What’s for supper Vol. 3: Pork, fries, and pizza two meals in a row


Last week I posted about all the delicious foods I cook for my family and admittedly, it had been a good week. This week has been less stellar, a combination of not feeling it, having a parade of sick babies and being too hot to cook (summer’s last Hurrah has seen temperatures rise over 30 degrees Celsius in my area.) We’ve also had to shop for fall clothes, go to the clinic (twice) and generally cope with sleepless nights and hectic days. Don’t forget to visit the instigator of the What’s for supper linkup, Simcha Fisher.

In true social media fashion, I neglected to take pictures on our less-than-stellar meals. You can take my word for it though, it really happened!

MONDAY

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Chicken drumsticks, green beans and leftover red cabbage slaw. Any coleslaw gets better after a few days in the fridge, remember that. I cook the entire Costco pallet of chicken drumsticks regardless of the number of people eating. If we have 11 people around the table, it will barely be enough but this time we had leftovers. You are probably wondering what I use to marinate the chicken to perfection. Nothing, that’s what. I often hear about people who can’t figure out how I fit everything in a day. But the truth is (a) I don’t; and (b) I cut corners everywhere. Who has time to manage marinade? Not me. I have lost pounds of meat to spoilage because I kept forgetting to marinate the wretched thing day after day. If I feel like a master cook, I might remember salt and pepper. And guess what? The kids don’t care: it’s chicken! Remember the simple things like salt, pepper and onion flakes.

TUESDAY

On Tuesday my parents came for a visit and asked me to call-in a pizza pick-up that the children would like. I called the pick-up and they showed-up with the pizza. And some desserts. And some cookies. And lollipops. And juice. After they left, it was too hot to cook but mercifully there was enough pizza, desserts and juice to make a second meal out of it. This is one I forgot to immortalize so you’ll have to believe me. Nobody died, nobody got scurvy and children’s protection did not show-up at my house.

WEDNESDAY

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On Wednesday, we decided to do an errands run into town. Which in husband-speak meant: shop for clothes at the children’s consignment store, buy groceries, socks and underwear at the Superstore, go to Costco, eat and hit the mall with the teenagers for their clothes shopping. Believe it or not, we made it (with 5 minutes to spare before the mall closed). We have this thing figured out. We can do Costco and supper in under an hour. First we hit the club. Then my husband takes one teen to do the groceries (we need two carts) and I hit the snack bar with the rest of them. We eat fries, chicken fingers and hot dogs, we never buy drinks. My husband comes out the cash line and eats the leftovers and the teenager grabs a poutine for the road. Bam!! No, I don’t have pictures of that one either.

THURSDAY

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Thai squash and coconut soup with shrimps. This is hands down my family’s favorite soup. I rarely make it because it involves peeling and cubing a squash, which makes me run for the hills. Thankfully butternut squash keeps forever in the pantry: I had two specimen waiting since the beginning of August and so I decided to be a good mom and make something all my kids enjoyed. A few notes if you are trying this recipe (you should):

  • My children don’t like chunks in their soup so I skip the part where half the squash is boiled and the other half is kept in cubes for the soup. I just boil and process the whole darn thing. Well, the two of them in my case.
  • The recipe instructs you to chop the onion, sweet pepper etc. “finely” or something equally egregious. What you should know now is that everything gets processed in a blender at some point. So don’t obsess over having perfectly square cubes or you’ll cry later. I chop everything coarsely.
  • If you use fish sauce, don’t forget to crank the range hood way up while it evaporates or the stinky fishy smell will not only cling to your clothes and your hair, it will make the kids run upstairs and swear never to taste what smells so awful. Your husband will come home and wonder who’s rotting in the cellar. Just make sure the air is on full blast before you add the fish sauce.
  • I use raw peeled shrimps. They taste way better — less rubbery — if they cook in the soup but who has time to peel whole shrimps? Not me. You don’t need to blast the heat to cook the shrimps and the coconut milk. In fact, both will be better off if you cook them slightly using residual heat (if the shrimps are small) or on a low simmer. I have yet to find raw peeled shrimps anywhere else than Superstore.
  • An immersion blender is your best friend. It makes the clean-up so unbelievably quicker than using the regular blender. This is a staple of the large family kitchen: I make soup, batter, whipped cream using the immersion blender.

