Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Merry Christmasing!

I've been gallbladder-free for over 1 week now and, I must say, it feels good!
I did run into a minor hiccup in my eating plans when I found out that my stomach can't tolerate either beans or corn right now(not sure which still), and since those were key ingredients in a lot of my healthy eating meal plans, I've been improvising with dinner every night instead of following the meal plan I made before my surgery, but fortunately those are the only things that have given me any trouble. I found out over Christmas that even though my stomach can tolerate fatty foods now, it can't hold much. I get full very quickly if I'm eating fatty foods (which is really not a bad thing). And while I'm still trying to stay healthy, it was a nice treat to be able to have mashed potatoes, egg nog, butter tarts and shortbread over Christmas.
I'm still a label reader, which, again, is not a bad thing. But I can't help but look at that box of Turtles and think, "5 grams of fat per turtle? That used to be a whole meal-worth of fat to me!" It makes it harder to pig out on junk, which, again, is not bad.
The pain in my shoulders is now completely gone. I was stiff right up until Christmas Day from it. My bandages came off on the 21st (one stayed on until the 22nd) and my stitches have been giving me more trouble since then. The worst day for me was Christmas Eve - I was in alot of discomfort, and sometimes downright pain, and I couldn't figure out why until Matt asked, "Did you take your Tylenol today?" and I realized I hadn't!
Today, is definitely the best day so far. I'm Tylenol free and I almost feel completely normal. It will still be nearly a week until my stitches are dissolved, but I'm getting more and more comfortable.
Merry Christmas, by the way! I was so busy last week that I never got around to posting that!
My family took off to Calgary for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and then came home for Boxing Day. Christmas Eve was a bit of a treat-day for me. Matt took me to the part of town I used to live in and we hit up all my favorite places over there: a Le Chateau outlet where I got 2 pairs of jeans and a blouse for $60, Sushi Bar Ren which has the best unagi I've ever tasted and perfectly cooked shrimp tempura, and Glamorgan Bakery, which makes these awesome Rolled Florentines with hazelnut cream and this hybrid between shortbread and pastries called Dutch Girls which are sooooo yummy! That evening we helped my sister with her Christmas Eve party, which was a blast, and then slept over for Christmas Morning with the family.
I got some great presents this year. Some of my favorites include 2 mini-casserole bakers from the Sophie Conran for Portmeirion line, a voucher for dinner out with Matt at Smuggler's Inn at Sylvan Lake (we went there when I had my gallstones so I could hardly try anything), a Star Wars Cookbook (epic, hey?) and a Tassimo coffee maker! I'm getting a little bit addicted to that last one; I'm about to make my third espresso of the day and yesterday I ordered almost $70 worth of T-Discs online. My sister had this Mastro Lorenzo Crema espresso at her place that I tried before I even got my machine and it was the second best espresso blend I'd ever had. It had light, fruity notes that was great for sipping straight, and while the shot did run slightly long (your shot should stop before the crema starts running white) it was still a great shot. Incidentally, I'm an espresso snob and never expected an automatic shot to rank so high on my list of 'greats', so you can trust that product is really, very good. If you like Starbucks shots, this one won't be for you, but if you like layered flavors, subtlety and authenticity, this is a winner. And yes, ordering those did make up about 70% of that $70 order!
I always appreciate gift-cards at this time of year. It's inevitable that I'm not going to get everything on my Christmas list, but with a little help from the now-annual HomeSense gift cards I receive, I can still go pick some stuff out for myself, either that got missed from my list, or just fun things I find during Boxing Week sales.
Well, that's all for now, but once again, Merry Christmas and I hope you have a great New Year!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Gallbladder is gone!

It's done! I'm free! No more gallbladder! I can't tell you how excited I am to have this season in my life ending!
I had my surgery yesterday morning bright and early. I was at the hospital by 6:45 and put under by 7:50. I woke up exactly one hour later with four incisions and no gallbladder! (I love general anesthetic). As soon as I woke up I said to the nurse, "I'm assuming this is the recovery room? How long have I been in here?". She replied, "Yes, it is, and you've been here for about 10 minutes.". I then complimented her on the nice Christmas decor over the nurse's station. Now was about the time that she was supposed to be asking me questions like, "what's your name?" and, "do you know what day it is?" but when she saw my last name she asked if I knew someone,who happened to be Matt's aunt, and her coworker. I started explaining the relationship and said that it was a pity she wasn't in that day, but my mom who worked on Peds would pop in to see me that day. Apparently they decided that they didn't need to ask me anymore questions, so they let me go back to sleep for a bit. I woke up once more in the recovery room and asked how my surgery went. They were pretty vague but it seemed like everything had gone as planned. They then wheeled me over to the day surgery room at 9:17, just in time for my mom to pop in and check on me! I was still tired from the anesthetic so I slept a bit more that morning, but when my mom came back at 10:30 to chat I was more than ready for it. I had been pretty worried about how the anesthetic would hit me, but luckily it wore off pretty quick and I didn't have any nausea from it. I also didn't have to have much in the way of pain killers. I was given some morphine before I woke up, but I didn't even need to take the standard T3 prescription they had planned on giving me. The nurses were impressed at how well I was able to walk on my own and even though I wasn't discharged until 12:00, I would have been out sooner had there been someone available to discharge me.
Back at home I was able to get a bit more sleep and spent the rest of the day hanging out with the family and doing little things here and there around the house. It felt good to be up.
Because I didn't have any nausea I was able to try eating some things that I hadn't had in months - I had popcorn for the first time in a couple months, low-fat margarine for the first time in 4 months, and red meat for the first time in almost 6 months!
The most pain I've been having is in my shoulder - during the procedure they put a tube down my throat and pumped a bunch of CO2 into my stomach to balloon it up so that it was easier to move around inside, however, they don't usually get all the gas out so my body has been absorbing it and it tends to pool in your shoulders, which feels like gas cramps but sometimes can be quite sharp. Heat packs and tylenol help fortunately!
I'm looking forward to tomorrow when I can take off my bandages and run some warm water over my incisions.
I'm just excited it's all done! Finally I feel like I can focus on bigger things now!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmas is coming!!!

In addition to my upcoming gallbladder removal surgery, we are, of course, counting down to bigger and better things... Christmas!!!
This year's homemade gifts from our household have quite the range. I did a lot of canning (Thai Chili Sauce, Mango Chutney, Crabapple Jelly, Carrot Cake Conserve), a lot of baking (shortbread, sugar cookies, date squares) and a few new recipes (Raspberry Coconut balls, Sugar Cookie balls, Hot Chocolate Truffle Balls). I'm also hoping to whip up some caramels (dipped in chocolate and rolled in hazelnuts) and to hand out a couple jars of two-bite brownie mix (if I can figure out the proper amounts of mix for the 500 ml jars).
Our house has been gradually decorated over a number of weeks, starting with the outdoor lights and greenery, then the indoor 'seasonal' decor (snowy but no direct ties to Christmas), then the downstairs artificial Christmas tree, the upstairs real tree and finally the stockings which my husband hung for us last night!
All of my shopping is done, and what's more is that all of the items have been delivered! I did the majority of my shopping online this year. I hit up Etsy,, Ebay, to get everything from Secret Santa gifts to baby gifts. I'm really excited to give out the presents; I think everyone will be really happy with what they get.
This week I have a touch more Christmas baking to do, the whole house to clean, a few freezer meals to make for after my surgery and some new clothes to buy! Then this weekend we're having a birthday party for Jesus at the weekly Mommy Play Date, a pre-Christmas dinner with a friend of the family and swapping presents with him and attending church where Matt and I will be doing a reading for the 4th Sunday of Advent. Monday is my surgery, and Tuesday is our family Christmas. While I may be out of commission for the whole day, Matt will be able to take Gabe skating and sledding, we'll have a nice breakfast, open presents and have one of my pre-made freezer meals for a nice, festive dinner.
I'm so excited for everything leading up to Christmas! The day itself is going to be even better!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Countdown to Cholecystectomy

Well folks, my gallbladder surgery is almost here! I am so, so, so excited!!!
It's been a long ride (6 months almost since my diagnosis) but now it's finally coming to an end. It's actually been getting tougher to resist eating things now that the end is in sight. I mean, I still do resist because if I gave in and ate something I shouldn't have the pain is excruciating, but the temptation to eat those things is getting stronger. I've started making lists of foods I'm excited to eat again, all the while remembering that I'll still have to eat very healthy for a while afterwards until my metabolism kick-starts again (after nearly 6 months of not eating any fat, my metabolism has slowed like mad and my body can't seem to digest things properly anymore, which lead to more gallbladder attacks).
The first taboo item I plan on eating after my surgery is a hard-boiled egg. 5 grams of fat was basically my cap for a whole meal, and that's what one egg yolk contains, so eggs have been a no-no for a while for me. However, they are an excellent protein source and it's incredible how much you miss them when you can't have them! I'm also looking forward to avocado dishes like guacamole, maki rolls and my yummy black bean and corn salsa! (Corn was another thing I couldn't eat). Over a few weeks I'll keep adding foods back into my diet, but it will still be a long time before I have any pork, any cream sauces or anything fried. I do, however, plan on having one of those gigantic tins filled with three different types of popcorn waiting for me at home after my surgery! And I will be trying Egg Nog on Christmas Eve!
As hard as this has been, one thing that made it alot easier was the opportunity it gave me to get back into shape. I weighed myself today and discovered that I hit my dream by-Christmas weight. I say 'dream' because very little other than my extreme diet could have got me to where I am from where I was in such a short amount of time. I'm below the weight I was when I got married, I fit into my 'normal' size pants again, my resting heart rate has dropped and I feel great. I get lots of compliments on how I look (most of them are nice, some of them are awkward, like when a lady said, "You're looking streamlined. Finally hit the point where you get tired of packing around all that extra weight, hey?" Charming woman...), my clothes look better on me, and I actually have to go buy new jeans this weekend because mine won't stay up any longer. While my reasons for gaining so much weight are a bit more than just "I let myself go" (the biggest contributing factor was the miscarriage I had a year and a half ago), I'm glad to be past that point in my life and back to normal.
What did I take away from this experience? Well, mainly I'd say that I've really learned how to watch what I eat and to realize how bad some of the things we eat are (never eating a fast-food caesar salad again). I've also got a load of healthy recipes that I will be keeping in our regular meal rotation.
And while this chapter of low-fat eating is ending for me, it's just beginning for a friend of mine, but for different reasons. This friend, a mother of three little boys, was just diagnosed with MS. Thanks to some research done by Dr. Roy Swank, doctors suggest an extremely low-fat diet for MS patients to help keep symptoms at bay. I know how hard it was for me to eat almost fat-free at first. It's a shock to your system, to your routine and to your family. I've sent a meal out to the family and have offered to help her with meal planning, etc. but while talking with my sister I realized how few resources there were out there for people who need a low-fat diet due to medical conditions. My sister suggested I write a cookbook, but since I'd never let a cookbook go to press without testing every recipe at least 3 times (which equals a minimum 2 year project) and since I have so many great recipes I pulled from other sources I have opted to do a blog instead. is my new blog. I'm planning on filling it with tips and recipes for people with gallstones, MS and anyone requiring a very low-fat diet. Feel free to refer it to anyone you may know how has those needs!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Choose Your Own Culinary Adventure!

