Saturday, February 28, 2009

What's For Dinner: Speedy Snapper Soup

Mmm...this was delicious! There's something about a big pot of super-healthy soup with lots of fresh colourful veggies that makes me happy! We had a nice 60% whole wheat baguette to go with it and it was perfect.

This recipe is from one of my very favourite cookbooks – More Six O'Clock Solutions: Fast and Easy Dinner for Family and Friends by Ruth Phelan and Brenda Thompson (the first book, Six O'Clock Solutions, is also excellent but doesn't have any nutritional information). The books are from local authors, so I always know I will be able to find the ingredients, and they're interesting and fresh-tasting without being too "weird" or time-consuming.

I've been trying to find ways to sneak more fish into our diets, because I know it's good for us, but I find it tough. First, fish is expensive!! There's no way we can eat it twice a week as recommended and still stay within our food budget. On top of that, neither Jeff nor Amanda is a huge fan...they'll eat it but they never seem all that thrilled with it. Soup is turning out to be a good way to fit it in, and there's no stinky fishy smell afterwards either!

I actually made this with frozen tilapia fillets, because the snapper that was in this week's Save-On-Foods flyer (which I plan my meals around) was not available...something that always makes me very angry! I hate it when I try to plan my budget around the flyer and then they don't bring in enough of the sale items!

Speedy Snapper Soup
From More Six O'Clock Solutions: Fast and Easy Dinner for Family and Friends by Ruth Phelan and Brenda Thompson

1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 carrots, diced (I used big carrots and peeled them)
2 stalks celery, sliced
3 cups chicken stock (I used low-salt)
2 cans (398 mL each) Italian-style stewed tomatoes
1 large potato, cut into 1" pieces
1 lb snapper fillets, cut into 1" pieces (I used tilapia)
2 cups coarsely chopped fresh spinach
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper

In large heavy saucepan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, carrots, and celery; saute for 4 minutes or until onion is tender. Add stock, tomatoes, and potato. Bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes or until potatoes are almost tender. Add snapper and simmer, uncovered, for 3 minutes. Stir in spinach and parsley; cook for 2 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Add salt and pepper to taste.

4 large servings; each 306 calories, 6.8 g fat; excellent source of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and vitamins A, B6, B12, C, niacin, and folate; high in fibre

(I will have to start taking photos of the especially yummy meals...this one was very pretty!).

Food Fun

One of the biggest struggles I've had since becoming a mom is getting dinner on the table every night. This didn't use to be a problem for me at all - when Jeff and I were first married and for several years afterwards, I was an avid reader of Bon Appetit and other cooking magazines and used to try interesting new recipes and cooking techniques almost every night. Of course, I also had a lot more time for cooking...something that seems to be mysteriously lacking in my life these days!

One thing I have learned about myself is that for dinner to happen, there must be a plan. I adopted my mom's system of doing meal planning and grocery lists, and as long as I can manage to make a plan for the week and then actually get to the grocery store, things work out OK. But planning is very time consuming, and many weeks it just doesn't happen. Then we are forced to scrounge for dinner, which I hate! I find it so tedious to have to think every night about what we're going to eat, and try to put something together out of what's in the house. We are pretty good about keeping the freezer stocked with meat staples, but I'm not great at replacing what I use out of the pantry, and of course fresh vegetables are difficult when you haven't been to the store in awhile!

I was speaking last night with another mom from Amanda's preschool and we were laughing about this – it seems we have very similar "desperation meals" for when groceries are running low – some kind of meat (often Shake 'n' Bake Chicken) with a pot of rice and vegetables from the freezer or a can. At least I know I'm not the only one! No, technically there isn't anything wrong with a meal like this, but I sure get tired of having it any more often than once in awhile.

Since Sam arrived, we've struggled to get on a regular schedule of meal planning and grocery shopping, and our energy, waistlines, and budget (from far too much eating out and picking up) have been evidence of this! In the last couple of weeks I've been slowly getting back on track and we've been eating pretty healthily for the most part. We all do feel much better when we're eating at home most of the time, and with fresh ingredients rather than the "pop in the oven" pre-made foods that were a staple for those first few months.

As a kind of motivation to keep going with it, I thought I would post once in awhile about what we've been eating. Definitely not every night, but as a reminder to ourselves of the kinds of meals we all enjoy! Plus, maybe it will serve as inspiration when I'm in the midst of meal planning and nothing sounds interesting...