FRIDAY

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Friday was sick day. I spend the day trapped under various feverish children and the children had a sports night at church. I threw together my usual freezer meal: fish and chips. I also served a big bowl of fruits (melon and nectarines). I’m not a meal absolutist: leaving  bowl of fruit out ready to eat counts as vitamins and fibers, who says you have to have some horrible veggie that no one likes on offer?

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SATURDAY

Today is the Feast of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and we are celebrating by eating pork Vindaloo, rice and naan bread.{***EDIT: a friend asked me on Facebook how I got the children to eat vindaloo since it’s very spicy. I don’t put chili pepper that’s how. We add spice after.} Follow the links to find the recipes I used. I had 3+ kg of pork loin from Costco so I cubed it and separated it in two batches of 3-4 lbs each. I turned the first batch into pork vindaloo. I used the recipe linked above, added a bit of water to the vindaloo spice paste and threw everything in the slow cooker. The smell was heavenly. I turned the other batch into slow-cooker spicy peanut chicken (yeah, yeah, I know it’s pork) from the gluten-free slow-cooker book by Judith Finlayson. I also have her book of Paleo slow-cooker recipes and everything is fantastic. The reviews on GoodReads are low because people can’t cook and expect the slow cooker to do all the work. I like the books because it makes my recipes taste like the Indian restaurant and my house smell good. I highly recommend those two books if you prefer cooking from scratch from recipes that don’t start with a can of Campbell mushroom soup. Now, the last time I posted about these books, someone asked me what a gluten-free slow-cooker was. The recipes are gluten-free, not the machine. If you want a gluten-free slow-cooker just buy a normal slow-cooker and never cook foods containing gluten in it. Ta-daa. As for the slow-cooker that turns normal food into delicious gluten-free foods, the prototype is still in development.

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We have two slow-cookers. The larger one is sold at Costco and often comes on sale for under $40. It works just fine.

At 5:30 pm, the children were hungry as a fresh batch of oatmeal chocolate chip muffins came out of the oven. They had a few each and weren’t hungry for supper. We saw an opportunity and decided to keep the pork vindaloo and naan bread for a late supper with the teenagers. We essentially fed the children chocolate chips muffins with a side of pasta and hot dogs and let them watch a movie. Sadly, I did not get a picture of that either.

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For the naan bread, I used the basic Artisan Bread recipe. It was decent but it didn’t taste the way it was supposed to. Next time, I’ll try making it with a real naan dough recipe. We had a chat with the girls about Blessed Mother Theresa that devolved into the futility of arguing online with Internet atheists and devolved even further into the hilarity of my (French) pronunciation of the word “atheist.”

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SUNDAY

On Sunday, we grabbed fresh fries from the Chip Wagon in Almonte (the one by the Esso Yes So!), butter tarts from the grocery store and celebrated carbs of all shapes and sizes. Supper will be leftovers. Have a great week everyone!

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Confronting Envy


It started innocently enough with an online sale. The kind of online sale that let’s you meet likeminded parents: cloth diapers, children’s bikes. This one was for a ring sling. While teaching the buyer to use my ring sling, we had stricken a conversation about twins. This young mama had 6 month-old twins, her first children. I looked at her with the confidence of the mother who has it all figured out and said: “I know how tough it is right now but don’t worry: they’ll sleep someday, it gets better.” She said: “Oh sleep is no problem! Since they were born we made sure to have a really consistent bedtime routine and when we tuck them in their beds they know it’s sleep time and they just go to sleep!”

Well, I try hard not to swear but F-my-luck. I haven’t slept a good night since 2009 and having twins nearly killed me. From the day they were born until Lucas was 16 months I did not sleep longer than 45 minutes in a row. When he was 10 months-old I realized that I had seen every single hour on my alarm clock, every single night, for the last 10 months so I got rid of the alarm clock. It was easier than getting rid of the baby. That young mom’s innocent comment made me feel like maybe I had missed something. Maybe I could have been sleeping all this time and my restless nights were due to a lack of skills or determination. And those negative feelings reopened a door I had long thought closed: the door of envy.

St. Thomas Aquinas defined envy as sorrow at the good fortune of others. Its flip side is rejoicing at the downfall of others. Envy is that silent “YES!!” moment when we learn of the downfall of someone we had been envying. As if something in us died when our neighbor succeeded.