I love buffets. I love the idea of getting to choose from a wide array of dishes, mixing up tastes and having perogies, chow mein and sushi on my plate all at the same time. There's something so fulfilling about getting to eat food that you have chosen specifically.
Besides the buffet, there is a more trendy way to do this when you have company coming: the choose-your-own-toppings bar. It's like buffet micro-managing. You don't just choose which entree you want, you choose exactly what you want in that etree. Salad bars are old-stock but there are newer breaks in this wave that trend more towards the totally-fun-and-adventurous side of gastronomics. Back in May I helped throw a surprise 30th birthday party for my brother-in-law and arranged a sliders bar. We had your standard burger toppings, like pickles, tomatoes, cheddar, ketchup and mustard, and then we also branched out into things like mango slices, sundried tomatoes, fig BBQ sauce, grilled pineapple and goat cheese. It was an instant conversation starter. All day people were talking about what crazy things they put on their burgers and everyone seemed to have alot of fun with it.
Well, I've decided to reintroduce this "toppings bar" method into my home after a 6 month hiatus. First up: the hot chocolate bar!
Matt and I are having a bunch of people over for a turkey dinner around Christmas time; we're inviting over some of our friends who don't necessarily have lots of family around to spend the holidays with. Since we only have a 4 person table the meal is going to be a bit untraditional. Instead of sitting down to all the regular dishes, I'm going to make the regular dishes into more finger-food type dishes. For example, instead a heaping plate full of turkey with cranberries and stuffing with gravy, I'm going to make individual phyllo parcels stuffed with the turkey, cranberries, stuffing and gravy. We'll also have glazed carrot skewers and sweet potato muffins with a toasted marshmallow topping. But for dessert I wanted something fun. More fun than a regular cake or even just cake balls. So I chose the hot chocolate bar with a side of cookies. I'll have regular hot chocolate and white hot chocolate and add-ins like chocolate shavings, caramel syrup, peppermint schnapps, whipped cream, orange syrup and lots of different marshmallows. Something rather simple (way easier than the stupid Cardamom-Apricot Torte I made for Thanksgiving) but very personalized and fun!
In the New Year, my next plan will be to have a make-your-own-pizza party, a la Kramerica. I've got a great flatbread crust recipe which only needs 10 minutes in the oven so I plan to make a load of those, individually sized, and spread out toppings like figs, proscuitto, caramelized onions, olives, goat cheese (I put that stuff on everything), peaches, steak strips and fresh garlic. Everyone can top their own, I figure we can get 10 in the oven at a time, and then they can try a new set of flavors for the next round! And dessert that night: an ice cream bar with waffle cones for all with toppings such as shredded coconut with lime zest, chocolate sprinkles, stawberry syrup, cookie dough chunks and gummy candies!
I love layouts like this where people who want to can feel free to experiment, but those who are less inclined can always play it safe.

Mrs. Vander Leek ;)

Saturday, November 12, 2011


My goodness it has been far too long since I have posted on here! What can I blame it on? Really, just not thinking to blog. I can't really say I haven't had enough time to put up one blog post in the last three weeks. I've been busy, but not that busy.
It's been a great few weeks - full of visiting with family, Killer Bunnies, lots of baking and loads of stress taken off.
First and foremost, I've finally been in to see my surgeon regarding my gallbladder removal. And the verdict? It's coming out, and soon. I was worried that it would be another 3-4 month wait for my surgery after this appointment, which is pretty standard around here, however, thanks in large part to my surgeon's number of cancer patients, he likes to get his day-surgery patients dealt with quickly to keep his schedule free in the future. Which means, not a 3-4 month wait, but more likely a 3-4 week wait. And maybe even less. I can't tell you how thrilled I was to hear that this will all be over soon. I've been able to eat less and less the longer I wait, and the pain has gone from only being present when I have an attack, to my torso being tender and regular tinges of pain for no apparent reason. I love the whole losing-10-pounds-a-month thing, but really, I'd rather just keep up my exercise routine and eat well than live like this.
On that topic, I must confess I've been rather spotty about keeping up with a regular schedule. Ideally I would work out 5 days a week. Most days 6 a.m. rolls around and I feel wretched. It's hard for me to go to sleep before 11:30. Some nights I don't get to sleep until 1. I love getting my workout in, but a lot of times it just doesn't happen. Lately, however, it hasn't been happening for a whole new reason... I hurt my knee. The injury was the outcome of a long line of stupid decisions: the decision to try a new high-impact workout, the decision to not stretch adequately before said workout, the decision to do jumping jacks and high-knees on a more-or-less cement floor without good footwear on... I was about a quarter of the way through a new, compact strength/cardio circut when my knee gave out. I was smart enough to stop there and then, to ice it and to take it easy the rest of the day, and I thought it was more or less better that evening, until I knelt down to put the baby in his carseat and the exact pain came back. Silly me. So, we are now on evening 3 of icing my knee and hopefully when I wake up tomorrow, I should be able to get back into light exercise without any further injury. Incidentally, this is why people pay for personal trainers.
Now, on to perhaps the most exciting bit of my past few weeks... Pinterest!
For those of you who are unaware of what Pinterest is, it's an online pin board for ideas you find on the web. You can 'pin' photos of things you want to make, things you think are pretty or funny, or recipes you want to try and it stores them on your boards and shares it with your followers. Oh, and it is addictive. Ridiculously so. I was introduced to it by one of my lovely sister-in-laws. I needed a recipe for a potluck, she had found one the day before on Pinterest, shared the recipe with me and sent me an invite to join Pinterest. Well, the recipes (individual lasagna cups made in muffin tins) worked out great and I soon started to find more things I wanted to make on Pinterest. So far I've made the lasagna cups, pizza dough, cinnamon roll cups, pizza dip and pumpking frozen yogurt - all from recipes I found on Pinterest. It's also a great resource for toddler crafts and activities. I've been trying to do a new thing with Gabe every day and I think he's really been enjoying it!
I'm excited to try some more ideas off of there, like the truffle hot chocolate balls I'll be making for Christmas, or the hot chocolate bar I'll be setting up for a build-your-own-pizza party I'll be having soon.
So fun! Yay!

Mrs. Vander Leek ;)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Help Whip Cancer

Do you ever feel like you complain too much?
Well, I sure do.

The last few months have been a bit bumpy for me health-wise since my diagnosis of gallstones. I haven't been able to eat whatever I want and while I'm scheduled in to see a surgeon to have my gallbladder removed, my appointment is still a month off, and then I have to book a surgery after that with a 4 month wait time.

My goodness, my life is so hard.


The first month or so of my gallbladder fiasco saw me very bitter about my situation. I was bitter about the fact that I wouldn't be able to eat another steak or ice cream cone or ear of corn for the rest of the summer. I resented the number of salads I was forced to eat and had a hard time eating anywhere other than at home. It wasn't fun anymore.
As I implied above, however, a month in and my attitude started to change. First of all, I told mysef to stop wallowing in self-pity and to get over myself, and that's about when I realized with all my grumbling to God, I forgot to thank Him for the experience. I'm eating healthier than most people could dream of doing out of sheer necessity, and I've been getting alot healthier myself because of this. I had wanted to lose weight after I gave birth to my second son 3 months ago, and I certainly have been able to do that now. I'm researching healthy options and recipes which I never bothered looking into before, and which will be incorporated into our regular meal rotation even after this is all over. My family is eating more veggies, less bad fats and being more aware in general of what we eat. My family and I will, in all likelihood, be healthier for the rest of our lives because of this.
However, it seemed like once I had finished complaining about something, I couldn't go without finding a new grievance to whine over, and this time I landed on the wait time until I can have my surgery.
It will have been about a 3 month wait time between making my appointment with my surgeon and when I actually get in to see him. Then it will probably be another 4 months before my scheduled surgery time rolls around. My first reaction was, "This is ridiculous."
Then, last week, I was at a monthly Pampered Chef meeting when my director (my go-to lady) informed us that she was awaiting the results of a biopsy, and they didn't have much reason to believe it would come back negative. Sure enough, the very next day she got back her test results which confirmed she had breast cancer. Since then, she has kept us in the loop regarding her treatment. She made an appointment last week with her surgeon and will be seeing him today, and hopefully will be receiving surgery within a couple of weeks.
This is why I wait months to see my surgeon: so that people with real issues, like aggressive cancer, or organ failure, or one of the multitude of other conditions and afflictions which are life-threatening, can get the care they need to survive. My condition is an inconvenience: it hurts if I eat certain foods, so I don't eat those foods. Easy. But if my 7 month delay between diagnosis and surgery means that a wonderful lady, who is a wife and the mother of 2 teenagers, can get the time-sensitive care she requires, then I would gladly trade my 7 months of inconvenience for 7 years.

Ironically, October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and I assure you, most people from my Pampered Chef team are more aware of it than ever because of our director's recent diagnosis. Pampered Chef is trying to do it's part in October by making this the Help Whip Cancer month. PC has released a line of limited edition pink items, from which $1 of each purchase will go directly to the Canadian Cancer Society. My focus is currently on one of the items: a 2-pack of reusable shopping bags with the Help Whip Cancer logo for $3.50. I will be placing a mass order of these at the end of the month and would invite everyone to order a set, or more. I'll cover the shipping and tax, but I would like everyone to spread the word, even if you can't get any yourself at the moment. I've challenged my whole team to do the same offer with all of their friends, family and acquaintances in honor of our director. I wan to see just how much money we can raise for cancer research in the course of a month. So please, let me know if you want to Help Whip Cancer.

