Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Art of Sushi


My latest craze is Japanese food, particularly sushi. Before I go any further, let's get one thing straight. SUSHI IS NOT RAW FISH. Neither is it hazardous to your health. In fact, among world cuisines, it is one of the most healthful, low-fat, nutrition-packed foods you can find.

Sushi, a popular snack food in Japan and a popular restaurant food in the West, is actually a wide array of bite-sized delights based around a vinegared and seasoned sticky rice (commonly called "sushi rice"). These delectable morsels may range from elaborately stuffed and garnished cones of sushi rice, veggies and other fillings wrapped in nori (edible sheets of seaweed), to simple cubes of sushi rice topped with exquisitely delicate and supremely fresh squares of, yes, raw fish (called "sashimi").

The greatest enjoyment I found in sushi was the meticulous and artistic presentation of every piece of food. To the Japanese, eating and drinking are sacred rituals, and this is evident in the care that goes into choosing the freshest and best ingredients, the attractive colours and fragrances, and the degree of formality in dining etiquette. For a foodie like me, my first experience in a good sushi restaurant was a little slice of heaven. Or rather, a BIG slice of heaven, since I had the all-you-can-eat dinner!

The extraordinary thing about sushi is that you can over-indulge to your heart's delight, and still you do not feel that heavy, sluggish, slightly sick feeling that results from gorging on most western foods. (For this reason I have found most buffets to be not completely enjoyable - the greater the selection, the more uncomfortably stuffed you can get just by trying a small portion of everything.)

In short, I am made for sushi, and sushi is made for me. So now, I'm learning the art of sushi to add to my own culinary repertoire. If you love good food and great presentation, you should consider doing so too.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Bibliophilia

Since I last wrote about my need for some books worth reading, I have discovered two classic authors that I had forgotten about, and whose works I had neglected to try.

One is George Eliot, a nineteenth century, liberal, female author, whose novel Middlemarch is now as much beloved to me as Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice. I came across the BBC miniseries adaptation at the library, and enjoyed it thoroughly - now I can't wait to read the book.

The other is Henry Fielding. His infamous character, Tom Jones, surprised my expectations. Having been loosely acquainted with various film and television adaptations of this particular novel, I had not held any desire to acquaint myself in any more depth with the original, until I recently picked up the book on a whim. Fielding's characters evoke much more sympathy and much less contempt than the trite film adaptations I had seen, and his keen sense of morality and justice come through brilliantly.

When I'm done both of these (which will be very shortly), I look forward to reading more from these excellent authors!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Recipes: Chicken Divan-in-a-Pan (incl. Gluten-Free)

This dish is a popular one both with my own family and with extended family. It originally came from my mother-in-law, but of course has been adapted to my own uses. Some occasions have necessitated creating gluten-free substitutions, so I am including this information at the end of the recipe.

Chicken Divan-in-a-Pan

6 chicken breasts
1-2 heads of broccoli, chopped into small florets
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 cans condensed cream of chicken soup (10 oz each)*
1 cup mayonnaise (or Miracle Whip if preferred)
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp curry powder (or more to taste)
1 cup grated cheddar
6 cups cooked rice (regular parboiled or Uncle Ben's brown rice)

Preheat oven to 350°. Brown and pan fry chicken and set aside to cool. In same pan, add oil and saute broccoli just until tender. Cube chicken and combine with broccoli. In a large mixing bowl, combine condensed soup, mayo, lemon juice and curry powder, and whisk together until smooth. Adjust curry to taste. Add chicken and broccoli and mix until well combined. Turn mixture into ungreased 9"x13" pan and sprinkle with cheese. Bake uncovered for 45 minutes or until cheese is very bubbly. Serve over rice.

Serves 6 as a main course.