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I struggled for many years with envy after my older children were born. I was convinced that my decision to put my career on hold while my children were young (ha! Famous last words as I still have young children almost 20 years later) was the right decision for our family. Yet, I looked with envy at the material things my friends who worked outside the home could afford. Vacations, cute clothes, and my holy grail, matching furniture. I mentally wished that their children would grow-up troubled as if I needed to see the proof that having a parent at home was better for children. As if nothing I was doing would have been worth it unless my children were happy and their children were screwed-up.

Now that I am a bit older and a bit wiser — and that I have a house full of matching IKEA furniture — envy doesn’t rear its ugly head the same way it did when I was younger. I no longer envy material things as much as accomplishments. I envy confidence, safety, and a sense of control. Which is ironic isn’t it, since I decided to have a large family? But this is how fear works in the darkest confines of our souls, keeping us from becoming a better, bigger, version of ourselves.

I caught myself wishing that this young mom’s twins would suddenly stop sleeping so well. To show her that she wasn’t really in control. I wished that she would discover that her parenting skills at imposing a bedtime routine that sent her kids straight into Morpheus’ arms had everything to do with her children’s natural disposition to sleep on cue. I assumed that they must have been bottle-fed in hospital and molded to an institutional schedule. What are we breastfeeding mothers to do when our healthy children protest our best attempts to conform them to our schedule? We are not going home at the end of our shift!

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A few months later, I learned that a friend with children had sold her house and purchased a similar-sized house in a less desirable suburban neighbourhood. The difference in prices allowed her and her husband to pay-off their mortgage and live comfortably debt-free.  I could just taste the freedom. Completely debt-free, home owning, new vehicle driving, holidaying, while in their prime earning years, with school-aged children…. Life: does it get better than that?

Well, of course the husband, you know…. And the wife well… That’s not mentioning the way their kids…. And the issues at school… Here comes envy again with its messy greasy hands leaving fingerprints all over my best wishes. Envy is the opposite of rose-coloured glasses. It stains what should be beautiful and inspiring and filters it through a dirty lens. Turned on itself, it makes us look like a diminished version of ourselves. Envy is self-limitation. It’s locking ourselves in a cage, with the key, wishing every one would join us in when we could simply fly away.

I realized that my envy was not only holding me down, it was preventing me from growing from my experiences and choices, whether good or bad. It also made small-fry of the fruits of those experiences and forks in the road. My life as a mother of 9 is fodder for this blog and countless helpful interventions with friends and strangers alike. I made poor financial and academic decisions that set me back in my career ambitions and my financial independence but these decisions have lead me down a path where I met dear friends, learned valuable lessons and grew more than I ever did playing it safe. Envy renders us myopic, deliberately blurring out distance and perspective, only allowing us to see what is directly in front of us. IMG_4132

How many “mommy wars” and “mama drama” are rooted in envy? How many poor choices are motivated by envy? How farther along would we be if we simply chose to learn from those who have done things better, or even just differently, than we have?

C.S. Lewis described hell as a door locked on the inside. When we let envy     pollute our relationships with others, we are not only locking ourselves in but expecting everyone to join us.

Are we killing you yet?


By popular demand, I translated my previous post on large families and the environment.

About a month ago, our family was the subject of a full-page feature in our local newspaper. This is not the first time that my little gang and I appear on the pages of a newspaper: last year, I took part in a Globe & Mail piece on the decision to stay home or return to work.

When you are the mother of a large family and you make a media appearance, you have to expect the global warming trolls to come to the party, regardless of the topic. We seem to be a looming menace: if everybody did what we did, the environmental impact would be disastrous. In theory maybe, but what about reality?

You don’t have to be a scholar in demographics to see that large families are not the cause of overpopulation. Assuming that you accept the arguments in favour of overpopulation. A quick glance at the literature shows that concerns over demographic decline are at least as pressing as those relating to overpopulation. Birth rates (the number of live births per thousand of population per year) and fertility rates (the average number of children born to women of childbearing years) are declining throughout the world. While many under-developed countries still show birth rates over the population renewal rate (2.1 children per women), their birth rates are in decline. Statistics suggest that the increasing world population is not caused by too many births but by an increase in life expectancy. In other words, we didn’t start breeding like rabbits; we just stopped dropping like flies. The elderly population is on the increase worldwide but the children population is decreasing steadily.

Blaming large families like ours for overpopulation discounts the fact that for countries like Canada, the fertility rate is significantly below the population renewal rate despite a handful of large families. Think about it: the fertility rate of 1.1 children per woman includes women like me. We don’t seem to be making a noticeable difference. If anything, we make demographic decline slightly less scary. I often meet funny people who enjoy telling me:

“I’m happy that there are people like you to make up for people like me.”

