with the sick and the underage. We had chips and ice cream for supper. Yes we did.

TUESDAY

Remember the Thai squash soup with coconut and shrimp I made last week? I usually buy a second bag of shrimps to add to the leftover (because there is soup leftovers but never shrimps). Then we have a second round of squash soup.

WEDNESDAY

Collage_Spicy peanut pork

Last weekend I mentioned making Spicy Peanut Chicken (with pork) in the slow cooker. I warmed it up on Wednesday and we ate it with fresh corn. My 9 year-old son announced that he was thirsty so I asked him to go get the water jug for the family. Without missing a beat he told me, very matter-of-factly: “No, I’m just going to get water for myself.” Err, no buddy, please bring back the water jug for the family, said I. “Ok then, I’m not thirsty.” he replied. “You can still get the water jug please. Which led to him saying no, me taking away his plate until he came back with the water jug, and he stomping away to get said water. Friends, if you wonder how we can raise such self-centered children in a family of 11, imagine if we had stopped at 2! Believe me, the world is a better place because we have 9 and it’s not because we are superior human beings. Pride runs strong in that gene line.

THURSDAY

collage_spaghetti sauce

Spaghetti sauce day. My children and I are not fond of chunks in our spaghetti sauce. I like to put all the veggies and herbs in the food processor and give them a whirl. I don’t puree them to soup level but I find that along not having chunks, it mixes-up the flavours nicely. This specimen has red bell pepper, cremini mushrooms, onions, carrots, celery, garlic, fresh herbs from my potted garden (basil, chive and parsley), dried oregano and sage. I saute the veggie mash in olive oil, add an entire Costco pallet of tomato sauce and 3kg of ground beef. I stir until the meat is all separated and let it simmer forever. Add salt and pepper to taste et voila. That day, I also made orange cranberry muffins and oatmeal chocolate chip muffins. Our homeschool had to be on auto-pilot and we didn’t get around to do history and science. Note to self: you can’t cook up a storm and homeschool at the same time. I use this recipe for the cranberry orange muffins. I use frozen cranberries instead of fresh and it works fine. Just a note about the streusel topping: it’s a simple mix of sugar and orange rind. I prefer to put the orange rind in the muffin batter. The streusel falls apart when freezing anyway. On a more positive note, sugar mixed-up with orange rind and left to sit on the counter for a day can be eaten with a spoon or melted over a candle and shot-up your arm, oh my goodness, someone make it stop!!

STILL THURSDAY

Collage_znoodles

When I did a Whole 30 back in January I had to stop eating pasta. I discovered zucchini noodles and I actually prefer them now to pasta. I don’t have a veggie spiralizer so I use my veggie peeler and peel the zucchinis until I am almost peeling the tip of my fingers (sometimes I do.). Lucas enjoys chopping the leftover zucchinis with a big knife. As an aside, I used to pay a whole lot of money so my kids could do just that at a Montessori preschool. Which brings me to homeschooling preschool: stop worrying already!! If I got a dime every time a stressed out mom asks about a preschool curriculum, I could retire happy. Preschools need a curriculum because they are accountable to their clients. Preschool is just life. You need to live with your children and engage with them positively. Read to them, snuggle with them, let them help with cooking if you have the patience to do so. Take them outside and show them the dirt: here’s your preschool curriculum.

Back to the zucchini noodles… I slice an onion or two in very thin slices, smash some garlic and saute everything in olive oil with salt, pepper and dried oregano, then I cover for a while to let it steam a little. Zucchinis lose their water like nothing else so 6 zucchinis is barely enough for two adults. Unless they are the giant ones that neighbours leave on your doorstep.

Collage_znoodles with sauce

 

 

 

 

 

FRIDAY

Collage_crepes

My teenage daughter announced that she would make crepes for supper. I said: “Fine!” She used the recipe from Ricardo but I prefer Josee di Stasio’s recipe. I usually quadruple it — that would be 4 cups of flour and a whole dozen of eggs — add beer to the milk and keep it in the fridge in an air tight container. The kids will make crepes for breakfast, snack or lunch using the batter all week.