Mrs. Vander Leek

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Fat-Free World

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you will know that do to some health issues I am on a seriously restricted diet. My daily fat content has been more than halved and I am unable to eat certain foods altogether, such as red meat, fatty fish, cheese, oil and even avocados.
Talk about cramping my style!
However, I am pleased to announce that there is a silver lining to every cloud. The silver lining in this situation, other than the obvious of losing my pregnancy weight alot faster than I otherwise had expected to, is the opportunity it has given me to find some really, truly yummy, reduced-fat products.
For starters, snack foods! That was the biggest gap I first noticed with my diet - when your meals are already 80% fruit and veggies, they don't seem like very appealing snack options! My first pleasant surprise was when I was shopping at Sobeys and opted to try their fat-free chocolate pudding. My goodness it was wonderful! No funny after-taste, nice rich texture and it certainly fills your craving! Ever after this little bout with gallstones is over, I will continue to get the fat-free version! Next, I wanted something to replace the gap that is chips and crackers. Considering how much fat is in even baked products (tortilla chips are about 1 gram of fat per chip and I try to keep my biggest meal of the day under 10 grams of fat...) I decided I needed to find a good, crunchy alternative. CheeCha Puffs! The fattiest have less than 3 grams of fat in a 2 cup serving. They have flavors ranging from Hickory & Bacon to Crispy Dill Pickle. Some of them are downright addictive and the Tomato Ketchup flavor is the closest Ketchup flavor to Old Dutch ketchup chips that I have ever found - and trust me, I've looked!
Moving into the frozen-treat side of things, stuff gets a bit less promising. While I love Breyer's Smooth and Dreamy No Sugar Added Frozen Dessert (aka ice cream), I've never been able to reconcile with reduced fat takes on ice cream. Some gourmet gelato excepting, in my opinion it's better to go straight to fruit juice and water based products, like granitas and sorbets, than to try and take the fat out of ice cream. Enter Healthy Choice Chocolate and Raspberry Frozen Yogurt Bars (available at Costco). 2 grams of fat in a full-sized treat bar and the chocolate tastes like chocolate! It's creamy! They also have a peach mango variety which comes in the box as well, which I haven't tried, but I have no doubts that it is equally yummy! (P.S. Chocolate is the real challenging thing to fill your cravings of. Chocolate bars are so incredibly fatty, as are any products listed as "milk chocolate", which is why the fat-free pudding and low-fat frozen yogurt bars are so precious)
Now, on to things other than just snacks: breakfast cereals! Surprisingly, this is one of the easier things to go fat-free on. Sugary cereals are remarkably low on fat (Lucky Charms, for example, only has 1 gram of fat per 3/4 c. serving) while other healthier options are higher in fat, albeit, lower in sugar (Cheerios has double the fat, while anything with almonds or other nuts would obviously be higher). Sugar gets wearing after a while. I remember being a kid and plowing through 2 bowls of sugary cereal without thinking twice. Now I can barely get through a spoonful of some. And then I found Compliments Brand Sugar Puffs cereal (available at Sobeys). It's a knock-off of Sugar Crisp, but less grainy-feeling-on-your-teeth-from-too-much-sugar-esque.
Well, my baby is fussy so I'm going to do the rest of this list the quick way with a list of bests by category:
Best butter/margarine alternative: Becel's 64% Less (that number refers to calories... it actuallly has 67% less fat)
Yogurt: Activia 0%
Cake: Angel food (egg whites, flour and sugar essentially)
Restaurant side: garlic mashed potatoes - lots of places don't add butter or milk to their mashed potatoes
Restaurant menu item: Joey's Only Shrimp dinner (poached) w/ honey bourbon beans and broccoli (straight off the menu, no annoying special requests! ... and only 5 grams of fat!)
Tim Horton's order: Strawberry Banana Fruit Smoothie, no yogurt
Coffee add-in: International Delight Fat-Free Hazelnut Creamer
Unfortunately, this time has also awarded me with the knowledge of how bad for you some foods really are. For starters, reading the nutritional information for some restaurants, I found that there are restaurants that don't have a single menu item that would fit the low-fat requirements for my diet, including salads and side items! (I won't name names because, well, libel lawsuits are ridic right now!) Have you ever gone out for wing night somewhere and ordered a couple dozen wings because they're 25 cents apiece? Did you realize at the time that you probably just maxed out your daily recommended fat intake in one sitting? Many portion-controlled snacks may boast low calories, but the fat and sugar contents are ramped up to make the flavor better! And if you are looking for a low-fat option at fast food restaurants, be wary of salads. The Chicken Caesar Salad at Wendy's has more fat than a Baconater! Your best bet at places like that are grilled chicken breast sandwiches with no sauce.
All in all, there are alot of things I'm going to be smarter about after this whole ordeal, like reading nutritional menus before I go places and buying reduced fat products that taste as good as their full-fat counterparts, like Light Miracle Whip, Light Cool Whip, Fat-Free coffee creamer and reduced fat Becel. But there are also things that I acknowledge need to be full fat, like cheese and muffins, and those things I'll stil enjoy in their natural form, just a little more carefully!

Mrs. Vander Leek ;)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Party Menu Help!

I need help!!
We're having about 30 people over to our house this Friday for a baptism ceremony/party in our backyard! I'm really looking forward to it, but I also have a lot to do before then. I agreed to take on a bookkeeping job for the next little while which starts on Thursday, Thursday night Matt and I are going out for my birthday date which we had a heck of a time scheduling, and Friday I'm not even going to be home all day! So, in light of this, I'm having to replan my menu to include more quick and/or make-ahead ideas.
There are a couple of things I know I'm going to be serving, like mini corn muffins. Super quick, super easy, and I can make them Thursday afternoon. Done.
I also know the beverage menu: mimosas, italian sodas and pink lemonade.
That's about where my knowledge ends :)
I'd love to have input about what I should serve at the party, so I'm listing all the possible selections (already pared down from an even bigger list that included homemade pitas and caviar) and the pros/cons of that dish. Let me know what you think I should do!
Sweet Orange Marscanpone Tartlets - the phyllo shells for this I can make three days in advance and then just fill and garnish them last minute.
Individual Stacked Pies - Pie dough cut into circles with pie filling piled on top. Easy to do a lot of varieties but while I can make the dough in advance, it would be pretty time consuming even then. Cute, though.
Cake - easy to make, picky to decorate and not individual servings. Also not "wow", except if I spend alot of time on it.
Peanut Butter-Chocolate SemiFreddo - I could make tonight and it would be out of the way, but it would be messy and hectic to serve at the time, but I still like the idea of a cold treat
Mini Asian Cucumber Bites - a weird little Pampered Chef recipe featuring cucumbers, bacon and water chestnuts. Really yummy and very cute, but also a little labor intensive.
Mini Savory Waffles with Syrup-Sweetened Ketchup - Brunchish, but so are the Mimosas. Could make earlier on in the day and reheat but would still be pretty hands-on.
A savory phyllo tart - those phyllo shells would be so easy to make dozens of and then, again, I could just fill them at the last minute. I just don't know what to put in them.
Honey Garlic Marinated Chicken Wings - An old family recipe that I adore: throw together the night before, marinate overnight and bake all day. Very yummy, very messy
Beef Satay with Spicy Peanut Sauce - Slightly cheaper than the chicken wings, but more work. But also more trendy.

I'm thinking two sweet, one meat and one other savory. So....

What do I do?????

Monday, August 29, 2011


Do you ever have those moments where you wish you were better at something, or that you could learn how to do something you've never tried before?
Well, I have a lot of those moments.
I really enjoy learning new things and I also really enjoy learning on my own. I've never been the type who enjoys classroom learning and a set pace; I've always done much better on my own, left to my own curriculum. I'd much rather take a text book home and learn how to do something that way than wait for someone to explain it to me.
From an early age my parents nurtured my desire to try new things. Even though things were tight when they were a young couple with little kids, they made the decision to enroll us in community programs like swimming, soccer and t-ball. They also encouraged us to take every opportunity we could, be it soccer camp, a weekend writing course or leadership retreats. Being a bit on the low-income side at that time, our recreational activities were also quite diverse and low-cost. This wasn't by any means a disadvantage however. I remember one winter when my parents found cross-country skis at a garage sale. They bought a pair for everyone in the family and we did a few outings that winter around town. It was a great time and I liked it so much I even joined the ski team at my school the next year. We also vacationed in the mountains every year which ultimately led to our enjoyment of fishing and hiking and my parents brought us out to a farm that some family friends owned so we could try horseback riding and get accustomed to getting our hands dirty. My dad owned an archery store so we all did that to some degree and my mom encouraged us all to join Home Ec in school so we could learn the basics of sewing and cooking.
It was a great foundation for living an interesting, resourceful life.
I soon found that I had a great interest in sports and music. I did soccer every year and took part in basketball, volleyball and badminton in school. In grade 6 I started playing guitar and eventually got into piano (rather, got back into it... my mom had tried to teach me when I was younger but it proved to be too much of a classroom setting for my liking). In high school I joined the choirs and became an official choir geek, spending 4 afternoons and 1 evening a week at choir rehearsals, not to mention all of my lunch hours as well. In grade 11 I picked up a job at a cafe and I found a new passion: coffee. I loved it. Everything about it. I loved the smell, I loved the taste, I loved the knowledge of what makes coffee good and how to make the perfect espresso shot. I became a veritable coffee snob and at one point could identify 30 different varities of coffee simply by the grinds. At that cafe job I also rekindled my love of cooking. When I was 4 or 5 my favorite TV show used to be The Urban Peasant - a cooking show featuring James Barber. I'd watch it every day. I always liked cooking but I never started experimenting until my cafe job. When I was on baking duty I'd have to have muffins, bread and scones ready before 7 a.m. and then make dozens of cookies, cakes and squares through the day. If I were on kitchen duty I'd have to make the soups from scratch, taste and tweek them, and make up specials for the day which often involved getting a little adventurous with leftovers. That was my first exposure to things like artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes, celery root, hearts of palm and any type of cheese other than cheddar.
My mom taught me how to knit at some point through high school and I dabbled in sewing here and there, too.
Now, I'm 24, married, with two kids, and I'm very appreciative for my upbringing. My love of cooking makes a daily chore enjoyable. Cooking dinner isn't a burden - it's an opportunity to try something new. Giving Christmas presents is tied into my hobbies when I make pillows or sugar syrups for people. I'm teaching my boys how to appreciate music already and the coffee... well, that little enjoyment sure helps after a few middle-of-the-night feedings :)
Lately, I've been wanting to add to my list of things that I've tried. While I do have a tendancy to "dig an inch deep and a mile wide" (an expression that a high school teacher used to describe my essay writing), I can't help but want to learn more things. Granted, there are some things that I ought to focus on learning better, like improving my guitar and piano skills and brushing up on my knitting, but it's so hard to not want to do everything.
The other day I realized that in the past year I have, for the first time, made soaps, done canning and tried quilting. The year before that I tried a few things too, like making candles and bath salts. When it comes to cooking, in the past few years I've hit a lot of milestones, like my first time cooking lamb and duck, my first time making custards, first time making sushi and even my first time roasting a chicken.
It's interesting looking at some of my inspirations for trying some of these new things. The first, and often most prominent, would have to be Martha Stewart. After the birth of my first son I subscribed to her magazine. I had bought an issue for reading when I was in the hospital with him and it was the first time I actually wanted to read every single article in a magazine. It's because of Martha Stewart Living that I tried needle felting, making bath salts, making soaps, and making teacup candles. My second biggest improver lately has been The Food Network. By some glitch with our cable internet, our TV would actually get a couple, albeit blurry, cable shows. I discovered this when Gabriel was 4 months old and teething. He was wretched some days and all I could do was sit on the couch, holding him and watching blurry TV. My favorite show to watch the The Food Network and I started to get ideas for techniques or dishes that I wanted to try. I started roasting meats after an episode of Chef at Home, and I have since implemented alot of techniques that I picked up on from watching shows like 5 Ingredient Fix, French Food at Home, Chef at Home and Ricardo and Friends. Some of my favorite foods to make, like my No-Butter Chicken and Dulce De Leche Bars are Food Network recipes.
This year, family members are getting canned condiments for Christmas and my boys are (finally) getting quilts made by Mommy. And while there are lots of nice things about all of these hobbies, like saving money on Christmas gifts and eating good dinners without having to go out, the best thing is really how enriching these things are to my life. I love having productive things that fill my time so well, and I'm going to love passing these down to the next generation. That's right, my boys will cook - and well :)