Except that we are outweighed: there are too many people like you for people like me to compensate.

Some will tell me that demographic decline is desirable to make-up for our poor ecological balance sheet. While it is true that resource abuse is threatening the environment, I would counter that what is killing the planet are abusive mentalities, not large families. If large families are too few to make a statistical difference in birth rates, what makes you think that there are enough of us to compromise the environment? Resource abuse and overuse happened in parallel with demographic decline. The problem is not simply how many people are killing the planet, but how they are doing it!

Our family lives in the suburbs of Ottawa in a typical wealthy suburban neighbourhood found throughout North America. Large single family homes, 4 bedrooms, double car garage. Two cars, or rather, one car and a larger vehicle such as a minivan or a SUV. The house we currently live in was designed for a family of 4 or 5 people. On my street, in houses of similar size and function, you will find mostly couples with no children or 1 or 2 children. Some are young families hoping to expand but most are older. They all live in 3 000+ sq. ft. homes built on former prime agricultural land, with 2 vehicles, air conditioning and heating brought to you by some coal-fired power plant somewhere in Ontario. It doesn’t cost more to heat-up 3 000 square feet for a family of 10 than it does for a family of 2 by the way. Except that with the size of my bills, when the weather is nice I open the windows. Most of my neighbours turn-on the A/C in May and turn it off in October. And while my pile of garbage is bigger than theirs, the truck moves for them as much as it does for me… and their garbage pile is not one fifth of mine, although their household is. Their vehicles are never full and move at least as much as mine do, filled to the brim. This March Break, we stayed home bar a 60 minute drive to the nearest ski hill. Half of my children’s school friends flew-off to a sunnier destination. And you are shaking your accusatory finger at me?

Let me tell you what is killing the planet. It’s egotism. It’s a culture of entitlement that drives us to grab what should be ours, whether we need it or not. It’s the pursuit of “more”, not to say “too much”. Take a drive through Ottawa’s old neighbourhoods and take a look at the little brick bungalows. 2 or 3 bedrooms, no bigger than a triple car garage. Reflect on the fact that these homes were once considered “family-sized”, at a time where families were bigger. Today, my single family home features two bedrooms with full ensuites. Ideal for the only teen who would rather not share a toilet with his parents: your children can now sleep, socialize and shower in their very own personal wing. They don’t even need to interact while going to take a pee! Progress would be a built-in meal door. But the problem is my husband, my children and I?

From my home office window, I watch the school buses go by. Every day, a well-meaning mother drives her daughter – who looks to be about 12 years-old — to the corner and picks her up at the end of the day. In Ottawa, a student cannot walk more than 500 m to get to a bus stop. If the distance between his home and the bus stop is greater than 500 m, a new bus stop is created. Throughout this very cold winter, the coldest on recent record, our attentive mother drove her daughter to and from the bus stop. The daughter never wore as much as a hat. No scarf, no mittens, not even a pair of boots. You need to understand that within a 500 m radius of my home office window, there is no low-income housing. We are not talking about a child in need; we are talking about a child who cannot walk 500 m (probably less) in the winter because it is “too cold”. And it’s too cold by choice. That’s the kind of choice, made every day, multiplied by millions of us, over our lifetime that brought planet earth to her knees. Not a handful of large families.

Waiting for the bus as I write. Not making stuff up.
Waiting for the bus as I write. Not making stuff up.

Yes, we use too much electricity, we drive too often and we wear too many clothes. We gather so much stuff that we must now build air-conditioned spaces to store our things. Do you really think that families like mine made Dymon Storage facilities pop like mushrooms? Not only have we covered our prime agricultural land with asphalt, we now build apartments for our stuff! We got there while our population was decreasing. Could you be looking for a culprit at the wrong place?

As for me and my husband, we will keep having children and raising them to become responsible citizens. I don’t know if we will succeed: the social forces pushing us toward overconsumption and self-centeredness are strong. But I believe that we have a better chance of succeeding because a large family is an incubator for the values that we hope to pass-on to our children. You should be happy: they will be paying for your adult diapers and performing your hip replacement surgeries for the next 60 years.