Et voila, this is it for this week. I’m sparing you the weekend because it ended-up in take-out pizza.

 

What they ate (or didn’t) this week and some thoughts about keeping Fridays


One of my favorite bloggers, Simcha Fisher, started a recurring — or not — feature on her blog I have to Sit Down called “What’s for Supper?”. Because I also feed a crowd every day and because I’m not one to miss a good link-up (I like having a topic picked for me, I’m that kind of lazy), here is my contribution.

The ground rules as far as our family of 11 is concerned are simple:

  • The meals must be simple and contain easily identifiable ingredients. Casseroles rarely fly here, unless they are a simple gratin.
  • My husband and I try to avoid grains during weekdays. Fresh corn doesn’t count as grain.
  • We don’t eat dessert on weekdays.
  • Normally I make a meal plan on Saturday, shop for food on Sunday and will often need another produce run midweek. For the last 9 months, I’ve been out of meal planning and our grocery budget is running amok.
  • Supper needs to be figured out and started by 3:30pm if we want to eat by 5:30pm, clean-up the supper dishes and have the five younger kids in bed between 7:00 and 8:00 pm. Lately — because of absentee planning — supper gets going around 5:30pm, we eat at 7:00 and we’re lucky if the kids are in bed by 9:00pm. We are still in “summer mode” but we’re fraying at the edges. Chaos and exhaustion are threatening our entire livelihood and we hope to return to normal as soon as we can find the energy to turn this boat around.
  • My husband is often gone from home from 7 am until close to 7 pm. We live in a rural community so we avoid evening engagements such as extracurricular activities as much as possible: driving into town at supper/bedtime was in fashion in 2010-2012, now we’re traumatized.

MONDAY

Blog post_What they ate this week mon I

Eye of round roast (this one has to be started in the afternoon)

Roasted potatoes: I just quarter a whole bag of baby potatoes from Costco, lay them on parchment paper, drizzle with oil, salt and pepper, and bake at 415F for about 20 mn.

Red cabbage slaw. Or as we are expected to call it “red-but-should-be-purple-cabbage”, with vinaigrette (1/3 red vinegar, 2/3 olive oil and a splotch of Dijon proportional to what you used as a basic measurement. I do 1 cup red vinegar, 2 cups of oil and a heaping tablespoon of Dijon. There’s leftovers.)

Broccoli . Because everyone here eats broccoli but red cabbage slaw is touch and go. I like giving the kids a chance to win.

TUESDAY

Blog post_WHat they ate this week tue I
Tuesday, we received our school books. Yay?

Fish and fries. That’s what I make when I forget to take meat out of the freezer. I don’t consider cucumbers to be a real vegetable, it’s mostly water and seeds, but I just can’t sleep unless there is something green on offer. And cucumber is green.

WEDNESDAY

Blog post_What they ate this week wed I

Roasted chickens and fresh corn on the cob. I use the organic chickens from Costco, throw them on a roasting sheet with salt, pepper, onion flakes and smoked paprika and roast them at 415F for 45mn or something. Two chickens and 12 corns fed my “small” family: the three oldest were out of the house.

When I cut the chickens, I throw the carcasses and drippings straight into a large Dutch oven. Add a splash of apple cider vinegar, fill with water and make broth right away. I used to keep the bones in a ziploc bag in the fridge until I had the optimal broth ingredients, also known as “until the carcasses turned moldy and my husband threw them out.” Water, bones, vinegar, boil forever.

THURSDAY

Blog post_What they ate this week Thu I

We had friends for lunch and I made quesadillas with the leftover chicken and corn.

For dinner, I roasted sweet peppers, carrots, garlic and a Lego wheel — just kidding! I removed the wheel before roasting. Then I had afterthoughts and checked the oven again. Phew! I did remove the wheel… — and made some orange soup with the chicken broth.

