Thursday, October 20, 2011

Take Time to Smell the Roasters

I love, love, love this time of year!  It’s such a relief when the scorching heat of summer subsides and the crisp cool of autumn arrives.  Wardrobe options now include sweaters and slacks.  Sleep is more comfortable under a cozy blanket.  And, cooking and baking indoors are tolerable again.  No more back and forth to the barbeque.  No more getting up before the crack of dawn to boil pasta for a salad.  Once again, we can have the roasted and slow-braised meats we love.  At long last, we can enjoy our favourite baked treats again.

Tonight's roast turkey...YUM!
Roast meats are one of my choicest time-, calorie-, and budget-savers.  First of all, roasting is generally done with less fat and larger cuts of meat.  That makes it kinder to both health and wallet.  Best of all, roasted meats can often be stretched to provide a few meals.  Cost per serving/meal becomes very economical   and, though initial cooking times may be a little longer than preparing individually-portioned meats, subsequent dinners made from those pre-cooked proteins come together very quickly.  Stir-fries, cream- or tomato-based pastas, salads, soups, casseroles, pizzas – all are easily prepared in the time it takes to chop a few vegetables and prep the carbs.  Not just sit-down dinners, either.  Leftover roast beef, ham, chicken, turkey, and pork make flavour-packed sandwiches and wraps.  Add a condiment which compliments those meats – like horseradish sauce, honey-mustard glaze, stuffing, cranberry or apple sauce – and you can elevate those sandwiches to epicurean heights of deliciousness.  There’s nothing new in this idea.  When I grew up, Sunday dinner wasn’t just a good, hot, family meal; it furnished amazing and unique lunches through the coming week.

The benefits of home-baking are more modest.  There are budgetary advantages, certainly, but the savings margin is narrower than other forms of culinary wizardry.  The real saving is dietary.  Baking allows you to create desserts with lower calorie profiles and few (if any) artificial ingredients, preservatives, or stabilizers.  By choosing whole foods (e.g. grains, nuts, and spices) and complimenting them with healthier fats and sweeteners, these treats can become truly wholesome snacks.  And, while your kitchen is issuing forth delectable fragrances of your baking, the oven’s warmth helps reduce your heating bill.

If you’re having difficulty “feeling the love” of this season, try creating some of your own culinary comfort foods.  The smells seduce.  The oven heats things up.  And the food is oh so satisfying.  Your finances will value the budget-friendly large-cut proteins.  Your schedule will appreciate the time-savings.  And, both heart and waistline will take pleasure in healthier goodies.  So turn on the oven and share my seasonal delight. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Tricked Out for Halloween

It’s been many years since I’ve had young children at home but I can still recall their eager anticipation of Halloween.  Occasionally, they wanted to dress up as popular characters, but often their tastes were more generic:  a princess, a firefighter, a mouse, and even a vampire bat.  So we rarely shopped for costumes off the rack – my kids imagined characters unrepresented in most stores.  Instead, we made a project creating costumes during the weeks prior.

I took a page from my own childhood, when even the simplest garment or accessory could transform my little self into a witch, an aviator, a Flapper, a Martian, or a favoured movie star.  In watching my own children play, I realized their imaginations were no different.  Once the kids decided on a character, we would visit the local thrift shop for garments and accessories.  For my son’s vampire bat, we couldn’t find any clothing suitable so I checked the remnant bunk at a fabric shop and found some fake-fur material that worked perfectly.  Equipped with the kids’ coloured artwork and effusive descriptions, I stitched, pinned, and even taped things to meet “design specifications.”  The kids delighted in directing Mom – cooperating whenever possible – until their ideas took shape.

Neither of my kids liked wearing masks, complaining it was hard to see and breathe while wearing them.  When I was young, we had neighbours who made their own elaborate masks with papier-mâché and I wanted to try making them for my children, however, as they didn’t like masks, I used costume make-up instead.  Face paint also works well but it was hard to find then.  The difficulty with make-up is getting excited children to remain motionless long enough to apply it!  If your children (or grandchildren) are interesting in making their own masks, here are two sites I found:  the first is a mask formed to the face; and the second uses a plastic milk jug as the form.  Papier-mâché can also make interesting costume pieces.  At a youth party I once attended, twins showed up in moulded cubes, as “a pair of dice.”

It may sound like a lot of time and work but it’s not, really.  Ideally, the kids do most of the creating, and then the choosing of appropriate garments, accessories, and any unusual items that can help them convert ideas into costume.  The more my kids did themselves, the more pride they took in the results.  My guidance was minimal – kids have such fantastic imaginations – so mostly I helped with tailoring and adjustments.  The memories we made were well worth the minimal time and energy required.

As young parents, though, we had other concerns.  At that time, we were struggling to make ends meet, so we needed a less expensive option than ready-made costumes.  Thrift shops, along with the children’s creativity and a few simple items, helped them create fully-fledged characters for about half the price.  Another concern for us, given we lived in northern BC where it gets very chilly by the end of October, was keeping the kids warm.  Ready-made costumes don’t always fit over clothing but in second-hand (sanitized) garments, our children were always toasty.

By far, the best treat for us adults was when neighbours’ asked the kids who/what they were.  The explanations, as elaborate as their creative processes, were hilarious.