Picture by Jenna Sparks, Lifestyle photographer: http://jsparksphotography.zenfolio.com/
Picture by Jenna Sparks, Lifestyle photographer: http://jsparksphotography.zenfolio.com/

Action de Grâce


Par une belle journée d’automne, nous avons passé de bien beaux moments sur notre propriété en campagne. Pour l’instant, il ne s’agit que de champs et de forêts. Mais un jour, nous y construirons une maison. Si vous cliquez sur la première photo, vous pourrez toutes les voir en pleine grandeur.

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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Review of Once a Month Mom freezer cooking


This fall, my husband and I came to the realization that our days needed more hours, our weeks needed more days and our months… Well, you get the idea. We considered hiring a cleaning service but my husband was very reluctant to spend good money on such a futile endeavour. “Might as well just burn your money” he said and I have to say that if our housecleaning is any indication, nothing would feel more like lighting-up a big money cigar than hiring a cleaning service. We also want to avoid raising our kids to be picked-up or cleaned-up after. When people ask us: “8 kids! You must have a cleaning lady?!” we always answer: “No, that’s what the kids are for.” Our children are growing-up in affluence and we are fighting a daily battle against entitlement and ungratefulness. The cleaning service is one bridge too far.

So we went back to the drawing table to cut back some minutes to our hours. We found that the repeated assault of cooking three meals a day for 10 people was punching a hole in our ability to do anything in the evening, including but not limited to go to bed early. I would come home from work, start cooking supper. My husband would drive the children left, right and centre while I took care of the four younger children’s bedtime routine. Then around 9 pm we would meet-up in the kitchen to survey the damage. Around 11 pm, we’d be done with the kitchen clean-up and dishes extravaganza, tired, grumpy and looking forward to the same hellish routine the next day.

My husband suggested looking into catering and batch-cooking services like Supper Works. We had a mild case of sticker shock: catering is closer in price to eating in a restaurant than eating at home. The premium on Supper Works’ ingredients was significant and the concept not at all adapted to cooking for a large family: we would have had to buy two or three meal packages to cover our family’s needs, yet, feeding a family of 10 is not necessarily double the price of feeding a family of 5. Supper Works is a good option for families who would otherwise eat out: compared to the cost of a restaurant entrée, Supper Works figures competitively. But it is double the price of buying the ingredients yourself.

A friend suggested Once a Month Mom (OAMM): “It takes the thinking out of batch cooking, and your older kids can help too: the instructions are very easy to follow.”  I was ready to give it a try and chose one of their free past menus. Because their menus are planned around seasonal ingredients – whatever that means, I live in Canada where nothing is seasonal for 8 out of 12 months – I went with their November 2011 menu and gave it a try at the beginning of last December. In mid-December, I also tried one of their Mini-Menus to plan a batch-cooking party for a friend who had recently adopted twins.

First, you would be well advised to read through the website for instructions on getting off to a right start. The menus are organized around three main documents: the Grocery List, the Recipe Cards and the Instructions. The Grocery List and Recipe Cards are Google Docs spreadsheets based on the quantities needed to feed one person for a month. You enter the number of people you are cooking for and the software does its magic: the finished product is a detailed grocery list and a series of recipes with the exact amount of all the ingredients required by the menu. We spent an inordinate amount of time formatting the documents in Excel to print it. The getting-started instructions state clearly that the documents are optimized for Google Docs, not Excel. The first take-home message is to download the documents in Google Docs… And read through the website before starting for other pivotal tidbits of information.

We chose the Whole Foods menu because it came closest to the way we cook at home: mostly from scratch, using real food. We printed our grocery list and off we went on a big day of shopping. Planning ahead, you can buy your groceries throughout the month to mimic the ebb and flow of meal preparation, freezing the meat as you go. Buying all the ingredients for a month of freezer meals in one afternoon is not for the faint of heart. We came home with a much lighter wallet and a full-size van full of food. We shopped at Costco for the most part, especially the meat part. (Make sure ahead of time that there is room in your fridge for all the food). Now, we were committed!

I got-up early the next morning and started cooking.

Starting bright and early with my crack-of-dawn baby, still in our pajamas!
Starting bright and early with my crack-of-dawn baby, still in our pajamas!

I didn’t appreciate how intense this cooking extravaganza would be and didn’t make arrangements to have my children looked after. Thankfully, my husband had no commitments that weekend and was able to do most of the baby-chasing, adjusted for whoever was on my back at any given time. Take-home message number two is to plan your weekend well in advance, including childcare and whatever your family will eat for the duration. When I did the Mini-Menu for my friend, some members of my local babywearing community came to help. Half the moms were in the kitchen working while the other half was looking after the little ones. It was a good old-fashioned cooking party: this is how it was done during harvest season when harvesting and preserving had to be done in one shot to avoid spoilage. It’s a lot more fun to do it with friends and if I can figure out a way of pricing meal-units, I would like to organize a batch-cooking coop of some kind.