I also made a tomato salad with cherry tomatoes from my sister’s garden and basil from our garden. I used the same dressing as earlier this week.

FRIDAY

Here comes Friday. I follow a few Catholic bloggers from the United States and was curious as to why they seemed to universally abstain from meat on Friday. It picked my curiosity because I know some very legit Canadian Catholics who do not abstain from meat on Friday. Recently, I spoke about it with my spiritual director, as I was really struggling with the concept of abstaining from meat on Friday. The problem seemed to be twofold. First, meatless dishes in my family are mostly party food. They are also really easy to make for me. I felt like pancakes were too much fun for a Friday observance of the death of Jesus, fish is too good, soup and bread are comfort foods, sandwiches are a get-out-of-jail-free card for me, and so on. I came to the conclusion that the only sort of meal that would look like a universal family sacrifice would be a dish that is really complicated to make for me and that the kids don’t like, like vegan moussaka or lasagna. But making food that everyone hates is wasteful. Back to square one. Making an elaborated, suitably mortifying, vegan dish also prevented me from going to Mass and Adoration on Friday evening, the only weekday Mass offered in my Parish at a time later than 8:00 am. My spiritual adviser wisely noted that in Canada, the Conference of Catholic Bishops did not require the faithful to abstain from meat on Fridays outside of Lent but encouraged us to keep Friday through some kind of penance, prayer or act of charity. Maybe, she added, organizing your day and your evening meal so that you are able and ready to leave home at 6:00pm to go to Mass and Adoration is all the penance you need to keep Friday? Well… Now that you mention it yes, having supper ready, served, eaten and cleaned-up by 6:00 pm requires my entire day to shift 2h early.

So we had hamburgers. And Mass was cancelled that night. Oh well.

Blog post_What they ate this week frid I

 

 

 

 

 

 

I make hamburgers using an entire pallet of ground beef from Costco. That’s in the vicinity of 3-4 lbs I think. I season the meat with my usual suspects (onion flakes, salt, sage and smoked paprika) and beat it into large but thin patties. As you can see from the picture above, they fluff-up as they cook. If you make them small and thick, you’ll end-up with a meatball on your bun. Know what I mean?

SATURDAY

Collage_Saturday picnic Kingston

On Saturday, we traveled to Kingston, Ontario to attend our son’s entrance ceremony to the Royal Military College. We called-up some old and dear friends and asked if we could stop at their house with our burgers and sausages for a last minute BBQ. We left home with a cooler full of meat and ice packs for the supper and a picnic lunch. When picnicking with van full of little kids, simple is key. I bought a big bag of round buns from Costco, some ham, celery sticks, apples and go-go-squeeze tool of the devil and a big jug of lemonade. The picnic by Lake Ontario quickly degenerated into underage skinny dipping and we made it to the ceremony well-fed, bathed and relatively dry.

Collage_RMC Arch Ceremony

For the history buffs amongst you, the middle picture in the collage above is the parade square at Royal Military College. In the very background on the left hand side of the picture is Fort Henry, a National Historic Site of Canada. The building immediately behind the parade square is HMCS Stone Frigate. Yes! The building is a boat! It’s Colin’s dorm and it’s called affectionately “the boat”. It’s the oldest building at RMC and it even has its own Wikipedia page. Can your dorm say as much??

After the ceremony, we headed to our friends’ house for an impromptu BBQ. There are a few things I enjoy more than seeing old friends, especially when our children get along well. Feeding 4 adults, their 9 children and the 6 children we had with us in one sitting was impossible so we took turns. First thing children, then the teenagers and eventually the moms and dads got to have a seat. Their 4 year-old twins Binh and Phuoc ate through all three sittings, a wonderful sight when you think of everything these girls have been through. ← (The article linked there is excellent. You should really read it.)

Collage_Supper at the Wagners

And there you have it my friends, what we ate last week. Now I must hang-up and run make supper. Another week awaits.