Mrs. Vander Leek ;)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Recipes and links

Ahhhh, sweet baking. How much I love it. ...and how much I've been doing it lately.
In light of my health issues and my inability to eat fats, I have been making my own bread in our house since many store-bought loaves have a surprisingly high fat content. Also, when you can't eat fats it's hard to feel full, so I have been baking low-fat, high-carb snacks for our house. (I'll worry about my carb intake when I can eat meat and dairy products again.) Last week I started out with baking a loaf of my Wheat and Flax bread. A few days later I made some soft pretzels. The recipe I used was the Classic Pretzel recipe on That evening I also made up some muffins. This recipe was the low-fat Carrot muffin recipe from the website It's a great little website that I plan to visit regularly. We were going to a family dinner the next day so I made up some baguettes for that. The baguette recipe was from my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook and I was surprised how well they turned out. Typically, Better Homes and Gardens recipes are a little too "store-bought" for my liking, however, these were the best baguettes I've ever had. The dough is remarkably soft but it makes for super light and crusty bread. My family was surprised they weren't from the store. However, like all good bread, it was best in the first few hours. In France a baguette is considered to have a two hour life span and that's really how you should treat all artisan loaves.
Anyway, last week I definitely made a dent on my flour stock and will soon need to buy another bag of bread flour (which I used for my pretzels too, btw). I remember growing up in my parents' house and we usually only had one type of flour in the house - white. Whole wheat on rare occassions. And while I don't claim to have branched out to full flour potential, I value the traits of bread flour and rye flour and look forward to experimenting with potato, rice and corn flours.
My meal plans have been branching out a bit, too. A week ago I was watching TV at my parents' house (I was running an errand over there and a thunderstorm hit and Gabe fell asleep so I took advantage of their cable to watch the Food Network) and I caught an episode of The Spice Goddess. This episode featured her No-Butter Chicken, which substitutes plain yogurt for the traditional butter or cream. I had happened to pick up some indian spices a couple of weeks prior so it turned out the only ingredient my kitchen wasn't stocked with to make that dish was the plain yogurt. Last night I finally made it and was surprised by a couple of things: first I was surprised how easy it was. I'd never really made Indian food before and now I honestly can't tell you why. There was nothing to it. Second, I was surprised at how fast it was. I'm hesitant to cook with chopped chicken breasts because I always imagine so many complications of working with raw poultry (oddly enough, I have no qualms about working with a whole raw bird...). But really, from the time I pulled the chicken breasts out of the freezer to having the meal completely ready, it was about 35 minutes. Not to mention that was my first time making it so I'll probably take less time with my next attempt. Lastly, I was surprised at how much it smelled and tasted like Indian food. Have you ever made sweet and sour pork at home? There are a million recipes on the internet and few of them taste anything like how you think they should. This recipe tasted just like what one would get at a restaurant. A good restaurant, at that. I was impressed - and so was my husband.
Tonight I made my Goat Cheese Chicken Pizza finally. I decided to brave the obvious fat content and to try and limit the fat on my side of the pizza as much as I could. I have to confess, I used a store-bought pizza crust, which I later regretted. Not only did it have a high fat content, it was too salty, too white and too blah. Anyway, I didn't use a sauce but instead I sprayed the crust with a little olive oil, then I sprinkled on some thyme and some fresh basil and added on some crushed garlic. Next I put on the goat cheese which I crumbled and ended up using maybe 50 g. for the whole pizza. Then I layered on slices of red peppers and peaches and lastly I added the chicken cubes which I had sauteed with some red onion. My goodness it was incredible! I'd have ordered it at a restaurant and been thrilled with the result, even on the lackluster crust. Next time, however, I'm going gourmet all the way and making my own crust. (My excuse for not doing so today is that I put all of my baking efforts into making more loaves of Wheat and Flax bread today).
Over the next little while I'm going to be investing more and more into high quality ingredients. Without fat to cover up tastes, it really is more glaringly important to have wonderful flavors in each component of a recipe. Plus, if I am having a little bit of fat in my meal, I want it to taste as good as possible. Take for example, cheeses. If I am using a typical, mild, North American cheddar, I would typically use quite alot of it. It's an easy thing to eat, comparable to coolers where you can hardly taste the alcohol and can drink like Koolaide. However, too much fat and too much alcohol alike are bad things. Now, if you replace your cooler with brandy, or scotch, or rather your mild cheddar with aged cheddar, or gouda, or asiago, you don't chug, you sip. So if I'm planning on putting some grated cheese on my pasta, switching out asiago for cheddar will mean I can use less and not feel like I'm missing out on anything. And if I'm making a pizza, I can use a 1/4 c. of goat cheese, comparable to 1 1/2 - 3 c. of cheddar or mozzarella cheese that is typically used on a pizza. And maybe even for Nachos or something I could use a good, smoked cheddar and get away with eating those. If you think about it, it's actually quite ridiculous that they sell 900 g. blocks of cheese in stores and that people buy those about once a month for their households. A typical lasagne alone will take up a third to a half of that block. Ucky.
One thing I'm guilty of is buying the cheapest olive oil on the shelf. Well, I do spring for Extra-Virgin, but that's as high-minded as I get typically. My reasoning for doing this was that I don't really like olive oil anyway and only using it as an occassional substitute for canola oil anyway, so why bother spending more on it? Well, a couple days ago my dad showed me why. When I brought out the hour old baguettes for some pre-dinner munching this weekend, he brought out a bottle of olive oil that he wanted to try. A local businessman bought an olive grove in New Zealand and makes this oil and brings it over here to sell. My dad wanted to dip his bread in it and while I was lamenting the fact that we had no fresh herbs to throw in it, he dipped it in the naked oil and said it was great. I didn't really believe him, but I tried it, and he was right - it was great. The oil is called First Drop and the variety we tried had slightly grassy notes to it. And it didn't taste like stale oak, which my el cheapo brand does. So, in the future I shall invest in flavor and save money through the old quality vs quantity adage.

Mrs. Vander Leek ;)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Problem Solving

...Health problems, that is!
You see, about two weeks ago now I was hit with an 'episode' of sorts. All of a sudden I got this pain around my ribs that kept increasing, it became hard to breathe, the pain settled between my shoulder blades and I almost passed out. I was on the verge of asking Matt to take me to the hospital when... It stopped. Just as suddenly as it came. I had no other symptoms until 6 days later when again I got another attack, this time accompanied by nausea and vomitting, and again, after 15 minutes or so, it just stopped. When something like that happens once you think, "that was weird." Twice and you think, "what's up with this?". Third time and you're thinking, "okay, something's wrong...". Well, my third time came just a few hours after my second attack, but this time it lasted over 6 hours.
So, I went to the walk-in on Monday morning and after hearing my accounts and asking where the pain was, the doctor asked how old my baby was. I assumed that he was being nice and friendly, but he was actually looking into my condition still. He then drew me a little diagram that I recognized: Stomach, intestines, liver... Gallbladder. Yep, gallbladder. Evidently, elevated hormone levels related to pregnancy can cause gallstones (what? The ribs moving in and out during the pregnancy wasn't bad enough???). Anyway, there was another alternative diagnosis that was pregnancy related too. I had awful heartburn when I was pregnant that went away as soon as I delivered Nathaniel and the doctor suggested that the heartburn could have burned my esophagus raw and it's now in spasm. Apparently these two conditions have identical symptoms and you can't tell the difference without testing. SO, I am scheduled for an ultrasound this week, I'm taking a prescription that will help if it is the esophagus, and in three weeks I have a doctors appointment where I'll find out if I need to get my gallbladder removed or not. In the meantime, all I can do is try to avoid another flair up.
In case you don't know what a gallbladder does, it aides in the digestion of fats through secretion of bile. Gallstones block the release of bile and cause me to feel like dying. Therefore, the best thing I can do to try and avoid more of my little episodes is to prevent the bile from needing to be released by not eating fats.
I have currently placed myself on a super low-fat diet until this all gets sorted out. No red meat, no cream sauces, no butter, no rich cheeses, no avocado, no salmon, no artichokes and absolutely nothing that's ever been fried. And even though we do eat fairly healthy in our house, this is going to be quite the shock to me. For the rest of the summer I won't be allowed to have another hamburger, or steak, or any ice cream, or any of my special cranberry-cinnamon goat cheese. Breakfast is one of my favorite meals to go all out on from time to time: sausage, bacon, eggs, pancakes... Well, sausage and bacon are definite no's and eggs may or may not bother me but I'm horrified to try them just in case the answer is 'yes'. Frapaccinos are out, so are tortilla chips and any baking made with lard or lots of butter or oil. Incidentally, hot foods can cause a flair up too, so salsas, curries, hot peppers and the like are out. oh, and no coffee.
So what can I eat?
Well, I can eat rice. And I can eat chicken (white meat mostly). I can eat some less fatty fish (salmon's out but sole is good). I can eat most veggies and fruits, although it is recommended that I avoid the cabbage family and citrus fruits. I can do yogurt and low-fat dairy products, and I can drink water. :)
It's really not that bad for a season though. It could be a lot worse in a lot of ways. Even just having this happen in winter instead of summer would make it a lot harder, but as it stands fresh produce is readily available and eating a salad for dinner every night just seems seasonal instead of restricting. And while I have from the start of this season in my life prayed for God's help in managing and avoiding pain, it wasn't until today that I even thought to thank Him for this great opportunity to get back into shape. At least 2 months of an extremely low-fat diet? It'd be hard not to lose weight! Not to mention the potential long-term benefits this season of healthfulness could have on our family. It may encourage us to leave healthier lives overall, and that would be well worth this temporary inconvenience.
However, just because my diet is restricted doesn't mean it has to be flavorless. It simply means I have to turn off autopilot as far meal planning and look up some new recipes. I found a recipe for butter chicken made with yogurt instead of cream or butter so that'd be a fun one to try. My Glorious Mango Pudding recipe will still work for me if I get low-fat ricotta. I love sole baked in a roasted red pepper dressing and I finally invested in some basmati and jasmine rices in our home instead of plain white all the time. And I will make sure Matt is well plied with steak and hamburger in the meantime. It's my issue, not his after all, and while he would eat whatever I made for myself every night with very good grace, I won't ask it of him.
Anyway, if you have any low-fat recipes yourself that you can send me, fire them my way! I could use the help!