Believe it or not, I went to the grocery store without reading the recipes first. That’s your third take-home message: study the recipes first. I didn’t realize until I was about to start a batch of 30 enchilada that the Whole Food menu was making tortilla and bread from scratch! Of course, homemade panini bread and tortilla are an order of magnitude better than what you buy in the store. But if you are trying to make a month of freezer meals for 10 people in one week-end (that’s 300 individual meals by the way), you may elect to skip the part where you hand-roll 72 tortilla, know what I mean? Thankfully, I received crucial and timely help from my mother and my daughters who were giddy at the thought of making a recipe that started with “Pour 34 cups of flour into a large bowl…”

My two daughters making the tortilla dough.
My two daughters making the tortilla dough.
My long-suffering mother, hand-rolling tortilla for an army
My long-suffering mother, hand-rolling tortilla for an army

Reading recipes will also highlight any differences of culinary vocab and allow you to adjust. I peeled and “cubed” 21 cups of butternut squash – a real pain in the butt if you ever had one – until I realized that by “cubed” they meant “quartered” (and ready to roast in their peel). Duh, there went 2h I’ll never get back.

Is the finish result worth it? Hell yeah, but it's 11 pm on this picture.
Is the finish result worth it? Hell yeah, but it’s 11 pm on this picture.

At the end of the day, I was thoroughly spent. Don’t underestimate the effort involved in making all your meals in one day: it’s a concentration of 30 days of dinners all in a 48h period. If anything, it highlights the cumulative effort of feeding your family every single month: give yourself a vigorous pat in the back family cooks! I crashed on the couch around 9 pm and promptly fell asleep. I was drooling on a couch pillow when my husband gently shook me and told me to go to bed.

I didn’t finish all my freezer meals in one weekend. The limitations of the spreadsheet are that it calculates like a robot without consideration for the size of your cookware. The reasoning behind batch cooking is that you cook in double or triple batches. OAMM doesn’t provide you with 20 different meals: it offers about 8 recipes that are repeated three times over the course of the month. But as any mother of a large family will attest, a single meal for 10 people already doubles or triples most recipes. So if you follow the reasoning behind OAMM batch cooking, I was cooking in sextuple and octuples batches… Well, nobody has a pot large enough to make a octuplet batch of beef Bourguignon : I found myself having to make several meals (like the boeuf Bourguignon and the risotto) in 2 or 3 separate batches…. And while I was making my third double batch of risotto, nothing else was happening. I am blessed that my twins’ caregiver has a past life in catering: I was able to go to work and  leave her with my OAMM recipes and ask her to please, pretty please, do anything to save the meat and as much produce as possible. We did finish with minimal spoilage…. I think I lost the bottom third of my pre-chopped onions. All in all, not a bad average on a $800 grocery.

So what do I think about OAMM? Is it worth it? You will ask yourself that question as you buy all your groceries for the month and slave away in the kitchen for 48 insane hours. But this week, I took out my meals in the morning and we ate without messing-up the kitchen. Our children are going to bed earlier and my husband started reading novels out loud to our son – he’s 6, they are reading Kenneth Oppel’s Airborne at bed time. I have been going to bed at 9 pm on average and it is allowing me to take advantage of my twin boy’s longest sleep stretch: I get 3-4 hours of sleep in a row before he starts waking up every 2 hours, for the first time in almost 18 months. And I learned a few things in this first OAMM experience that I will tweak for next month in order to finish within the Friday night-to-Sunday window. Here they are in no particular order:

–          I will study my recipes beforehand and see which corners I can cut. Tortillas will be store-bought although it will be difficult to go back.

–          I will skip the breakfast menu unless it involves casseroles that are substantial enough to be used as a dinner. Like the Tahoe Brunch Casserole http://www.cabbi.com/recipes/detail/200 We eat toasts and cereals at breakfast, I need to focus my energy on dinner.

–          Pancake recipes, however delicious, take-up too much time and RAM to work in the context of a busy cooking day. I burned 95% of my lemon poppy seed pancakes, which was a damn shame.