Ontario’s new Health and Phys Ed curriculum: this is not a cafeteria


The roll out of Ontario’s new Health & Physical Education curriculum (better known as “sex ed”) has caused a flurry of activity on my Facebook feed. I feel blessed to have friends and acquaintances on every side of this issue but it makes Facebook commenting a bit of a mine field. Try as I may to post nuanced positions, the reality is that social media is a not a friend of nuance. That’s why I have my blog: so I can annoy everybody — from left to right — at the same time… But only if they choose to read me.

This? That's me in my natural state.

First, let’s get the elephant out of the way. I am a practicing Roman Catholic. As a matter of religious doctrine, I believe myself — and that handsome guy I make kids with — to be my children’s primary educators. This means that the responsibility to choose what my children learn falls squarely and unequivocally on my shoulders. The decision to send my children to school or to keep them at home is a religious right, or should be. Many Catholic parents oppose the new sex ed curriculum because they see it as an usurpation of parental authority and their role as primary educators. Not, take note, because they are afraid of the real names of their genitals or what they are used for. In fact, many of us wish teens would learn more about how their reproductive systems work. More on that later. 

I am a Catholic parent but I am also a citizen. I live in a democracy which is — as Sir Winston Churchill reminds us — the worst form of government except for all the others we have tried so far. When Premier Dalton McGuinty announced the new and improved curriculum a few years ago, the outcry on the eve of provincial elections caused the hasty retreat of the controversial new elements. The new Premier Kathleen Wynne promised to reintroduce the curriculum and is showing no sign of backing down. The people who have elected her are reacting with a collective shrug or, as a Facebook friend of a friend wrote: “I’m so glad they’ll be teaching consent.” Because really, how else are young men and women supposed to learn what a consensual sexual relationship is unless they learn it in school? My point is that the people who elected the Ontario Liberal Party are generally happy with the curriculum changes, either because it reflects their own values on health and sexuality or because they don’t care. The parents currently storming the barricades are not those who elected Premier Wynne. Is it a surprise to learn that she is not sensitive to their plight?

As my friend John Robson explains very well in this short video, the provincial government is in the business of teaching civics and morals. You may argue that the government should limit itself to value-neutral academics such a reading, writing and arithmetic but this would be a theoretical exercise at best: the Education Act spells the role of the school system in shaping values and morals very clearly. You’re in for a penny you’re in for a pound: once your children are under the auspices of our state-run education system, the system makes the rules. And that includes the rules about dating, mating and reproducing (or, preferably, not reproducing). As Justice Deschamp wrote for the majority in the 2012 case pitting Quebec parents against the Quebec government over the contested Ethics, Culture and Religion (ECR) curriculum (emphasis is mine):

Parents are free to pass their personal beliefs on to their children if they so wish. However, the early exposure of children to realities that differ from those in their immediate family environment is a fact of life in society. The suggestion that exposing children to a variety of religious facts in itself infringes their religious freedom or that of their parents amounts to a rejection of the multicultural reality of Canadian society and ignores the Quebec government’s obligations with regard to public education.

Yup. That’s right. While this decision refers to a different curriculum in a different province, it does a good job of highlighting the highest court’s sentiment with regard to parental rights in education. I have heard many people, several teachers themselves, argue that the school had to teach sex ed because the parents weren’t. That’s not true. The Ontario education system has to teach sex ed because matters of civics and morals are part and parcel of its mandate. You might argue that this does not correspond to your idea of civics and morals but you ascribed to that vision when you registered your children in school. Remember that dotted line? Your name’s on it.

In an address at the Maryvale Academy Gala last January, Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast  tore into Kathleen Wynne’s new Health & Physical Education curriculum calling it a “seizure of parental authority”. He said (emphasis mine):

“We know that the proposed program threatens the fundamental right of parents to educate their children in the moral dimension of sexual behaviour (…). Parents are best qualified and have the greatest interest in working with their own children to handle this serious topic at an age and developmentally sensitive time,” he continued. “More notably, parents have the fundamental right to do so―a right the Province appears willing to usurp without due consideration.”