Mrs. Vander Leek ;)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

My vision

My last post was an appeal for input to three questions for which I have already received some feedback. I thank you, those who responded. If you haven't responded, go read my last post and then post your input.
One of those questions I did not give a preamble to. The reason was, that question happened to be the most significant one and I didn't want to guide any responses by indicating why I was asking. Now that I have had some input though, I'd like to share why that question has been weighing on me.
The question was, "what is your vision for your city?" (or something to that extent.) I live in a city that I have heard called "Alberta's pee-stop"; a city that tries to pump itself up as a cultural and theatrical hotspot, however just saw one of its main independent theatres shut down due to lack of funding and support. The face of this city is, I feel, very different depending on where you look at it from. High Ups in the city would have you believe we've obtained that status as a cultural leader in our province, most locals would agree that the title still elludes us, and outsiders would laugh at the idea that anyone would confuse this city as a leader in anything other than rednecks and rest-stops.
Now, while I am not, nor do I ever intend to be, a politician myself, I do feel passionately about this issue. For the sake of our community, our economy and our quality of living I feel that we should take advantage of some trends and establish ourselves as leaders in those fields. I have 3 fields that I feel should be focused on, that make up what my vision for my city is: to be a leading player in music in Alberta, to be a pioneer in the "eat local" movement in Western Canada, and to be a center for spiritual revival in Canada.
These fields each fall under a catagory: because we should, because we could, and because we might as well.
Music is under the catagory of "because we might as well". Every year, music festivals pop up all around our city. We have country music festivals, indy music festivals, gospel music festivals... one of our local high schools has a nationally recognized choir and one of our local community choir directors is esteemed internationally. Our local marching band has received many awards and honors and we have copious amounts of untapped talent - or even moreso, talent that moves away to bigger city centers for better opportunities. Really, some focused funding and a bit of hype and we really could be the new "it" place for music in Alberta.
The "eat local" movement is the "because we could" catagory. And boy, we totally could. Within a 100 km radius of us, I can tell you that we have miles and miles of crops, ranches for everything from elk and buffalo to goats and long-horned cattle, an award winning cheese factory, mushroom farms, game-bird farms, potato farms... farms of every kind. What I find so disappointing is that our local farmer's market stopped being a "farmer's" market years ago - there weren't enough booths with real farm products at it for them to keep their farmer's market license. Our busiest restaurants in town are national chains. Most of the produce sold in our grocery stores is brought in from BC or up from the states. We have the potential for so much more and we don't do it. At times I've thought how nice it would be to have coffee roasting classes in town put on by a local business, or to be able to keep chickens in my yard so I can have fresh eggs every morning, or to have community vegetable gardens instead of rows upon rows of border flowers in our city hall park. But none of these things are close to happening. I'd like to draft a plan to propose to city counsel, but I don't know where to begin short of saying, "We should be more like Portland, Oregon..."
Lastly, the "because we should" - being a center of spiritual revival. Why should we? Because we are called to proclaim the good news of the gospel, to live as God has commanded us, regardless of the consequence, and to serve Him in everything we do. If we did that, if we really did that, wherever we were could not help but become a site of revival. I yearn, my soul yearns, for the church to stop drawing their own lines and playing in their comfort zones and to step out and stand up like men. I want to see a church that will honestly and openly pursue God's will in every aspect, not just "the big points". Unfortunately, we are far too apt to call issues "little things" that God has deemed as important to Him. If He gave us guidance and direction in His holy word about it, I don't think it's a "little thing" to Him. If we loved God more than our own plans, and more than our own lives, more than our own money, or comfort, or convenience, we would be shaking our community. Our cities would be turned upside down.
These are my visions for my city. These are things that have been weighing on my head and my heart and that I want to help spur on. I want to see these things become actualized and I intend to research the best way to do that. My intent in seeking input from others regarding their vision for their city was to gleen inspiration and passion from others; to embolden my own vision by the passion of others.
These are my visions and I hope, and pray, that one day I'll actually see them.

Mrs. Vander Leek

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Earnestly Seeking Input

There have been a number of things whirling through my head lately that I can't seem to get figure out. Some are big, multiple-faceted issues, some are more simple and some are probably a lot easier than I am making them. I am, however, at the point where I just keep repeating questions to myself and I'm not getting any new answers out of my own head. I have therefore decided that it is time for me to seek counsel. There are three main questions that I am going to pose, each of varying degrees of consequence.
The first question is the 'fluffiest'. It doesn't have much to do with deep reflection, tales of morality or anything like that. It's moreso about personal opinion and just brain-picking, really. The question: what sort of items would you like to see at a silent auction? You see, I volunteer with a local charity as a member of their Public Relations Committee. One of my tasks right now is to find silent auction donations for their main fundraiser this fall. I actually quite enjoy this task, however sometimes I second-guess myself and my own taste. I've already approached a hotel for a 'date night' package and some local jewelry artists for some original pieces. I'm by no means out of ideas, but I wanted to hear other peoples' ideas as well. Can you recommend somewhere or something to try for?
My next question is the one I'm probably over thinking. In fact, I'm sure I am. All the same, here's the question: how do I go about introducing myself to a neighbour? The background story on this one is that there is a little old lady who lives all by herself in a big house around the corner from us. She drives a pickup truck that she washes herself, mows her own lawn and spends her days tending to her potted plants. Now, when I say old, I'm guessing around 75 - 80. I've also never seen company at her house. It breaks my heart thinking about this lady all alone in her big old house just going through her day to day routine. I want to get to know her, but for some stupid reason I'm afraid to take the first step. Granted, if I were walking past her house one day and saw her outside it would be easy enough to strike up a conversation, however I only usually see her when I am driving past and she lives far enough away from our house that I can't necessarily contrive to be outside when she is since I can't see her house from here. At the same time, I'm afraid of weirding her out by randomly walking up to her door and introducing myself. What is the best, least-awkward way I can start an acquaintance with this lady?
This last question will have the least explanation along with it: What do you want the city you live in to look like? What's your vision for your hometown?
Please help me. Answer one, answer all, but please answer at least something for me. My head will thank you very much!

Mrs. Vander Leek ;)

