Another birthday, another cake

January 24, 2011

I haven’t blogged much lately. I mean to — I keep thinking of things I’d like to blog about. Like how my Gen Y employees don’t know the movie Broadcast News, even the one who studied journalism. Or like how men seem to get bored of driving the car they used to love, even though it’s still a perfectly wonderful car, but they’re bored so want a new one. Or how my Boomer client has come to realize that the retirement home in a quiet community isn’t for her, because she’d be bored, and what does that say about retirement. And if boomers aren’t retiring, what does that mean for Gen X? Or about how I’ve come to realize that there are probably no jobs for me that someone thinks is full time that I couldn’t do part time like I’m doing now. Or like how I can’t seem to find time for blogging but I can find time for twitter.

But I haven’t found time to blog in ages, so those entries will have to wait (although now that I’ve written them down, maybe I’ll get to them sooner).

So instead I’m blogging about my kid’s birthday. Mostly so I can brag about his cake, which I made. I make the cakes for my kids’ birthdays every year, and I let the kids choose what their cakes will be. Some years they make it really tough, but this year my younger son made it easy. He was having an art party and they’d be making clay penguins, and since he’s obsessed with Club Penguin (a kids social networking site — another blog post there sometime!), he wanted a penguin cake. So I delivered. What do you think? Did I nail it?

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No time to cook? Maybe that’s why we’re in a food crisis

May 3, 2010

You know I lead a busy life. Did you read about the week it took me two days to do the laundry? But cooking dinner is still a must, almost all the time.

I admit, we do our own cheating. We eat out occassionally, maybe once every two weeks. And on the two nights a week my husband is responsible for dinner, he usually picks up something frozen (M&M Meat Shops is his friend) to serve with cut veggies and dip. But I cook. I like cooking, and it’s usually easier and faster to throw together a meal at home than buy something ready made. Yes, ready made meals at home are cheaper than restaurant food, but not even close on the healthy scale, and no where near as good as something I made myself. Plus the more something at the grocery store is ready made, the more it costs than the ingredients themselves.

So I cook. But this article about a grocery trade show had me up in arms. It said that quick, “healthy” (emphasis mine) foods dominate the market.

Cooking is a luxury now,” said Dale Dubberley, president of Vancouver-based Thai Away Food Services Ltd., which offers a “Meals-in-Minutes” line. “People do it for fun, but they don’t do it every day. People don’t have time. Now they can go to the grocery store, get a restaurant-quality meal and have dinner ready in five to 10 minutes, for maybe half the price of eating at a restaurant.”

People cook for fun, but not necessity? What kind of crap is that? And how can we let that get promoted as gospel? No wonder more than half of adults are overweight or obese. No wonder the poor, new immigrants and aboriginal populations of our societies have the least access to secure, healthy food options.

Cooking takes effort, but not tons of time. Save your pennnies for nice nights out at a restaurant, and plan simple, healthy meals to cook all the other times. We can solve the food crisis, one home-cooked healthy meal at a time.

There, I’m done my rant for now. Off to pull together a quick stir fry for dinner.


My best birthday cakes ever, and yes, I’m bragging this time

March 31, 2010

When I was little, my mother always made our birthday cakes. She even let us choose what shapes she’d make them in. I loved that, so when I had kids, I decided it would be the one thing I would always find time for. Of course, my mother didn’t work full time when I was in school, so she had a lot more time than me. But a promise to myself is a promise, and every year I’ve made the boys cakes.

Some cakes were easy, like the year my older boy wanted a book.Although he insisted the book be about a fireman, so for this non-artist, that was a challenge.

Then there was the year he wanted a hippo. I have no idea what a hippo cake should look like, but whatever that is, it wasn’t what mine turned out like. Fortunately, he was only three, so didn’t mind.

I really liked the artist’s pallete I did for my younger kid one year,

and last year’s Amazing Race party merited a great world map cake too.

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And the guitar cake for my younger guy was a big hit too.

But this year I think I outdid myself. Given that we live in Vancouver and the party fell right after the end of the Paralympics, my boys chose mascot cakes. I had convinced them to combine their parties into one, so I would only have to do one party this year. But both insisted on having their own cakes, and fair enough. Still, that meant I had to produce two Olympic mascots in one morning.

But produce I did. Working from a drawing my seven year old made, and with a stuffie of each of my subjects perched on the counter before me, I created a Quatchi cake and a MukMuk cake. And I think they are my best cakes yet. The kids at the party loved them, although MukMuk was more popular than Quatchi (but that could have been because I used chocolate-dyed coconut for his fur, which not every kid may have loved).

I just hope next year they want something simple, like another bowling alley.


Chocolate in the office

December 14, 2009

On the one hand, being in an office this time of year is nice. Everyone is so happy about the holidays, and we do fun stuff like a staff dinner, Secret Santa gift exchanges, and put up decorations.

On the other hand, being in an office this time of year is very difficult. Our office gets a lot of holiday gifts, and just about all of them are chocolate. Since they’re to say thanks for stuff the staff all do, the chocolates get shared, and put out in common areas for everyone to help themselves.