*Gluten-Free Substitution

Since commercial cream of chicken soup contains wheat flour, you can make your own gluten-free version by combining 2 cans condensed chicken broth with 1/4 cup light cream and a tablespoon of cornstarch mixed with cold water. Bring to the boil and cook until well thickened. Use just as you would regular condensed cream of chicken soup.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Recipes: Easy Jambalaya

A Campbell's soup can recipe provided the inspiration for this recipe, which I frequently prepared in university with whatever leftovers I had on hand. I often used leftover chicken nuggets and breakfast sausages or hotdog weiners for the meat, and whatever leftover or frozen veggies I had on hand, with equally delicious results.

Easy Jambalaya

2 cans Campbell's condensed Vegetable Broth with Onions
1 cup minute rice
1 cup frozen peas
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 boneless chicken breast halves, cubed
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 cup cooked sausage, diced
1 whole tomato, chopped (or 1/2 can diced tomatoes)
hot pepper sauce & black pepper (to taste)

Cook rice in condensed broth instead of water. Stir in peas, and set aside. Heat oil at medium-high in a large skillet. Add chicken and cook through. Add celery and cook for 2 mins. Drain fat. Reduce heat to low and stir in sausage, tomato, rice mixture, hot pepper sauce, and black pepper. Heat through.

Serves 4.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Grapes of Wrath... for Parents

I read a blog yesterday that praised a parent for what I consider a terrible response to their teen's bad choices. In short, a 16 year old who was caught driving ridiculously fast was made (by his mother) to stand at a busy intersection for a month wearing a sandwich-board that said "I am stupid, I was speeding and could have gotten myself and my friends killed." Meanwhile, he awaits his court date for official punishment.

Do you think I am advocating leniency for this teen's irresponsible behaviour? Certainly not. But what has this mother accomplished? She has embarrassed her son, that's for sure. And probably alienated him with her childish put-down. She will have a reputation as the woman who publicly humiliated her son for a whole month. Are any of these results desirable?

If I may now be allowed to philosophize on the fine art of child-rearing, let me give a short lecture on the difference between discipline and punishment. Believe me, there is a difference. (If someone objects that I am only the parent of two children under the age of two, let me state my qualifications. I parent a toddler. I was a child myself less than two decades ago. I was a teen even more recently. I have a sister 13 years younger, to whom I sometimes have acted like a parent. I have worked with children and teens in various authoritative capacities in education and in the community.)

Discipline, by definition, is training by means of rules, guidelines and consequences. Punishment, on the other hand, is retaliation (often in anger) against someone or something that doesn't conform to your expectations. By nature the first is productive, the latter destructive.

As parents, our job is to raise mature, responsible children with good character and moral values. Unfortunately, children don't learn as much from what we tell them as they do from what we model for them. If we want them to be respectful people, we must demonstrate respect. If we want them to be responsible, we must take responsibility for our own actions. We do need to set reasonable boundaries for them, and allow them to experience the consequences of transgressing those boundaries. In the case of the speeding teen, appropriate consequences might include taking away the privilege of using the family car, making him pay the fine himself (or work to pay you back), and not advocating on his behalf in court. If the family's insurance is affected, he should have to pay the difference.

The reality is that young children need their parents to make many decisions for them, and have to a degree less responsibility for their own actions. As they mature, however, they should be allowed more freedom to make their own choices, and be given responsibility for their choices. This is how they incrementally become adults. Sadly, many people today have grown up either having choices without responsibility, or having all their choices made for them, resulting in a lot of grown-ups who do not act like adults.

IMHO, the moral of the story is this. Discipline yourself first. Then, discipline your children, and they will love you. Punish them, and they will hate you. These are the grapes of wrath.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Recipes: Everyone Loves Chili

Chili is one of my favourite comfort-foods to make, mainly because it's so forgiving and leftover friendly. My own chili is hardly ever made the same way twice - I usually use beef, beans, veggies, a tomato ingredient, and whatever spices and seasonings I feel like at the time. My most recent chili, however, got a 10/10 from my hubby and was highly praised by our friends and their toddler as well, so by request I actually wrote down the ingredients. Hope you like it.