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Craziness

Do you ever look at your life and just laugh? I do. Usually I laugh when I think about what's coming. Sometimes I laugh when I look at where I am today. Lately I've been laughing at how crazy things are right now.
Since having our second son 3 and a half weeks ago we've gone out of town visiting family, we've had numerous people over for dessert dates and I've had lots of girlfriends over for tea. In fact, last week the only day we didn't have people over was the day that we went out for a staff party with Matt's work.
I made serrano stuffed shrimp as part of a meal for company (should've used bigger shrimp I must say), I made butter tart bars for dessert that night, rice krispie squares the next day, date squares the day after that and individual mocha cream tortes for dessert one night.
I started reading some books again; I finished Jane Austen's Mansfield Park a few days ago and I'm about halfway through Persuasion again. When I'm done those I'm going to read a book called Crazy Love by Francis Chan and then I may take another stab at John Calvin's Institutes of Christian Religion.
Nathaniel is pretty good about giving me at least one 4 hour sleep a night, but typical is still on 3 hour feeds, which means that I'm still pretty tired consistently, or at least tired enough that when I wake up at 7 to feed him I go back to sleep instead of getting up and starting my day.
To add to the craziness, Gabe got a cold this week which he ended up giving to Nathaniel. Just so you are aware, when little tiny babies get colds, they swallow the mucus which ends up curdling the milk in their stomach and they spit up. Alot. I think I've also done record amounts of laundry this week.
Matt's been doing side jobs lately on the weekends and has hardly had a day off this month.
And to top it all off, I'm now having some medical issues. It looks like my elevated estrogen levels from my pregnancy may have given me gallstones. Fantastic, eh? I'm on a prescription right now to see if that helps and I've got an ultrasound next week to confirm the theory and from there we'll see if I need surgery or not.
Ha ha.
But really, what more can I do than laugh? I could freak out. I could stress. I could break down crying. And if you look at that list, it's not all bad stuff. It is all 'stuff', but some of it is good: company, baking, kids, improvement of the mind through reading and studying... all good. Just maybe a little compacted into an otherwise hectic routine :)
Granted, I will be making some changes over the next little while to help my craziness levels. First off, I'm going to limit my number of guests per week :) I should give myself at least one day of not having to be ready by a certain time. It will make my house cleaner, too! Secondly, I've finally started using some of those 50 million bibs that one seems to acquire when one has children. Gabe wasn't a spitty baby so we never needed bibs for him until he started on real food. Now, however, putting a bib on Nathaniel will save us from going through two or three outfits, 2 sheets and 5 receiving blankets a day.
Next, I plan to go to bed early a couple of nights this week to catch up on my sleep. I really do enjoy getting up bright an early and shouldn't have any problems working that into my routine assuming I start out well rested.
Lastly, I really need to change my diet. This one is a bit of a reluctant change. I'm not a particularly unhealthy eater (please disregard above mentioned list of desserts prepared this week). I crave fruit very regularly, can't stand the thought of potato chips lately, would much rather prepare a fresh meal at home than order in pizza (most nights) and you won't find anything resembling store-bought frozen meals or snacks in our house. However, that's not enough. In light of my medical issues, I have been informed that it would be advisable for me to cut out many foods that would otherwise be conducive to a healthy diet. Artichokes, avodacos, milk/cheese, citrus fruits, eggs, broccoli, red meat, nuts... all could aggrevate my symptoms. So tonight's dinner was supposed to be a goat cheese pizza with chicken, peaches and artichokes. Yah, that could kill me. Well, not really, but it could hurt me very badly. I was going to make a batch of egg salad to put on some mixed greens for lunches this week. That's out. Usually if I need to grab a quick snack I grab a handful of almonds. That's out, too. And while all of these won't necessarily make my symptoms worse, if you've ever had a gallbladder attack you know it's not worth the risk.
In any event, my diet will be changing drastically for the next few weeks. I'll be eating alot of whole grain wraps with alfa-alfa sprouts, cucumber and tomatoes. I'll also be eating a lot of rice and chicken. Yogurt seems to be safe and I think I'll make up some nutless granola to throw in that for my breakfasts.
These restrictions don't necessarily mean that my life will be tasteless - just require a bit more thinking on my part. For example, eating white rice every night for dinner would make me go crazy, so last night I picked up some basmati and some jasmine rice, as well as some turmeric. Add a teaspoon or two to a batch of rice and it tastes amazing without increasing sodium or fat levels. Hamburgers are a no-no for me, but that's no reason why I can't have a chicken burger. I have a great recipe for a figgy barbque sauce that would go great on a chicken burger. I'm far too prone to put loads of cheese on pasta, but if I use a vinegar based sauce for the pasta, like a roasted red pepper vinaigrette, no cheese needed - or at most the tiniest dusting of fine grated asiago.
So while I may have to forego the Mocha Cream tortes for a while, I'm sure that I'll survive, and perhaps be a better cook for the experience. At very least I'll now feel justified in ordering that subscription to Cooking Light!

Mrs. Vander Leek ;)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Meal Planning

Well, as I said in my last post, we're home with our new baby, little Nathaniel. It's gone pretty smoothly lately all things considered. The weekend was a great time for just relaxing and celebrating the new baby but I made sure I set aside some time on Sunday to get ready for Monday - the first day back to a regular routine. So Sunday evening I chopped up some veggies for salads and sandwiches through the week, did up some laundry and made Matt's lunch for the next day so that he'd be able to sleep in a little bit in the morning.
Well, Monday actually went pretty smoothly. I slept in (until 8... and I love that that's now sleeping in again!) and then got up with the boys and got breakfast ready. Gabe wanted some time to watch Shaun the Sheep so we worked that into the morning and then Gabe had a nap and Matt's mom came and picked him up afterwards so it was just Nate and I for a bit. While Gabe had been napping I stole the chance to do some meal planning for the week. I had bought a magazine for while I was in hospital and wasn't able to look at it before I had the baby (as in, I physically was not able to. It was a cooking magazine and my stomach couldn't stand to look at recipes whie I was pregnant.) It was the May issue of Cooking Light and I honestly think that one issue convinced me to subscribe. The cover recipe was a Shrimp Cobb Salad (which I'm making tomorrow night), it had a great article on Portland, Oregon and how it became a foodie paradise (Matt and I talked about taking a trip there) and it had a great recipe for a Chai Cream Pie (which I will be making at some point, I promise you). I find all too often that recipes in cooking magazines go out of the way to be posh and fine-dining, to the point where you don't have any of the ingredients in your cupboard (smoked duck, ahi tuna and quinoa anyone?) and it's impractical for regular meal planning (even if it's categorized in their "Meal Planning" section). Cooking Light had a couple of those recipes, but they were far outnumbered by recipes that called for normal ingredients and made them into something fabulous - and that "something" was usually something I could wrap my head around preparing for a regular, weekday dinner. I'll let you know about whether or not I decide to take out that subscription... it'll have to wait a couple weeks at least since I have to renew my Martha Stewart Living subscription this month and that takes precedence over all other subscriptions.
Anyway, big tangent there. I did get my meal planning done for the week and only one of those meals involved something from my freezer, and that was for last night. I had decided to whip up some corn muffins yesterday (it really is "whip up." The actual hands on part took 8 minutes) and I wanted something spicy to go with it. Since Gabe was going to be out for dinner I decided to use up one of my pre-made enchilada dinners that only had 2 instead of 4 servings in it. So last night we had corn muffins, enchiladas and a salad with grated asiago in it that took less than a minute to prepare because of the food prep I had done on Sunday. Incidentally, the enchiladas were fantastic. I wasn't expecting them to be anything great, but they really, really were. I'll go back and see if I already posted that recipe or not and I'll make sure I get it up, because for a frozen meal, that was great.
For tonight I had scheduled to make Waldorf Chicken Croissants. I had almost everything in the house for them (apples, yogurt, grapes, etc) and I knew I would need to pick up the croissants, but I needed to have croissants this week already for a Chocolate Ribbon Bread Pudding I'll be making on Thursday and if the croissants went a little stale on the two days between buying them and making the bread pudding, well all the better for the pudding! So I've got the Waldorf Chicken Croissants in the fridge right now just waiting for Matt to get home and eat them.
Tomorrow night I'm making that Shrimp Cobb Salad and we'll be having company for dessert so I'm going to make up a batch of those Glorious Mango Puddings that I made around Easter time which were so yummy.
Thursday is going to be fun... Matt's going to take Gabe camping overnight in the backyard! They're going to pitch the tent together and have a fire and I decided to help with the theme so we'll be having a weiner roast that night. I've also got some corn-on-the-cob so we'll do that up and maybe some bannock. That's also the night we're having the Chocolate Ribbon Bread Pudding and, more than likely, smores.
Friday I didn't plan for since we might have dinner with Matt's family, but if I do need a recipe there was a great Peach Chicken Pizza recipe in the Cooking Light magazine that might work, or I'll make some goat cheese and flank steak tostadas. We'll see!
Anyway, Matt should be home soon so I'd best go get supper on the table and mix up our Italian Sodas!

Mrs. Vander Leek ;)

Monday, June 27, 2011

New baby!

Yay! The second baby is here! Welcome to baby Nathaniel Caleb, born June 22, 2011 weighing 8 lbs 6 oz and measuring 21.5 inches!
He is gorgeous and mellow and healthy and big brother Gabe is delighted by him!
We're at home and doing well. I'm already wanting to host some dinner parties (still have to figure out how those would work logistically) and this week I plan on baking at least I cake and making Glorious Mango Pudding and Blueberry stuffed Crepes with Star Anise syrup!

Mrs. Vander Leek ;)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Waiting Game

Well, I'm at 37 1/2 weeks right now and today is my last day for major items on my to do list. Up until recently I've been so worried the baby would come before we were ready for him. A month ago we didn't have a thing ready - Gabe was still in the nursery with nowhere to move to, we still had a change table in our living room and everything we would need when the baby came was still in boxes downstairs.
Our house has seen a major transformation in the last few weeks however. Now Gabe is in his "Big Boy Room", the nursery has been restored to factory specs, every floor has been cleaned in the past 4 days, every room has been cleaned and every item of clothing has been laundered. Over the past two days I've managed to do all of my shopping that I wanted to get done before the baby came with the exception of a quick trip this afternoon to Save-On-Foods and to a local farmer's market. I have frozen meals prepared, easy snacks that I can grab for Gabe on hand and some fun things for Matt's lunches too. The dog has been thoroughly groomed, the bills have all been prepayed and our hospital bag, as well as Gabe's overnight bag, is packed and ready to go.
My nesting energy spurts have definitely been to thank for this huge accomplishment, as well as a husband who finds it easier to relax when the house is clean so he doesn't mind when I put him to work on his day off. However, even with all my rabid cleaning attempts, by this past Friday I still had the whole basement to clean and organize yet, as well as a number of other items on my checklist to still do. Then something happened on Friday that made me pick up my feet even more... the baby dropped. Now, in first pregnancies, the baby typically drops weeks prior to the baby being born. When I was pregnant with Gabriel he dropped 3 weeks before I had him. However, with subsequent pregnancies babies typically drop during labour or immediately preceeding labour. One website I found described the baby dropping in a second pregnancy as a sign that labour was "imminent". Well, while it was lovely that I could breathe again and that my ribs were no longer moving in and out, I was not feeling ready for the baby to come. I resolved to have all of my major tasks on my to do list completed by Tuesday night because while I didn't think that the baby was coming that night, I didn't want to be caught off guard. I've since had some low, hard contractions and a couple that shot across my back, which only happened during my first pregnancy when I was actually in labour, but I've also reorganized the basement and set up Gabe's play area down there, down some massive grocery shopping trips, and completed all the primary items on my to do list! I still have another to do list that will be a weekly thing until the baby does decide to come, but that list is mostly just to make sure I have absolutely nothing to think about other than my family for the first few weeks at home with the new addition.
So next you hear from me, hopefully I'll be the happy mother of two!