–          The Whole Food menu includes a few vegetarian entrees but is still very heavily meat-centered. I bought much more meat in my OAMM trial month that  I usually do, by a factor of 2, possibly 3. Next time, I will probably make one Whole Food Mini-Menu and one Vegan Mini-Menu to even it out.

–          OAMM is American and wow, holy stinkin’ cow they love their dairy fat!! There is an unholy quantity of butter and cheese but mostly butter, and heavy cream too, in their recipes. Their pumpkin risotto recipe was heavenly but wow, with Maple Syrup, it would have been a perfect dessert. A lot of the Whole Food Menu’s vegetarian recipes were heavy on milk fat. A vegetarian diet is not healthier if you replace lean protein by butter. Just sayin’

OAMM is well thought out and does take the thinking out of batch cooking. Their recipes are tasty and varied and so far, none have fallen flat with my family. It is well-worth the intensity of the big cooking day. Try it and persevere: you’ll be glad you did.

My little stowaway


I had a moment the other night. Many people, me included before I had a large family, think that moms with lots of kids have it easier. That they are more patient, more loving, that their children are more manageable. But the truth is that even moms with lots of kids have moments when they think this is all a little too much. Moments we don’t brag about on Facebook.

Since the twins were born, the nights have not been great. But while I am severely sleep-deprived, I am functional as long as the routine holds. I can deal with a crappy night. But when it gets crappier, I have moments. Moments of intense frustration, almost anger.

Ève sleeps better than Lucas. She usually wakes-up once a night between 3 and 4 am after going to bed between 6 and 7 pm. She nurses quickly and goes back to sleep. Lucas sleeps with me and wakes-up constantly. I ditched the clock when it started to make me angry. I don’t know how often he wakes-up and it’s better that way.

The other night, around 11 pm, Lucas woke-up as usual and I nursed him for a good half-hour. Then Ève woke-up against regulation. She wanted to nurse too but there was no more milk. I only have one working boob. When it’s empty, I need to give it some time to refill. That’s just The Way Things Are. But Ève was not buying it. My husband tried to cuddle with her but she became completely hysterical. I tried to nurse her for comfort but she wanted FOOD!

I tried giving her a bottle but she refused.  For a while, she was fine cuddling with me, her watchful eyes wide open. I felt so lonely in the silence of my house, hearing my children and husband snore in the comfort of their beds. For a minute, I hoped that someone would come and sit with me and commiserate on the great injustice that was befalling me. Eventually, after a third dry nursing attempt and following return to bed, she lost it. I offered the breast again and instead of taking it, she grabbed it with her sharp little nails and violently threw it away. It hurt so much; I was so mad, I yelled “ENOUGH!” put her gently in her bed still screaming and walked-away. I may have slammed her door. I went downstairs and crashed on a couch. I heard my husband walk over to her room and pick her up.

I was mad at my body for failing me. Mad at the”insufficient glandular tissue” that made it impossible to produce enough milk for two babies. I was mad at myself for taking it out on Ève, for feeling so misunderstood and helpless, for expecting my 13- month-old to get it. I was mad that my husband had to go comfort our baby because I was too mad to do it myself.

I went back upstairs. I was eventually able to have a let-down and she accepted it as enough of the Good Stuff to return to sleep. My husband said “She needs as much closeness and affection as Lucas, she’s just not as good at asking for it.” And he is right. Lucas is cuddly and melts into your arms like soft butter, Ève gets mad and trashes about until you force the breast or the soother in her mouth and hold her tightly. Only then does she realize that you are here for her.

I went back to the day I found out I was pregnant with Baby#7. I drove the children to school on a snowy morning, stopped by the pharmacy to buy a pregnancy test, came home and took the test with my coat still on, in the downstairs bathroom by the garage door. I remember standing in the mud room thinking “Well… Here’s Lucas…” We told the children about the new baby on a car trip to Florida. When I found out we were having twins, I was so thrilled by this gift of life. A little freebie. A #8 tucked-in with #7. I was looking at our Florida pictures later that year, wondering how crazy it was that we had two babies all along. A little stowaway! For some reason, even though both babies were conceived at the same time, I always thought of Eve as my little stowaway, my little freebie, the little #8 tucked-in with #7.

When Eve woke-up the next morning, I went to nurse her. She laid her little head in the crook of my arm and relaxed against my chest. I stroked her soft wispy hair and kissed her warm round forehead. I looked at her soulful half-moon eyes and told her “I’m so happy you came along. I love you”

And it was all forgotten.