It’s not that I don’t like chocolate, it’s that I like it too much. If you think controlling your diet is tough this time of year no matter what, imagine it when there are yummy chocolates of all kinds of varieties two doors over, just waiting for someone to eat them.

I don’t have enough willpower to work here full time, and working here part time I still have to pay dearly at the gym and the closet when I try on my clothes.

Some things were easier when I worked at home five days a week.


What to do about all the Halloween candy my kids collect (and want to eat)

October 19, 2009

The title, in case you were wondering, is a question. I don’t have the answers.

All year, I try to meter out the candy and chocolate in small doses. I think healthy, active kids like mine should have some sugar, but that it should be seen as a treat, not a daily priviledge. And of course I try to avoid the sugar rush before bedtime. So dessert is occasional, but not out of the question, and candy et al is allowed, but not always. A personal pet peeve has always been the birthday loot bag stuffed with candy and cheap plastic toys. I pride myself on trying to come up with creative alternatives every year. But that’s another blog post for another day.

As for Halloween, it gets harder to fight each year. As the boys get older, they stay out trick or treating longer and come home with more and more loot. So they each have a bag full of candy for the better part of November and some of December. How long do we let them keep dipping into it?

I’ve heard the theory that says you should let them eat all they want for a day or two, in the assumption that they’ll eat themselves sick and stop voluntarily. Then I read this article and decided we weren’t trying that this year.

I’ve always favoured the “Let’s Make a Deal” model. I let them eat some stuff Halloween night, then send them to bed. Eventually they sleep.  In the morning, we play our game. I come armed with lots and lots of healthy snacks, like fruit leather, raisins, pudding, granola bars, etc. They can each choose a limited number of things from their stash (last year it was 14 I think) to keep. After that, they trade their unhealthy food for my healthy alternatives. they like the game, they still end up with a bag of goodies, and I don’t feel quite as horrible about letting them eat out of the bags on a regular basis. And I give the candy away to either the food bank or my co-workers.

Last year we did the deal game, then also set a limit on how long the bags could last. I think we gave them one month, and as of December 1, we took it all away, eaten or not (lots of not).

All these strategies work to a point, but with my older son approaching 9, I wonder how long I can keep it up. The thrill of the trading game is bound to wear off soon.

What do you do about the Halloween candy?


The things my kids learn at farmer's markets

October 7, 2009

His schoolteacher…had cut an apple and held one-quarter of it up to the class: this is the amount of earth that is not water; and then cut the quarter in half – this is the amount of arable land; and cut again – this is the amount of arable land not covered by human habitation; and finally, the amount of land that feeds everyone on the earth barely a scrap of skin.” –from The Winter Vault by Anne Michaels

I go to a lot of farmer’s markets. My husband mocks me for it, but whenever we travel in the summer, I always find a weekend market. Sometimes even a weekday market. This summer alone, we went to markets in Haney, Squamish, 100 Mile House, Qualicum Beach, and of course Vancouver. I love the mix of fresh, healthy food with artisan bakers/food producers and crafts. And I always drag the kids.

Now I should disclose my interest here — I’ve gotten involved in food issues over the past few years, and now sit as a member of Vancouver’s Food Policy Council, an advisory body to the Mayor and Council of Vancouver on issues of food and food security. I also champion food issues for the Board of Trade’s Sustainability Committee. I’m not an organic-vegan hippie foodie, but rather am interested in preserving farmland for farming, in ensuring we have local food available, and in growing local food industries.

OK, got that off my chest. Now back to farmer’s markets. I love the variety of vendors. I love finding new stuff at different locations. My whole family still raves about the bison burgers we bought in Squamish this summer. And I love discovering new fruits and vegetables. Just last week at the Kitsilano market I bought a lemon cucumber (very cool and great fresh taste), yellow and purple carrots, and a variety of tiny plums I can’t remember the name of but am heading back next Sunday to get more of because they were the sweetest thing I ever ate.

My husband isn’t huge on markets, but my kids have grown to love them. To be fair, they nearly always get some kind of baked good snack (at Kits, try the Welsh cakes or the butter tarts!), and there’s veggies and fruit and cheese to taste. But last weekend, I discovered that they like a lot of things I like at the market. They like finding cool veggies. My 8 year old chose this wierd shaped red pepper and insisted I buy it. My 6 year old loves the differently coloured carrots. They both went gaga over the mini pumpkins and loved that I let them each choose one to buy. And because I’ve drilled it into them, they now get that farmers make more money if we buy at markets than the grocery store.

Sample conversation from last weekend:

8 yr old: “IGA has these same mini pumpkins at the same price, you know.”

6 yr old: “But if we bought them at IGA the farmer only gets like ten cents of the dollar we paid.”

8 yr old: “And at the market the farmer gets the whole buck!”

And they’re right. And I love that they know that. Of course, they also know that the cinamon buns at one baker’s stand are larger than the scones at the other stand. Still, baby steps.