Monday, February 23, 2009

Reason #214 That Amanda is Kind of Strange

Amanda loves fruit of all kinds - so much that her Grandpa (who is also a big fruit lover) always brings her little treats of different kinds of fruit. Recently he's been bringing over the little honey mandarin oranges and she loves them! But for some bizarre reason, whenever she eats one, she has a very strange ritual.

She peels the whole thing, then sticks her ring finger through the middle and wears it like a ring. Then she dances around the room singing/chanting "Mexican ring, Mexican ring" in a very odd voice, kind of like some preschooler thrash metal singer.

We have absolutely no idea where this little tradition came from, but she does it every single time.

Weird, yes, but man do we love that kid!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Disney Dreams

So, unbeknownst to Amanda, we have booked tickets for the four of us to go to Disneyland over Spring Break. Yahoo! Jeff and I are beyond excited, and it is so hard to keep the secret from Amanda. But we decided a month's notice was a bit too much for her, so we will tell her a week or so in advance (or as long as we can keep the secret!).

Amanda talks constantly about Disneyland - she has wanted to go for ages. For some reason they have been running tons of ads since the holidays, and every time she sees one she says how much she wants to go. We have talked about how we will go one day, but that it costs a lot of money so it's not something we can do whenever we want. A couple of weeks ago, as I was putting her to bed, she said "my only hope and dream is to go to Disneyland". So you can imagine how excited she will be!

Coincidentally, Jeff is also going to Anaheim this week for a conference, and his principal has allowed the group from his school to go down a day early (very nice of him!) so they will have a free day at Disneyland. (We have already decided that he will bring something back for Amanda, maybe an autograph book, that we can use to tell her we're going). Back to the point...Amanda knows that Daddy is going to Disneyland this week, and she is so envious!

The other day Jeff asked her what she would like him to bring back for her from Disneyland. Amanda thought for a moment, then, being the enterprising 4-year-old that she is, said "some money so I can go to Disneyland!".

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Amanda's Recital

This year Amanda is in her second year of the Music for Young Children program. She goes to classes one evening a week at a studio run by a great local teacher. This year she is in the Sunshine II class, and we're constantly amazed by what they learn! A big focus this year has been learning "bridges" - C/G, B/G, and C/A. They can play a C major scale with the appropriate bridges for each note ("This is C with a C/G bridge; this is D with a B/G bridge; etc.) and have recently learned about the G major scale and what sharps are (they're doing flats and F major in the coming weeks). It's incredible to us that they are already learning the basics of harmony and theory - things that we didn't learn in our music classes for several years!

Today they had their first recital of the year, and Amanda was a total star!! Not only did she play her song very well, but it was a really difficult one to learn, with changing bridges in the left hand (something that no one else in her class did!). She always manages to select the hardest song of all the recital choices! What we love the best is that she is totally confident and doesn't even seem to get nervous - she just gets up and plays her song.

For once we are actually organized and have a video to post!! So here it is [glowing with pride]:


It's hard to look back on Christmas 2008 without mentioning the huge amount of snow we had this year! It hardly ever snows in Vancouver, and having a white Christmas is even rarer. But this year we definitely had our fill (I was done with it before Christmas even started, but almost everyone had had enough by New Years!). There were big snowfalls the week before Christmas, and then again right around Christmas (the 24th, 25th, and 26th).

It's fun to see how much fun Amanda has in the snow, but I admit to being a snow grouch...I get really stressed out about having to go places in the snow. I would love to be able to enjoy it more when it comes, since it's so infrequent around here!

Here are a few photos...

A foot and a half of snow already, and it's just Christmas Eve! We had probably another foot by the time it was all over.
Lots of Snow!

A classic winter scene - boots and mittens drying by the fireplace:
Drying by the Fire

Jeff and Amanda with their snow creation:
Our Snowman!

And another view:
Snowman Dude

There was so much snow that Jeff built this little snow slide (complete with stairs) for Amanda:
Snow Slide

Beautiful - Christmas lights under snow:
Lights Under Snow

...and one more with more bokeh:
Bokeh Snow

Christmas in Photos

The kids with their pile o' gifts on Christmas morning:
Kids with Gifts

With the manger at church (Amanda always has to visit the manger on Christmas morning to make sure Baby Jesus is there!):
Kids at the Manger

Amanda opening her big gift from Santa. I love this picture because the look on her face is the classic look of every kid opening up the gift they wanted most of all:
Just What I Wanted!