(You can read the entire address here.)

Willing to usurp? The Province is not merely “willing to usurp” the role of parents as primary educators, it’s obligated by law to do so. As for the fundamental right to educate children in matters of morals, this is a right that is not recognized by law. As the Supreme Court clearly stated, that right stops at your front door. Some of my Facebook friends who support the curriculum updates shrugged: “It’s a great curriculum. Those who don’t agree just have to opt out.” Believe me, as a parent who had to pull an anxious child out of Health & PE:

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I had to collude with my daughter to find out exactly when to pick her up. Had my daughter not been a willing participant, I would have had no way of knowing when the Health component of the PE class was being taught. Then she would be marked as “absent” — which adds up on her report card — and still expected to write the Health & PE test, failure to do so would also show on her report card. I was glad to give my daughter an occasional break from “Health” but on the whole, she still had to learn the stuff and write the test. Opting out? Not exactly. And here’s the difficult lesson of my post so far: you can’t really opt out of Health & PE even though you have a theoretical right to, as per the Education Act. You have to opt out of the system. We took our children out of Health. And French, math, science and history too. We homeschool. You’re not happy with the extent of government encroachment on your role as primary educator? Your options are: (1) change the Education Act; (2) force the rolling back of the curriculum by electing a government that supports your vision; (3) take your children out of public school. I’m sad to inform you that the happy middle where you get to send your kids to school to learn things you want them to learn at the exclusion of those you don’t like is not an option. Sorry. This is not a cafeteria.

Education is always political. Remember what they say about the hand that rocks the cradle? Well, if you don’t, the Provincial government does, as does Canada’s highest court. There is no such thing as a value-neutral sexual education class. The term “safe sex” is not value neutral. Neither is “risky behaviour”. When I helped my grade 8 daughter study for her Health exam, I learned that Natural Family Planning was also known as “the calendar method” and had a success rate of 30%. This kind of misinformation is not value-neutral.

What your children learn in school is always political. It may look neutral if you share the values promoted in the curriculum but your comfort is only as safe as our democratic system: someday, the tables may turn. After all, the social conservatives — be they Christian, Muslim or Jewish — are having all the babies. Do you think Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar are raising feminists and allies? Doesn’t this make you a little squirmy about the world your 1.3 children will grow into?

Believe it or not, I am not losing sleep over the so-called graphic content of the new curriculum. My extended family has a few same-sex married couples and a transgendered woman. I have dear friends of all colours of the rainbow. Gender fluidity is a fact of life in my family. The mention of masturbation in grade 6 and sexually transmitted diseases and co-related risky behaviours in grade 7 are not phasing me in the least: by then, my children had long been exposed to them in the school yard and especially the school bus. Our bus drivers always listened to mainstream pop radio, where hip hop songs are way more explicit than anything their gym teachers could dream-up. Honestly, your children’s innocence is only as safe as that of their peers.

If anything, I wish the curriculum taught more about how babies are made! I had a conversation with my daughter a few years back while she was texting a friend. Both girls had received the best sex ed the school system could provide. A friend had had unprotected sex during her periods and wanted to know if she could get pregnant. Both thought that ovulation happened during menstruation. So here we are, giving our teens all the information they need to have safe sex. All the information except how babies are made. 16 year-old girls are having unprotected sex without the foggiest clue of when they are fertile. Great. Have we thought of letting kids figure out how to masturbate on their own and teach them how babies are actually made instead? Just a thought.

Nobody should be complaisant about the government’s mandate to teach sexual education. You may be fine with the current state of sexual education but if you — like me — live in a democracy and enjoy the perks of political freedom, you may very well find yourself on my side of the barricades one day. And I promise that I will still be there with you.