Daddy's Favourite Chili

1.5 - 2 lbs lean ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
1 red pepper
1/2 bunch celery, chopped
1 can diced tomatoes (with juice)
1 can beans in tomato sauce
1 can kidney beans, drained & rinsed
1/4 cup Diana Sauce (Original)
2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
2 dashes Tabasco sauce
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
3 tbsp. flour

Scramble-fry ground beef until no longer pink. (Do NOT drain.) Add onions, garlic, pepper & celery, and cook on medium heat (covered) for 5 mins or until veggies are tender. Add tomatoes and beans, mix well. Add sauces and seasonings, stir, and cook another 2 mins. Add flour, stir well, and simmer until thickened. Remove from heat and allow to sit until cool enough to eat. Serve with fresh garlic bread. Serves 8-10.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Busy Mom Seeking Great Reads

If I could run a free advert in the local personals, it might read something like the title of this post. I am probably one of the most frequent visitors to our local library - but that doesn't mean I get to spend much time there.

As a busy mom with a baby and a toddler in tow, my library visits usually consist of dashing in the door with arms full, clumsily dropping books and movies on the counter, and desperately scanning the video and new book racks in a furious 2 minute search for something that looks remotely interesting. Then I juggle my kids and library selections to check them out, stuff the new material into a diaper bag or pocket, and balance my load back out to the car or stroller to get them all home before we have a meltdown.

What I would really love is to have a list of books that are guaranteed good reads, from which I can reserve a couple ahead of time and simply dash in to pick them up! So, here are my criteria for a good book. Must contain at least 2 of the following:

Gut-busting humour. Edge-of-your-seat suspense. Mysteries that stymie the intellect. Old fashioned and eccentric characters. A historical setting. Deep philosophical discussion. Inspirational moral of the story.

If you know of some must-read books that meet these criteria, PLEASE let me know the titles and authors. My slap-dash adventures in book-browsing have been yielding some pretty disappointing results (I can't believe how much crap gets printed these days!). My best find this year has been a big book of Sherlock Holmes mysteries, but I am long overdue for another book I can really sink my teeth into!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Love Is A Verb

Hi folks, I'm back from a blogging hiatus during which I had a chance to work through some tough issues and get over a little case of the blues. Glad to say all's well in the house!

We had a great weekend recently visiting some dear friends in the Muskokas, and while we were there my friend and I were discussing a Sunday school lesson she was given, called We Should Love Our Families. It was such a cliché theme, overstating the obvious, but when we began to talk about love not as a noun (a warm, fuzzy feeling), but as in DC Talk song Love Is A Verb, it suddenly became more relevant and challenging.

I believe love is not about feelings. Sure, when you love someone you may have warm, fuzzy feelings for them, but then again you might not. Parents, when your teenager defies you and says they hate you, do you feel warm and fuzzy toward them? I'm betting you don't. Do you still love them? If you're a good parent, you do. I have heard parents say "I love you no matter what, but I don't like you very much right now." Like is a feeling. Love is action, and choice.

If you are married, this becomes very significant when your relationship with your spouse is tested. Perhaps you have been going through some difficult circumstances, you are tired, they are irritable, whatever the case, and it's not easy to love them. It's not easy, but we can choose to believe the best, consider their needs before our own, and show selfless love. When we choose to speak respectfully and act with care, regardless of how we feel in the moment, we build strong relationships.

Today's culture tells us that we should put ourselves first, but something's deeply wrong with this pop psychology message. Just look around you at all the self-absorbed people, all the failed relationships, all the egotistical, messed-up kids. LOVE - that's a different kind of bird altogether. Selfless love, true active love, is the only viable alternative.

Ask yourself, what actions can I take today that are loving towards my children? Towards my spouse? Towards my other family members? Towards my neighbours? Am I ready to accept the challenge of the imperative, love your neighbour as yourself? What will this cost me?

The cost will be great, let me tell you. Emotionally, and materially, it will cost you. But if you will stand up to the challenge, the rewards are greater still.