(I can't say enough about this Tag system - Amanda absolutely loves it! She loves the stories and the games, and her reading is improving all the time. I'm also very impressed with the vocabulary and concepts it introduces. My only complaint is that there aren't a lot of titles with a focus on concepts other than reading [numeracy, etc.] but I'm sure that will come with time. Highly recommended!)

Goofing off at Grandma and Grandpa's house on Christmas day:
All Wrapped Up

Christmas Eve

This year for Christmas Eve dinner we had both sets of grandparents over for a simple evening. Since Christmas Eve is also my birthday, we used to spend the evening at my parents' house and have a small family birthday party. However, now that we have kids it's much easier to have Christmas Eve at home so we can still observe some of our favourite rituals, like putting out cookies and milk for Santa (and carrots for the reindeer!) and donning special new Christmas PJs.

A few photos:

We have much better pictures than this, but somehow this one makes me giggle...all the looks on their faces are so typical:
Goofy Family

New PJs!

Getting ready for Santa!
Cookies, Milk, and Carrots!

Day 22: Jingle Bell Napkin Rings

I don't have any pictures of these, but it was a cute idea (also from Best Christmas Crafts Ever!) and worked pretty well.

All we did was string small jingle bells onto sparkly pipe cleaners (both from the dollar store) and twist them into rings. Then we used them as napkin rings for our Christmas Eve dinner, when family was coming to visit. Easy, cute, and cheap!

Day 20: Coworker Christmas Party

Years ago, a company I used to work for would have a family Christmas party each year, organized by the employees at someone's house. I only made it to one, as they stopped having them after Amanda's first Christmas. But this year (almost 3 years since I left the company!) they decided to hold one again and invited several "alumni" to attend as well. It was great catching up with old friends and seeing how their kids have grown!

As always, "Santa" came to visit the party. Parents are responsible for bringing a wrapped present for each of their own kids, which are surreptitiously handed off for inclusion in Santa's sack. Each child gets a chance to sit on Santa's knee and receive their present.

Amanda seemed a little subdued after receiving her present from Santa. When I asked her why, she told me he wasn't really Santa - she could see his own beard underneath his Santa beard. We talked a bit about how Santa couldn't be everywhere and he was just helping out, but it was kind of a sad reminder of how fleeting her "little kid" days are.

I do like this picture of me and the kids with Santa:
Gifts from Santa

I love Amanda's tender little head pat for Sam!

Day 18: Make a Santa Tissue Box

I got this idea from a craft book I took out from the library: Best Christmas Crafts Ever! by Kathy Ross. I'd actually like to get this book for our own library - lots of easy ideas, especially for kids slightly older than Amanda (early school-age).

This was fun and pretty easy. We did cut the facial circles a bit big, which made our Santa look like a muppet, but he was cute anyway!

Santa Tissue Box

(Amanda is making a crazy face in this photo...she has started making weird faces when we bring the camera out, so it's often hard to get a nice picture of her with a normal smile on her face!)

Day 14: Wear Santa Hats to Dinner

Simple activity, but I just like this photo:

Santa Girl

That is all.

Day 13: Have Hot Chocolate with All the Trimmings

Usually we really do make fancy hot chocolate for this activity, but this year we were running short on time and decided to pick up treats from Starbucks instead. Yum!

Christmas Goodies

Eating a Polar Bear

Day 11: Make Christmas Cookies with Grandma

I had an appointment to go to, so my Mom took Amanda for the afternoon and they had a great time together doing lots of baking! They made gingerbread cookies, some no-cook chocolate balls, and a gingerbread house. The balls especially were very delicious!

I love this photo of their creations:
Christmas Goodies

Once Again...

...yes, we've fallen so far behind again...the craziness of the holidays really got to us this year and we weren't able to keep up with posting regularly! It's such a bad cycle; I always want to wait until I can get caught up on things when I post, but then it takes so much time and meanwhile more things are happening and it gets impossible to catch up.

So I'm going to post a few highlights from the remainder of our "24 Days of Christmas", as well as some updates of what we've been up to, and then hopefully we can resume posting on a more regular schedule!