Palm Sunday Post


I don’t really write about my faith. I was raised in a Catholic family but I came to adulthood with very little formal knowledge of the Catholic Faith. I came to the practice of the faith through the heart rather than the mind and this is where I stayed. I don’t write about faith because others do it better. My most inspirational line would probably be “It sucked before. Now it’s better.” A supernatural outlook on life and a good sense of humour are staples of loving life in a big family. Today is Palm Sunday and Palm Sunday deserves a blog post.

Palm Sunday is my favorite Feast Day in the Catholic Liturgy. Not favorite as in “we get chocolate”, but favorite as in “every year, it chews me up and spits me out.” I’m a lousy Catholic, really. I don’t get the warm-and-fuzzies about Mary or the Pope. There are elements of Catholic doctrine I don’t understand, others I struggle with. There are elements of Catholic doctrine I live-out like a champ, like not using artificial birth control. But I chose to stop artificial birth control and embrace natural family planning before I returned to the Church. So even in that regard I’m not punching above my weight. I found affinity with conservative Catholics because I was not using birth control, not the other way around. So there.  But when I had deep questions about the meaning of life, suffering and happiness, Christianity and the Catholic Church had the most thorough answers. And when I thought that my 3 young children were going to drive me insane, Christian moms had a peace and a fortitude I longed for. That’s how I returned to the Church: I wanted a piece of what they had. I didn’t join because I had something for God but because God had something for me. And they used to let me sing at Church.

Palm Sunday is the Feast of the Lousy Christian. It used to drive me nuts. Palm Sunday commemorates the triumphal entrance of Christ into Jerusalem. The procession starts outside of the Church with the blessing of palms and continues into the church with the reading of the Passion. The procession reminds us that the same people who welcomed Christ as their King would later ask for his crucifixion. I always found the procession painful. It should be solemn. We are celebrating our hypocrisy after all. But instead, we sing and dance and smile and wave our silly little branches. Don’t we realize after 2000 years that it’s a parody of ourselves and our shallowness? It took me a long time to accept than the ridicule of welcoming the celebrant 5 minutes before a dramatic reading of the Passion of Christ was part of the penance. The Feast of the Lousy Christian starts with a reminder of how weak and fickle we are.

The Gospel on Palm Sunday is always a reading of the Passion, the story of Christ’s long, painful, death. But the most graphic depiction is not of what the crown of thorns and cross did to Christ, but of the betrayal of those who once professed their faith in him. And every year, a verse of the Passion stands-up, steps out of the book, walks over to my pew and punches me in the face.

Judas’ 3 pieces of silver represent my choice for comfort over the demands of self-sacrifice. Peter’s denials, they are mine. The two thieves, one challenging God, the other humble, are my struggle to understand suffering. Palm Sunday is the Feast of falling short, of saying things we didn’t mean and meaning things we never say. It’s the Feast of the weak and the proud, of thinking we know better, of wanting to go it alone.

Palm Sunday is the Feast of discomfort, of knowing we are capable of so much more. Judas broke down. Peter wept. The thief repented. It’s the Feast of coming face-to-face with our fears and our limitations and choosing the easy way out instead of pushing through. It’s the Feast of embracing our lousiness before embracing weakness and knowing we need help. Next week, we will celebrate the hand outstretch. This week, we are not ready to accept it.

It’s my Feast, it’s your Feast. It’s the Feast of all of us.

The pond on March 20th 2013, first day of Spring.
The pond on March 20th 2013, first day of Spring.

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Walking in Peter’s footsteps: My long Lenten journey


I don’t often write about my faith… I don’t think I ever have. But there is something about a supernatural outlook that makes it easier to take the craziness of a large family.  I am neither formed enough or literate enough in faith matters to publish about it and I leave the inspirational material to skilled professionals (like Leila at Little Catholic Bubble). But this is the Easter season and the high point of the Christian liturgical year. It would feel wrong to let it pass on my blog unmentioned.

Continue reading “Walking in Peter’s footsteps: My long Lenten journey”