Mrs. Vander Leek ;)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Slider Bar and Nesting

Yet another busy, busy weekend! My goodness! I'm actually starting to look forward to the baby coming for the relaxation I'll be able to get in after he's here!
As I mentioned in a previous post, this weekend we threw a surprise birthday party for my brother-in-law and I was in charge of the food committee. When my sister and I first started planning for this party months ago I pitched the idea of classed-up "man food". Well, we stuck with that plan and decided the easiest way to do that would be a gourmet slider bar. Now personally I'm quite boring when it comes to hamburger toppings: ketchup, mustard, cheese, tomatoes and occassionally lettuce and pickles. When I make my own, that's all that goes on there. But so often I've seen fun magazine articles about dressing up hamburgers and I've wanted to try that - if not for myself, at least for guests that I have over. Well, we definitely accomplished that this weekend. Our topping options ranged from tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and hot peppers to goat cheese, sundried tomatoes, grilled pineapple, mango and blue cheese dressing. I even made up a fig BBQ sauce for it which smelled amazing but my prego tummy wasn't willing to try it. I kept some at home to try on chicken some night soon.
The sides for the meal were inspired by pub food: Bruschetta, Black Bean Salsa, Guacamole, etc and as a fun little kicker we bought a few orders of Onion Rings from Peter's Drive-In on 16th Ave in Calgary. We also did Chili Lime Shrimp and Sausage Skewers on the BBQ too. Lastly, instead of a cake which calls for more plates and cutlery, I made up a golf course scene by decorating cupcakes! I made up 2 dozen chocolate cupcakes and 2 dozen white cupcakes as the base for my course - which was really just one hole. For 7 of the chocolate cupcakes I made up a green-tinted cream cheese icing. Those were for the green. The rest of the chocolate cupcakes made up the fairway by being dipped in a thin icing and then into green-tinted coconut. Half of the white cupcakes were topped with blue-tinted cream cheese icing and were the water hazards and the rest were dipped in icing and then graham wafer crumbs for the sand trap! We set up a tee-box, a pin and hole and a ball on the course too and laid out the cupcakes across two cookie sheets in the format of a course. It went over great! The coconut cupcakes went a lot quicker than I thought they would and of course everyone wanted to try the cream cheese icing. FYI, I hate decorating cakes and the sort :) I'm a baker, not a decorator, so there was a lot of muttering under my breath while I got the cupcakes iced, but this was a fairly simple project and eventually I got the right technique for making sure the tops of the super-mosit chocolate cupcakes (I threw some instant pudding mix into the batter) stopped crumbing into my cream cheese icing. All in all, not the worst job I've ever done.
I actually did alot of cooking/baking over the past few days now that I think about it. On Friday I believe I mentioned my intent to make Strawberry Granita - which I did - but I didn't stop there. I also made up Strawberry Watermelon Pops, Chocolate Chip Cookies, the first 24 cupcakes for the surprise party, and most importantly, an apple pie. Matt loves pie. Like, he really, really loves it. And I rarely make it. Part of the reason is that I've never found a fantastic pie crust recipe. My Mom uses my Grandma's recipe, which is great, but I wanted to break away from family tradition and find one of my own. So I decided to try Julia Child's recipe for french pastry dough. She uses butter and a bit of shortening cut in with the flour and then she dissolves the sugar and salt right in with the water she adds. She emphasizes quite a bit how important it is to not over handle your dough and highly recommends blind-baking all crusts, at least a bit, even if you're filling them right away. Unfortunately I was being a bit brain dead while I made said pie. My crust was gorgeous. Yummy, sweet, not the least soggy... but I didn't realize I made a half recipe so I didn't have enough to do a double crust, just a bottom. Whoops! I figured it'd be fine and that I'd just mix and match with a crumble top - whatever. So I went to cut up the apples and I threw in a couple of pears I had sitting in the fridge and on the last apple I realized that I was chopping instead of slicing the fruit. What the heck?? I mean, I know I don't make pie often, but I should know better than that! I blamed that one on the pregnancy. Then I went to season the filling: I was low on brown sugar so it only got a bit of that but mostly it got some cinnamon-sugar I had sitting on the counter waiting to be used up. I added a touch of butter out of habit (my mom always does) and then went on the throw together a crumble of oats, brown sugar, flour and butter and then put the pie together and threw it in the oven. Do you see what I've missed? Well, I didn't so if you don't, don't feel too badly about it. Miraculously, the fruit cooked through (I reduced the heat and increased the cooking time) and everything was looking beautiful. After letting it cool a bit I cut into the pie and was amazed at how well the crust held together and how beautifully it came out of the pan. ...And then I was amazed at how much liquid quickly filled the gap in the pie plate. Then I remembered that I forgot to add flour to the filling. There was nothing to soak up all the juices from the fruit! How silly of me!! I did get away with spooning out some excess juices, but it really was the most successful brain-dead piece of baking I've ever done.
For the rest of my weekend I was focused on the party - Saturday I baked the rest of my cupcakes and did up some food prep for the next day. Sunday we were bad and skipped church so we could drive to Calgary and set up the party while my sister and brother-in-law were at church themselves. The party broke up at around 3 when the guys decided to go to the driving range and since Matt didn't bring his clubs we decided to pack up and go home... after a quick trip to IKEA. We've been needing more bedding for Gabe and the baby since they'll both be on crib mattresses and Matt really wanted to get Gabe a toddler bedding set with a comforter and all. So we spent about $45 on crib and toddler bedding and got way more than we would have spending $70 on a stupid "Cars" toddler bedding set from Walmart. Eventually we left IKEA and drove home, at which point we started talking about what to do with the rest of our day since it was still quite early. Matt was all for lounging and turning on a movie or something, but I got a sudden burst of energy (can anyone say "nesting"?) and talked him into working on the nursery with me. That had been a source of stress for me lately. We got Gabe's new room done and moved him out of the nursery, but the nursery itself wasn't ready to receive a new baby. But we busted our butts that night and got all of the old stuff out, the new dresser finally moved in (yay! It's not in my living room anymore!) and all of the clothes organized. I also deep cleaned the room while Matt did some minor furniture repairs so the walls, baseboards, doorjams and fixtures are all spotless. By 11:30 the nursery was as ready as we could get it, considering we still don't have a crib mattress :) Monday was, again, a productive day. We woke up a bit late but then got right to work in our bedroom, which had become a bit of a dump-zone for homeless items the moved out of the office and the nursery over the past month. I did a ton of laundry, cleared off every surface that had started collecting junk, cleaned out every corner of the room and vaccumed every inch of carpet. It's been a long, long time since my room looked that clean! The bedroom was done by about noon and then we moved on to the basement, where Matt moved some boxes into the crawl space and I started folding all the laundry I had washed that day. Matt got called away for a meeting at about 2:30 and his mom had taken Gabe for the afternoon so I started moving all of Gabe's toys from the main floor downstairs and organized them into bins and started setting up his play area. As soon as I can get Matt to help me with some heavy lifting things, the basement will be completely done too!
And that brings us to today. I slept in until 9:45 without even realizing it, I've hardly been productive all day and haven't done a single thing that can pass off as housework. I just hope for Matt's sake that I don't get another spurt of "nesting energy" when he comes home from work for the evening, because while it's nice to get stuff done, I think I'm wearing him out!

Mrs. Vander Leek ;)

Friday, May 20, 2011

Productive... to be, or not to be.

I've had a pretty productive week considering I'm still battling my illness from the weekend, although yesterday was nearly a complete write-off. Tuesday I had a Pampered Chef show for my mom which went well but it was very draining. Wednesday morning I got up early and made pancakes for breakfast for Matt and then walked Gabe and Cash over to the vet to get Cash's shots up to date. Then I went to a prenatal appointment where my doctor gave me some very pitying looks after hearing about my health issues and inspecting my ever-changing ribs. My mom had Gabe while I was at my appointment so I grabbed some sushi before I went to pick him up. That evening I was craving some Cranberry Cinnamon Goat Cheese from Sobeys so I went to the one by our house... never again. There are 3 Sobeys in town - two are quite nice, but the one by us is a pared down, hardly carry a thing sort of store. Their meat section is the size of a bookcase. It's wretched. Anyway, they didn't have my Cranberry Cinnamon Goat Cheese, just Plain or Herb. Since I was there however, I just grab a pack of the plain with the intent of making it better. So I barbqued some steaks and some potato slices, made up some garlic toast with 1/3 of a loaf of french bread I had bought and sliced the rest up to serve with the goat cheese I bought which I added strawberries and lemon zest to. It was actually quite nice. That night I finalized the menu for my brother-in-law's surprise birthday party this weekend where we're having classed-up man food featuring a slider bar with tonnes of unique toppings.
The next day however I was having a less productive day... Gabe was a bit of a handful all morning and so I was really pleased when Matt called to ask if he could come home to have lunch with me. I threw on some soup and coffee and heated up the last bit of that French loaf and we had a nice little lunch. The only issue with that nice break in the day was that I've always known that if Gabe has lunch before nap time, he doesn't nap. Normally he goes down between 11:30 and 12:30 for a nap and by 3:00 I was so frustrated with the fact that he was still awake that I tried to pull him into my bed and cuddle him to sleep. By about 4:20 he finally fell asleep. My entire afternoon was a write-off. That, and my fever came back a bit, probably just from over-exhertion, but still. So Gabe woke up at 5 and I had just enough time while he was asleep to write an email to a committee I'm on explaining that I was too sick to go to a meeting that night and filling them in on everything I was supposed to have prepared for the meeting. I called Matt and asked if we could order in and I was so, so, so glad that he said yes. The rest of the evening I tried to make up for the fact that I got very nearly nothing done all day so I cleaned my kitchen and hashed out some Pampered Chef stuff and more details for the surprise party this weekend.
Today, however, has been much nicer. We got an equity cheque in the mail from Co-op, some books Matt's been really eager to get finally came today too, my living room is tidied (no small feat when you have to lean over a basketball-sized lump to pick up toys), I did some gardening and I did some cooking too!
I had a case of strawberries in my fridge that were getting old so I decided to make up a strawberry granita for Matt and I for tonight and since I had so many strawberries and nearly a whole watermelon too, I made up some strawberry-melon pops for Gabe for the next week or so.
I bought my rose bush on Monday and planted it out front and today when I went to check on it the growth has been substantial already. It's hard to recall the height well enough to say if it's much taller, but it's certainly much fuller! It looks like it's doing really well. I also planted some herbs two weeks ago which are finally coming up. My fennel poked through yesterday, my chives are coming through today and hopefully my mint and basil won't be far behind. I also noticed that my strawberries from last year are coming back well! Yay for the garden!
Tomorrow I'm mostly prepping for the surprise party, which includes making 4 dozen cupcakes into a golf-course scene and then Sunday we're driving to Calgary for the party and hopefully a short IKEA trip. Monday is devoted to getting the nursery ready and putting our house back together from all the reorganizing we've been doing lately. Hopefully, at the very least, we can get all of our furniture in the right rooms!
Wish us luck!

Mrs. Vander Leek ;)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Stuffed Salmon and Foot Soaks

Well, this weekend didn't go quite the way I had planned but I managed to salvage parts of it! Friday I was out grocery shopping and saw that they had whole frozen salmon on sale for $6. I haven't been able to eat salmon for about 2 years now but lately I'd been craving my Grandma's Rice Stuffed BBQ Salmon. I bought the salmon and planned to invite my parents over for dinner on the weekend. Well, Friday night was wretched. I was just going to bake some cupcakes for my sister-in-law's baby shower the next day when I got a shooting pain in my abdomen. I wasn't really worried about it but thought I'd better play it smart and kick back for the rest of the evening. By 8 I felt feverish and my throat was hurting too. Throughout the night my fever spiked and at 5 I got up to throw up. I didn't get back to sleep until 7. So I decided that it'd be best if I stayed in bed all Saturday. I had to cancel on the shower and never got around to making the cupcakes or the fruit skewers with the yogurt-honey dip. I did send along the shower games I had planned and the prizes I had made (potted herbs, homemade soaps and teacup candles) but then I went back to bed for the remainder of the day.
Sunday I ended up feeling a bit better (or at least I hadn't thrown up in a while). I still wasn't up for church so Gabey and I hung out at home and I started doing some little jobs around the house. I changed the sheets on the bed and I started organizing some boxes and baby things. Matt came home from church and had passed a garage sale that had some baby things at it. We went by it later and got a double stroller for $25! Woot! I was feeling well enough that I invited my parents over for that salmon which I had left to defrost in my fridge. In the meantime I did a ton of laundry and cleaned my living room too! Supper was great and handling fish is oddly satisfying - something I had forgotten. It's been a while since I've cleaned a fish or anything apparently! That night we also bought a kid carrier backpack for $50 off of Kijiji which was much cheaper than any others we'd seen. Monday morning I was up early and decided that today was going to be productive. As soon as Gabe was fed and dressed we went out to run some errands starting with some banking. Eventually I got over to Co-op Home and Garden Centre to look for some wooden scrub brushes for cleaning. There's been a few things lately that I've had to clean that would have been much easier to clean if I had a scrub brush like that. I found a couple at Co-op and I also found a hybrid tea rose that was gorgeous so I bought that too! We ran a couple more errands and then I got Gabe home and down for a nap and I started some outdoor work. I cleaned our new stroller, I hosed down our sidewalks, I planted my rose and some herbs and did some general outdoor tidying. Matt's mom came by in the afternoon and picked up Gabe so I took the chance to run out and get some nursing clothes and groceries, came home and made up some supper for Matt before he went out for the evening. Since I was spending the evening by myself I decided to try out some homemade foot soaks I'm going to make up for my sister-in-law. Her poor feet are so swollen she needs some help! So I popped myself some air pop popcorn, grabbed a glass of juice, put on some Friends episodes and soaked away! This first one I've tried is skim milk powder, Epsom salts and lime-mint tea bags. My feet feel so nice! Other ones involve honey, olive oil and/or milk.
I'm a little achy tonight but I'm so glad I got so much done! Well back to watching Friends!
Mrs. Vander Leek ;)

Monday, May 9, 2011

Baby Prep

Time is ticking away to the arrival of our next baby and as my due date comes closer and closer, my house is getting messier and messier... It's okay though - it's the productive kind of messy. So while my living room and kitchen had been spotless for nearly a month, they are now filled with furniture waiting to go into Gabe's new "Big Boy Room", items waiting to be donated that we finally decided to get out of the house, and evidence of my cooking 'fits' where I throw together 6 meals at one time.
My to do list is getting smaller too. "Clean the house" is really my last item on my to do list and I have help pledged for that one as well. But before I get to that stage we need to finish Gabe's new room, get the nursery back to factory specs, finish with the freezer meals and pull out and organize all of our old baby items. Gabe's room is nearly done - this weekend Matt and I moved out all the boxes that have been stored in there since we bought the house and then Matt put in the new flooring and got the baseboards on. Today I hung pictures and moved in some furniture and all that's really left to do is touch up paint on the baseboards and get the rest of Gabe's stuff in. Once he's moved then we can get the nursery going. We're getting a glider to replace the old rocker in the nursery and we're setting up a little table in there for me with a lamp, a place for some snacks and books and stuff like that. I have a couple chicken and rice dinners, a couple hashbrown casseroles and 3 enchilada meals in the freezer as well as a couple containers of sauce and some pre-cooked ground beef. Oh, and cookies and granola bars. My Mom is making up some Casserole Steak, barbque Pork Chops and Hamburger soup for our freezer too and I might conscript my MIL to make up some chili for us. After a trip to Costco the freezer should be set. Costco is vital though because while I made not have a million fully-made meals in there, I'm going to pick up a box of pre-cooked chicken cubes. It's cheaper than buying boneless, skinless chicken breasts and most of the work is already done for you. So if I'm having an alright day where I feel like I can put in a bit more effort towards dinner than turning on the oven and pulling something out of the freezer, it will take me roughly 10 minutes to get a chicken potpie oven ready, or chicken fried rice could be whipped up really quick too. Oh, and since I have to still worry about feeding Gabe three meals a day, plus snacks, we're stocking up on things like applesauce, fruit cups, animal crackers and the like.
I've already laundered and folded all of our old newborn clothes and all of our cloth diapers that we used for Gabe. Yah, cloth can be a pain but it really does save you money, so I'm going to try to do that again as much as possible. We're installing our infant carseat this week and borrowing a bassinet from some friends. Gabe's going to have three distinct play areas set up in the house, one of which can be completely unsupervised play and the other two will be hugely helpful when the baby is needing lots of attention and Gabe gets to play with his special toys.
I'm still hoping this baby doesn't come early even though my body hasn't been feeling great. My ribs have stopped moving in and out for now but it's getting harder and harder to move and my morning sickness has come back a bit. I am looking forward to the day when I can again breathe, move, not have heart burn and eat whatever I want, but since that means the baby has to come out I'm willing to put up with a bit of a wait for all those luxuries.
Well, I'd best get back to getting things checked off my to do list!

Mrs. Vander Leek ;)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Dinners

Happy Easter everyone! After a remarkably busy week I'm surprised to find myself sitting in my living room with my husband, sipping iced tea and checking our emails. I didn't expect to be this relaxed this soon! I'm glad I am though - I've only got a short break before another marathon week.
This week has actually been the week of food. My goodness there was a lot of food. It all started with Wednesday night when I was planning a tasting party at my house for a group of ladies I used to volunteer with. I had heard back from a couple of the ladies saying that they either would come or would try but I was nervous that perhaps no one would show up so I actually invited a few of my neighbours as well. Oh, and just so you know what I mean by 'tasting party', now that I've started selling Pampered Chef I will have to prepare some recipes at the cooking shows I do and since I have to use Pampered Chef recipes for those I've been making 4 or 5 of the recipes at a time and having people over to taste the food and let me know what they like and what they don't. This was supposed to be my second tasting party. I say 'supposed to' because, well, no one came. Not a one. It was 6:30 and my only for-sure cancelled and I had enough food for 20 people already made and not one person showed up. Mildly frustrating. Luckily I had planned all of the recipes to be fairly cheap so I hadn't spent a ton of money to put on the party, but that didn't help the fact that I now had a lot of food leftover and we were headed to Calgary the next day. However, I phoned my sister and she decided that we could just eat the food at her place the next evening for an impromptu appetizer party when Matt and I got to Calgary. Turns out, that was a pretty good idea! So Thursday afternoon Matt and I went to Calgary, we stopped off at Crossiron Mills and then went to my sister's place and ate a fantastic Crab Spread, some Apple Berry Salsa, and a Chocolate Chip Cannoli dip with fresh strawberries. My sister had also made a warm brie on top of that, so we all ate our fill (and alot of Crab Spread). That night, my sister and I also made soaps. In the April edition of Martha Stewart Living, there was a great article on making your own soaps using glycerin and pureed herbs or fruit. Neither of us had ever made soaps before but we gave it a try and it worked great! Super easy to make, super easy to clean up (it's soap - you just wash it off in hot water!) The next day I ended up back at my sister's house to make Easter Dinner for a small portion of our family: my parents, my sister's family and Matt and I. The time to cook one of my ducks had finally come. However, because not everyone likes duck we also decided to make up a chicken too. So at 1:30 I prepped the duck by cleaning, trimming, scoring and seasoning it and then I set it up on a veggie 'roasting rack', poured on a little white wine and put it in the oven. Next I prepped the chicken, which was going to be cooked on the BBQ. My sister had a Ricard's chicken roaster where you basically fill a stand with beer and seasoning, stick it up the butt of the chicken and set it on the BBQ like that. For dessert we made up a Glorious Mango Pudding with sweetened condensed milk, ricotta cheese, mangoes and lime juice and for the veggies we did green beans with caramelized shallots, steamed artichokes and potatoes wrapped in foil and roasted on the BBQ. There were a couple of hiccups with the meal prep (I forgot that the artichokes needed 30 minutes to steam, instead of 15, and then I forgot to check the water level and let the steam pot boil dry - whoops!) but we were all dishing up by 5:45. The duck was fantastic! So worth the wait! The chicken was really moist and didn't catch on fire (much to my mother's surprise). The veggies were all good, but the Mango Pudding was my favorite I think... and I don't even like mango! I meant to make up a second dessert (Martha's Little Lemon Souffles) but everyone ate so much dinner we didn't have room for more food! So instead my sister and I made more soaps!
Saturday morning we were going to a baby shower for my cousin and her new baby boy and I had pledged to make up 40 scones for the event. I have the world's greatest scone recipe which has a great make-ahead component, so when the time comes to bake them, all you do is add water and bake! The shower had so much great food (mini quiches, strawberry cream tarts, my scones were made into strawberry shortcakes) and then within a couple hours of the shower we went to Easter Dinner with the extended family! Today Matt and I came home in time to meet some of his family for lunch at a restaurant and then we had his sister and her husband over for supper - hamburgers, corn-on-the-cob and fruit with dip.
I'm very full :)
Now, this week coming up is a marathon week for multiple reasons. First off, our anniversary is on Tuesday (3 years!). Next, Gabe's birthday is on Wednesday (2 years!). We have doctor's appointments, meetings, deadlines and family gatherings all week long, including all of the work I have to do for a volunteer commitee I'm on and I've got a couple Pampered Chef shows I'm helping some friends plan. It's also my one month date since signing up with Pampered Chef this week and I'm hoping to meet a sales goal to get a bonus (I'm not sure about this one since my tasting party was a flop...)
It's definitely going to be a busy week! Good thing I've been fattened up for it, hey?

Mrs. Vander Leek ;)